Bulls

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Jimmy Butler kicked his legs out and the ball swirled around, and around and stopped…before rolling in after the official’s whistle blew for a foul.

The pushback from the rim on an imperfect night for Butler seemed to capture his feelings perfectly.

The San Antonio Spurs stalked the Bulls after sleepwalking for 24 minutes, and Kawhi Leonard will probably be in Butler’s nightmares as he shadowed the two-time all-star all night — as the league’s best out-of-nowhere two-way players battled all night.

Butler went scoreless in the first half and his streak of 20-point games ended at 15 but he came away with the most important statistic as the Bulls ended their three-game losing streak and the Spurs’ 13-0 road streak to start the season with a perfectly predictable 94-88 win at the United Center Thursday night.

Dwyane Wade led the Bulls with 20 points, including a couple buckets when the Bulls were reeling late and needing some stability in the worst way, hitting Taj Gibson for an inside dunk with two minutes remaining.

This is what the Bulls do, author improbable storybook endings on national TV against quality opponents when the odds are stacked against them and public conversation begins to sway in the other direction after some puzzling losses.

“We talked about it after the Cleveland game — so that’s a scary thing,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, stopping himself at the notion he gave his team the same speech after their last win. “If we go out there with that type of focus, we’ll win a lot of games. It can’t just be against the top teams, it’s gotta be every night.”

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But with Doug McDermott back after missing 11 games and the stage of a national audience at home — the night was tailor-made for the Bulls to pull out a win like this, even without Butler being his usual self.

The Bulls held the Spurs to 40 percent shooting and 32 from 3-point land, while only giving up five free throws — the type of gameplan discipline that has been missing with the recent slippage.

“I think the big thing is right out the game we had a focus to us. We didn’t make any mistakes,” Hoiberg said. “The guys did a great job of following the game plan and executing what we wanted to do.”

And doing it with their leading scorer being held to half his average, they needed to ensure the Spurs’ margin for error was just as slim as theirs. McDermott provided a boost, hitting a triple and getting a fast break layup right when he entered, finishing with eight points in 25 minutes.

“I felt great, my wind was there,” McDermott said. “I was just a little rusty. I felt really good out there, no issues.”

Butler scored 13 on four of 14 shooting with nine rebounds, including two on the offensive end while the Bulls were trying to seal the win, with four assists and two steals in 38 minutes.

“I’ll take a night like that as long as we get the win,” Butler said.

Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP for his work against LeBron James, was the only starter aside from Pau Gasol to get a rhythm in a rhythmless game, scoring 24 with eight rebounds and five assists while doggedly defending Butler.

Leonard had two straight ridiculous 3-point plays that seemed awkward and prayer-like but pulled the Spurs to within six midway through the fourth quarter, pulling the Spurs back from an 18-point deficit.

The lead was built due to good defense, and timely contributions from the likes of Cristiano Felicio, who played second-unit minutes at center for the second straight game.

A tip-dunk brought the crowd to its feet, as he brings a level of athleticism that’s hard to match from any of his teammates, scoring nine points with seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

“He can change the pace of the game when he’s out there,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll keep him in the rotation a while to keep him ready and prepared. It was only a matter of time until we got him in there.”

Gibson and Robin Lopez (each scored 12) also helped seal the interior as the Spurs didn’t get much in the way of second chance points and the Bulls outrebounded them 50-44.

It seemed like the Spurs were sleeping and just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Bulls, and of course, the expectation was for a Bulls collapse considering how putrid their fourth quarters have been recently.

Patty Mills kept shaking free of the Bulls defense to hit four triples while the Bulls couldn’t fully pull away, despite all five starters scoring in double figures and Rajon Rondo coming an assist shy of getting a triple-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

They won’t have many games where Butler and Wade aren’t the headliners, but then again, they won’t have many games where the defense actually picks up the slack against one of the more disciplined offensive teams in the league.

Butler didn’t score until midway through the third quarter, finally shaking free of Leonard in semi-transition for a short jumper to put the Bulls up 60-47.

But the Spurs began to wake up and nearly did more than make the Bulls sweat. But in these early tilts, the more desperate team usually wins.

And although the Bulls don’t want to admit it, they needed to play like a desperate team.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”