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Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

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Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

Sunday, May 1, 2011Posted: 3:10 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Hell be ready to go, claimed Joakim Noah when asked about the status of his teammate, Carlos Boozer, after the Bulls Sunday afternoon practice at the Berto Center.

For sure, added Derrick Rose. Hes going to play in that game Mondays Game 1 of Chicagos Eastern Conference semifinal series against Atlanta.

While he declined to talk to reporters, Boozer participatedreportedly on a limited basisin his first practice since suffering a turf-toe injury in the Bulls Game 5 first-round win over the Pacers. Prior to Sunday, Boozer had only been lifting weights, but hadnt spent any time on the court, with the exception of some light individual shooting.

Hes going to be good," Rose said. "From looking at film, watching film on him, seeing how in some of the games, how aggressive he was and thats all we try to tell him to do, is be aggressive while hes on the court and just play his game.

"Hes been in this league long enough where hell be able to get himself out of a little slump. Hes still coming in, talking, shooting the ball, doing his routine and nothing has changed.

While the Bulls expect Boozer to play in the teams second-round opener MondayChicago head coach Tom Thibodeau hasnt decided whether Taj Gibson or Kurt Thomas would start if he didnt playthey could be facing a short-handed opponent. Former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, Atlantas starting point guard, is listed as doubtful with a strained right hamstring, which he suffered late in the Hawks Game 6 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Knowing that he was my veteran and I was his rook, yeah, I feel bad about the injury, but Im sorry to say that Im just worried about whats going on over here, said Derrick Rose of his former backcourt mate.

Chimed in Noah: I wish Kirk nothing but the best. Obviously Ive been there. Its tough to be in that position, to be injured.

If Hinrich is limited or out for the series, candidates to replace him include second-year point guard Jeff Teague and another former Bull, sixth man Jamal Crawford, who led the team in scoring in the Orlando series. Teague received scant playing time against Orlando and has been generally out of first-year head coach Larry Drews rotation since Atlanta acquired Hinrich from Washington at the trade deadline.

They have quality depth. Crawford has played a lot of minutes. Teague has played extremely well when hes been in their rotation, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after Saturdays practice. Joe Johnson has the ability to handle the ball and make plays. Theyve got a lot of depth in their backcourt and their perimeter guys are really skilled, so youve got to be ready for everybody.

At the end of games, the ball is primarily in Joe Johnsons hands or Jamal Crawfords hands, so their end-of-game stuff will be exactly the same. But they also have Marvin Williams, who didnt play quite as much as he normally does because of the matchup that they had with Orlando, so now hes back on the floor. Theyve got a lot of weapons they can throw at you and I think Teague is really a good player also, so theyre fortunate to have that type of depth at the point-guard position.

Added Rose: It doesnt change at all. Weve got to go out there and play. Teague or whoever starts out there in his spot, theyre good players. Jamal, you know hes a scorer, keeps them going, keeps them in games and theyre a real athletic team with a lot of spots where they can change pick-and-rolls.

Crawford is tough. One of the best scorers in the league. Every team that he goes on, he knows his role, which is to score the ball. If anything, try to stick him as a team and make everything tough on him.

While Crawford is capable of handling the point, hes more of a designated instant-offense scorer for the Hawks, as evidenced by his team-leading scoring average against the Magic. Both Johnson and Crawford often play one-on-one, isolation-type basketball within the Hawks sets and although they have decent court vision, neither is known for their playmaking ability.

Overall, the Hawks have proved to be an inconsistent squad, capable of looking like world-beaters and lottery-bound in consecutive games. After surrendering a huge halftime lead in the two teams first matchup, Chicago dominated Atlanta in their final two meetings. But the Bulls still believe the Hawks will give them a battle in the second round.

Its going to be a tough series. Theyre a good team, they play hard together and theyve got everything going for them right now, Rose explained. I think its going to be tougher than the first-round series against Indiana. Theyve got guys that can really jump and contest my shot. Really big guys like Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford are tough players.

Its all confidence. They play the same way, but they believe that they can win games, that they can go far and when youve got everybody on a team believing that, its hard to slow a team down, he continued. Theyre playing with confidence. They let a team sweep them the previous year, then to come out and play against that team and beat them in a series, it means a lot. Theyre playing with a lot of confidence, they believe in each other and they believe they can win."

Concurred Thibodeau: The regular season, theres a lot of things that go into that, so you have to judge it by a how a team is playing right now. Not that youre not looking at the matchup in those games, but youre looking at how theyre performing right now and thats what weve got to be ready for. Theyre playing at a very high level right now.

During the Orlando series, the Hawks started backup Jason Collins at center, pushing Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward, in order to better defend All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was defended one-on-one by Collins and other reserves. Although it's unlikely Atlanta will use the same lineup, the Bulls are preparing for all possibilities, including Hinrichs absence, Horfords interior scoring and the Hawks ability to switch matchups with their long, athletic and versatile defenders.

Youre trying to clean up some of the things that you need to work on and youre preparing for your opponent, said Thibodeau, who said he believes Atlanta will most likely go back to starting Marvin Williams at small forward. That was the matchup that they used for Howard, but we have to be ready for them to go big or go small, so I think the plan is to plan for both.

Theyve done less of that switching on defense this year, but they still have the capability of doing that at the two, three and four, so you have your counters to attack it. Putting different people into pick-and-rolls to negate it. You can also create the mismatch that you want. Youve just got to have the ability to read those defenses.

Thibodeau is worried about Horford in particular.

"His athleticism, his ability to run the floor, his activity on the offensive boards, his ability to shoot the 15 to 17-foot shothes a hard guy to match up with," he said. "I think because of the skill set of Joe Johnson and Crawford, that puts a lot of pressure on you, so you have to have a multiple-effort mentality. When we do give help, we have to make sure we get back to him and we dont give him clean looks at the basket. We just have to help appropriately.

Atlanta is regarded as more of a finesse team than the physical young Pacers, but the Bulls wont be surprised if the Hawks opt to utilize a similar strategy.

Thats playoff basketball," Thibodeau said. "Theres also a price to pay for that. We shot a lot of free throws. We shot it at a very good percentage. We got into the penalty early in the fourth quarter. Whenever you put two on the ballwhich they really didnt do until the fourth quarterbut that was also our best quarter. Youve got to be ready for everything. it could be size on him, they could be physical. Its nothing that we havent seen. Youve got to be ready to fight. These playoff games, theyre not going to be easy. Theyre going to be tough, hard-fought games.

Echoed Noah: I expect it to be very physical.

This is the time of year where theres not a lot of teams lefttheres only eight teams leftthis is what its all about. Everybody on the court only wants one thing and thats a championship.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.