Bulls drop third straight in lethargic loss to hapless Nets


Bulls drop third straight in lethargic loss to hapless Nets

Joakim Noah yelled for Aaron Brooks to locate him wide open off an inbounds pass but all looked to be well once Taj Gibson had an easy floater inside, and an easier tip in.

But both shots went awry as the Brooklyn Nets danced downcourt after the ball bounced out of bounds.

After all the feel-good rhetoric of Monday morning made everyone believe an easy win over the Eastern Conference’s second-worst team was upcoming, the Bulls’ most recent history and bad habits suggested otherwise.

They played with fire at home yet again and got burned, this time a 105-102 loss at the United Center for their third straight loss.

“It’s a bad, bad loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, in the understatement of the night.

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Suddenly the four-game winning streak looks worlds away and what’s worse, they could be without Joakim Noah for a considerable amount of time after he hurt his left shoulder reaching in on an Andrea Bargnani shot in the third quarter.

What’s more, the issue isn’t about offense or pace or embracing Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls were bullied on their home floor by a team that didn’t seem intent on winning, but the more the night went on the more confident the woeful Brooklyn Nets became.

“It was defense. We had no togetherness at all,” Hoiberg said. “We had no toughness. When we finally did get some stops they would get the rebound.”

The Nets grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, including nine from Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Without Noah on the floor, the Nets feasted on the glass late, even after the Bulls rebounded from an 81-69 deficit midway through the third quarter.

The energy was great when he was on the floor but without him it seemed non-existent, as the Bulls only led one time during the evening, late in the second quarter when they woke up and made a run.

But they went back to the snooze button soon as halftime ended, allowing the Nets to dictate tempo and barely put any pressure on the visitors defensively on the way to giving up more than 100 points for the 11th time, and they’re 1-10 in such matters.

[MORE: Noah leaves Monday's game early with shoulder injury]

“The biggest thing was we would help and we wouldn’t be there for the next guy,” Hoiberg said. “We were good at that for awhile. We’ll get back to it tomorrow and make improvements. If not it could get ugly, Oklahoma City on Christmas.”

Jimmy Butler scored 24 and Pau Gasol 20, as the former made biting comments following Saturday night’s loss in New York to the Knicks about needing to be coached harder.

“We were missing a lot of parts of the game tonight,” Gasol said. “A sense of urgency. We cruised for most of the game. That’s when we have our back against the wall, we turn it up and try to give ourselves a chance. But sometimes it’s too late.”

Apparently, they’re in need of plenty of things across the board as the energy lacked and they couldn’t put together quality possessions even as the Nets tried to donate them the ballgame.

The Nets grabbed six offensive rebounds in the fourth after shooting 25 percent, making just six field goals, clearly leaving the door open for a comeback. The Bulls only scored four more points in the fourth, with Butler scoring 10.

Derrick Rose scored eight with five assists on just three of 11 shooting, and Taj Gibson scored 10 with nine rebounds and four assists.

The lineup change putting Nikola Mirotic at small forward in place of Tony Snell in order to free up time for rookie Bobby Portis had mixed results as Portis scored 11 with five rebounds while Mirotic again struggled to find a rhythm offensively, unable to hit open shots with the floor spread.

But Mirotic’s struggles only mirror the Bulls’ overall issues at this point, as the team tumbles closer and closer to the .500 mark as we get closer to the new year

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago


Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.

Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.

But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 

Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.


For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 

Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker


Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.

Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 

LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.

LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.

Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.