Bulls bounce back with win over 76ers

Bulls bounce back with win over 76ers

This was the response that was expected Friday night after the Bulls' family meeting, only they were so emotionally spent the blowout against the Miami Heat was an afterthought.

But Sunday's contest against the surging Philadelphia 76ers produced the desired result as the game before a critical six-game western swing that could make or break their season.

A 20-point first half lead completely disappeared by the third quarter, but the Bulls regrouped without Taj Gibson to pull away late with an 121-108 win at the United Center, as Gibson missed the game with a left ankle injury.

Jimmy Butler looked like his usual self after Friday night's bizarre one for 13 showing, putting up 28 points with eight rebounds and seven assists with four steals in 38 minutes.

Robin Lopez scored 21 with 10 rebounds in 32 minutes, taking advantage of the 76ers being without Joel Embiid and not playing Chicago native Jahlil Okafor either.

"We came out with great energy," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, a man who looked one step away from the emergency room Friday but seemed to have a little more pep in his step as his team somewhat stabilized things.

"We shared the ball. We played together for the entire game. Even when they went on their runs, which is what they do (because) they played with great effort, we had to go out there and match that."

Rajon Rondo anchored the second unit, getting shots for Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott early, as Mirotic scored 13, McDermott 14 and Paul Zipser had two big baskets late on his way to a 13-point night as the bench showed its worth, helping the Bulls to a 45-25 lead three minutes into the second quarter.

"Rondo is the leader of that group," Dwyane Wade said. "He did a good job quarterbacking those guys. He played with a swagger, they brought it to another level."

Rondo scored a quick five to start the fourth quarter, finishing with eight points, 10 assists and five rebounds in 21 minutes before giving way to a closing unit that featured Zipser with Butler, McDermott, Wade and Lopez.

"He's done a great job of accepting that rile, he's taken pride in it," Hoiberg said. "Niko, Doug and Paul have all benefitted greatly from playing with him and our pace just picks up when Rajon is in the game. He was terrific."

It's no surprise the Bulls are a different team when McDermott and Mirotic are hitting shots, an occurrence that hasn't happened consistently enough this season.

When the 76ers clawed back to tie the game at 79 with four minutes in the third quarter, the Bulls showed some poise in not letting the 76ers take the lead or get a little more than cautiously optimistic.

"We didn't get flustered, like in the last couple of games," Wade said. "We were able to pull away."

With the Bulls hitting eight three-pointers and getting to the line 28 times, they played with the right amount of urgency late to overcome an unexpected performance from 76ers' forward Ersan Ilyasova, who scored 31 in 35 minutes as they were without standout center Embiid.

Embiid didn't make the trip with a knee injury and all five 76ers scored in double figures, including local native Robert Covington, who scored 21 with 12 rebounds in 38 minutes. Point guard T.J. McConnell scored 14 points with 12 assists as the 76ers shot 44 percent from the field, taking an early six-point lead and storming back in the second half when it looked as if they would give the Bulls another home headache.

But luckily for the Bulls, they gave themselves a little relief after a tumultuous week, right before a treacherous one begins.

Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal


Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter 

Midseason expectations: The Justin Holiday trade was far more about the second-round picks the Bulls acquired than the players. MarShon Brooks never even came to Chicago, and Wayne Selden was expected to get some run on the wing as an end-of-the-bench rotation player. His expectations shifted slightly when Chandler Hutchison suffered a broken toe and ultimately missed the remainder of the season. Selden was expected to log minutes, keep the ball moving and hit a few shots here and there. Again, whatever he provided was simply house money after acquiring a pair of second-round picks from Memphis.

What went right: Well, he was just about as subpar as Justin Holiday was? Seriously, the Bulls were buyers at the trade deadline and Selden was essentially a throw-in to match up salaries, and Selden’s 8.1 PER in Chicago was slightly worse than Holiday’s 8.8 in Memphis. Selden had a terrific January and with the Bulls prior to the All-Star break, he averaged 7.1 points on 44 percent shooting. Nothing to write home about, but solid (and hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers). Also, while Selden only averaged 1.7 assists he did a nice job on the second unit pushing pace by himself, driving and kicking and finding open shooters. He wasn’t necessarily a positive defensively but wasn’t poor on that end, either.

What went wrong: He showed very little consistency. As always, it was difficult for any of these young players to put together good stretches of play given the injuries and roster turnover, but Selden was up and down once the All-Star break rolled around. His shooting dipped down to 39 percent and he hit just 24 percent of his triples in his last 21 games. He popped up now and again with a 20-point outing or a double-double, but it was few and far between a simply average season.

The Stat: 20-8-4

Alright, so we cherry-picked it. But work with us. Selden had an outstanding night in the final game of January, scoring 20 points on 6 of 10 shooting along with four 3-pointers and eight assists. That statline of 20 points, 8 assists and 4 3-pointers was accomplished only one other time by a Bulls player in 2018-19, when Zach LaVine had 47 points, 9 assists and 6 3-pointers in the quadruple-overtime game. LaVine accomplished his feat in 56 minutes; Selden needed just 36.

