Bulls

Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

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Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
12:28 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIANobody whos paying attention should be surprised. This was foreshadowed back in July.

When the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach in June, then acquired Carlos Boozer in July, any astute NBA observer could have predicted that the defensive guru and the offensively gifted power forward would have growing pains as the latter, never known for his defense, adjusted to a new system.

But Wednesday nights loss to the lowly Nets, in which Boozer didnt see the floor in the fourth quarter, wasnt some rubber-hits-the-road situation. It was merely a teachable moment.

Asked about his lack of playing time after the game, an obviously frustrated Boozer told reporterstwiceYouve got to ask Thibs about that.

A multiple All-Star, gold medalist, college national champion and established playoff performer, if he didnt bristle at having to sit during the contests most crucial stretch, that would be the shocker. Of course, if the Bulls had won, hed say all the right things, as hes done consistentlyby all accounts, Boozers also walked the walk and been a model teammatesince arriving in Chicago.

But perhaps thats the issue. Since Boozers debut, the Bulls have justifiably received rave reviews. The easiest way to measure a teams performance is by wins and losses and at 23-11, the end results have been unimpeachable.

However, there have been chinks in the armor. The Bulls have beaten up on the teams theyre supposed to beat since Decembersave Wednesdays game and Vinny Del Negros triumphant return to Chicagobut, as anybody who's watched them play recently can attest to, it hasnt been pretty and with losses to the likes of the Knicks, Magic and Celtics (all likely playoff teams), theres a mild cause for concern.

Thats all big-picture stuff, however. Prior to Fridays shootaround at Philadelphias Wells Fargo Centerwhere the Bulls will take on the recently-improved 76ers, whom they beat by 45 in Chicago last monthBoozer spoke about the so-called incident.

Im looking forward to tonight and on to the next one. Like Jay rapper Jay-z said, you cant live in the past. Cant worry about what happened in New Jersey. We just know weve got to play better, have more energy, play better D and give us a chance to win tonight, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. We Boozer and Thibodeau squashed it. Its already over and done with. Im looking forward to tonight.

Thibodeau was just rolling with the guys that were making the comeback. Im not worried about it. Its not really an issue. Weve got Philly tonight and Im looking forward to a bounce-back game, Boozer told reporters. I was mad we lost. I was pissed we lost. And of course when you lose, you want to be out there to help your team playing as a competitor. I felt like if I was out there I would help my team win. Thats over and done with now. You cant go backwards. We have to move forward.

I dont worry about that being on the floor in crunch time. Thats not an issue to talk about. Im looking forward to the game tonight. Any more segues where I can get us to the game tonight? Great game tonight, he went on to joke. The starters were horrible. Thats why Coach was riding with the guys who were out there. The bench played great. They got us back in the game. The way C.J. played, the way Ronnie played, those guys got us back in. Kyle hit a couple 3s to get us going. It was a good decision. We almost won the game. Because we lost, I think everybody in the locker room was upset, not just me.

It was a tough night. No excuses. But we played the night before, we got in at 4 in the morning. Every team goes through that. It was one of those nights they got the better of us. They had three days rest. We didnt have too much of it. This is the NBA. Every team goes through that. We didnt step up to the challenge, Boozer continued, We know we didnt have the energy they had. They play better at home. They play fast. We didnt have the energy to compete with it. Looking back, we wish we could do it over again, but you cant go backwards.

Thibodeau stuck to his guns before shootaround, elaborating on his Wednesday-night explanation that the starters as a whole wasnt playing with energy and he stuck with his reserves because they gave the Bulls the best chance to beat New Jersey.

It wasnt necessarily Carlos. It was our whole team. We were low energy going into the fourth quarter, down 13 points, so we were looking to get more energy into the game and the second unit went in and they were playing well. We had to make up ground. We were down 13. They made up the 13 very quickly and I just decided to ride that group because they were playing well, said Thibodeau. It had more to do with we went small with Luol at the four to get another shooter onto the floor and again, it was more to try to keep that group together because I thought they had made up the ground. Most of the time, Carlos is certainly going to be on the floor at the end of games and I prefer to have our starters on the floor closing the game, but again, it was a game in which the third quarter wasnt a good quarter for us, the start of the game wasnt a good quarter for us, so we were just searching and thats what it boiled down to, what we felt would give us our best chance to win.

More than anything else, it was the ground we had to make up in the fourth quarter that led to, Okay, that group is playing well. How far do you ride them? Thats what we did, he continued. You have to weigh everything thats going on in the game and when we did that, it came down to we were struggling, we were slow, I wanted to get more energy into the game. I also wanted to try to make up ground, try to get more 3-point shooting on the floor and thats basically what we were trying to do.

At the same time, Boozers teammates have to notice that he isnt the best individual defender, not to mention Thibodeau and his staff. When the likes of Kris Humphries (best known for dating reality-television phenomenon Kim Kardashian) and raw rookie Derrick Favors are doing damage against Thibodeaus vaunted defense, something has to give.

While a grace period is acceptable for Boozer to raise his defensive effort to Thibodeaus high standards, the lapses witnessed in the Nets game were obvious and even could be considered somewhat of a regression, although any playeror teameven a high-profile star can be granted a bad day at work, just like the average Joe (or Josephine) doesnt give his or her best performance from nine to five daily. Thibodeau, however, wouldnt budge in his stance that the decision not to play Boozer was about sending any message.

Carlos has been great. The guys a winner and hes going to be on the floor most of the time. He and Derrick sat most of the fourth quarter and theyre cheering their teammates on and at that point, were just trying to find a way to get a win. Thats what that was all about. It wasnt about any other stuff and again, I thought our team, we were slow. We were low energy and thats what we were trying to change, said Thibodeau. I think hes doing fine and again, its not only individual defense and its easy to point, to say, Well, this guy didnt do this or that guy didnt do that, but we play team defense, so I thought we werent protecting our basketthats a team responsibilityin transition and in the halfcourt.

Its not just one guy, its the entire group, so that was the big thing about the energy. I knew we were low energy. Carlos has done a lot of good things defensively and his rebounding is terrific, but again, you have to evaluate the entire team and how its functioning.

Will this prove to be a season-long issue or a one-game hiccup and ultimately, much ado about nothing? In the words of Boozer, Youve got to ask Thibs about that.

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.