2019-20 Expectations: Will he be back next season. He’d be a cheap option and the Bulls are going to have to fill out their roster. It might depend on what happens with Ryan Arcidiacono in restricted free agency and what the Bulls do in the draft. For the sake of this story we’ll assume he’s back on a small, one-year deal.

Selden’s goal will be consistency from beyond the arc and pushing in transition. The return of Denzel Valentine could give the Bulls two nice options on the wing behind Arcidiacono (or even Kris Dunn) to provide some offense. Even if Selden can work his way up from 31.6 percent to 34 or 35 percent it’ll make a world of difference for his NBA future. Past that, he’s simply going to be a practice body behind the Bulls’ starting wings and Hutchison.

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in R.J. Barrett


NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in R.J. Barrett

R.J. Barrett is an enigma. There’s no question he’s talented. The No. 1 high school prospect in the country – yes, ahead of Zion Williamson – averaged an ACC-best 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 38 games. He was a first-team All-American for a 32-6 Duke team, has off-the-charts athleticism and length at the shooting guard position that has NBA scouts gushing.

But his freshman season with the Blue Devils still felt underwhelming. Beyond the raw numbers – helped in part because of the load he was asked to carry – was a ball-dominant, inefficient scorer who oftentimes struggled within the flow of a game and became too isolation-heavy. He struggled from beyond the arc, was turnover-prone (he had four or more turnovers in 17 games) and likely benefitted some from playing with the country’s best player. It’s what makes him such a mystery as he heads into the pre-draft process needing to answer serious questions about how his game will translate at the next level.

We’ll begin with the good. Barrett displayed a knack for attacking the basket with an excellent first step and a strong left-handed dribble. He took a whopping 173 non-transition shots at the rim, getting there either off a dribble drive or cut to the basket. Barrett has also shown an ability to read offenses and distribute, fitting passes in small windows that lead to dunks or kickouts for open 3-pointers. Keep this in mind later in the scouting report, but Barrett has excellent court vision when he’s not shot-happy.

Barrett’s frame will allow him to compete from Day 1. He’s a true 6-foot-7 and is already pretty filled out – he’s listed at 202 pounds – allowing him to battle inside and defend multiple positions. He’s always been a high-motor player and has potential on the defensive end of the floor. It’s a real positive to his game, though it went overlooked because of how much was asked of him as an offensive player/scorer in Durham. He’s also lightning-quick in transition, which should help him early in his NBA career. Because…

Goodness, Barrett was inefficient. Injuries to Tre Jones and Williamson put Barrett front and center for good portions of the season, but his numbers are ugly. Barrett shot just 45.4 percent from the field, made fewer than 31 percent of his 3-point attempts and was below 67 percent from the charity stripe on nearly 6 attempts per game. This came on 18.5 field goal attempts per game, and too often Barrett tried to take over instead of using the talent around him. It may have been amplified because one of those talents was Williamson, but Barrett’s mentality got him into trouble. He showed little improvement over the course of the season.

Because of this, there are real concerns about Barrett playing off the ball at the next level. Duke ran its offense through Williamson at times, and Jones improved at the point as the year went on, but Barrett was at his best with the ball in his hands. He’s an above-average cutter and showed some ability in pick-and-roll action from the wing, but his lack of a reliable outside jumper – he shot just 33.7 percent on all jump shots – limited him to simply overpowering defenders simply because he was more athletic. That won’t be the case at the next level. Barrett is at his best in a high-usage role, but in the NBA he simply isn’t efficient enough to play it. Something’s gotta give.

His game is tailored to being high-usage, but that’s a tough ask in the NBA. And it’s an incredibly tough ask for a Bulls team that already struggled a year ago to get Lauri Markkanen the touches he needed consistently. Of the projected top-5 picks, Barrett probably makes the least sense in terms of fit. Now, there’s still a very good argument to be made that Barrett is the second most talented basketball player in the class, and drafting best player available has never, ever been a bad idea. But they’ll need to rework Barrett’s game, or at least his mentality. At this point in Barrett’s career he wouldn’t be able to play many minutes alongside Zach LaVine, who’s proven to be effective with the ball in his hands.

The best-case scenario for taking Barrett would be re-working his game in a reserve role in each of the next two seasons. Improving his jump shot, his decision making and activity off the ball seems like a lot for a team that made a proactive deal at last year’s trade deadline. Plus, a second unit arguably needs to be more effective than the first unit because they have fewer isolation scorers. The ball needs to keep moving on a second unit that can't create for itself. That's not Barrett right now.

That’s not to say the Bulls need an immediate contributor or even a starter with their first round pick this June, but they need someone that fits. Fitting a round Barrett peg into a square Bulls hole doesn’t seem ideal.

Still, if the Bulls think his shortcomings are fixable – he’s 18 years old, lest we forget – then there’s little argument against taking him. He’s still a top-3 talent in the class and has potential despite a freshman season that had some hidden ugliness to it. But he's got a long way to go. We don't often think of players who put up huge numbers in college as projects, but it's what Barrett would be if he winds up in Chicago.