Bulls

Bulls excited for Noah: 'Joakim looks like Joakim'

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Bulls excited for Noah: 'Joakim looks like Joakim'

At this time a year ago, Joakim Noah was hurting.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery days after the Bulls' playoff loss to the Wizards and spent the entire offseason rehabilitating. He walked into Bulls media day having not played any basketball over the summer, filling his time with what he referred to as "boring stuff." He claimed he'd be ready for the rigors of the season, and to his part he lived up to his prediction. Noah played in 67 games and all 12 postseason contests, and only two of the 15 games he missed were attributed to left knee soreness.

But simply put, Noah wasn't himself. Granted, he wasn't going to replicate his All-NBA first team numbers from 2013-14, when the absence of Derrick Rose (knee) and Luol Deng (traded to Cleveland) made him the focal point on both ends of the floor. But Noah averaged just 7.2 points on a career-low 44.5 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds. He was a step behind on defensive rotations, didn't have the same burst that had carried him to back-to-back NBA All-Defensive first team honors and struggled around the rim, shooting nine percentage points lower in that area from the previous year, per basketball-reference.com.

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Noah would be the last to make excuses for his lackluster performance, and he didn't. The reality was, however, that an offseason stuck in the weight room and training facility instead of on the basketball floor was a setback. It's a situation Noah has reversed heading into 2015, the start of the Fred Hoiberg era and an important contract year for the 30-year-old.

He spent his offseason in Santa Barbara, Calif., at Peak Performance Project (P3), focusing on basketball and improving his strength as he looks to bounce back from last year's forgettable campaign. His motivation was simple: his teammates had picked him up last year, winning 50 games and earning the East's No. 3 seed. Now it's Noah's time to pay it forward.

"Just needed a little time to regroup and get healthy. That was my priority for this summer, and I’m really, really excited for this upcoming season," he said. "I just wanted to come right for my teammates. They were there for me. Last year was very tough for me, just not being able to move the way that I wanted to on the court, be able to play the way that I wanted to play. I’m excited to be back in Chicago and show my teammates that I can be there for them."

Added general manager Gar Forman: "Joakim looks like Joakim. He's live, he's active, he's had a good summer of training."

Fred Hoiberg said he hasn't made any decisions on the starting lineup, or the more important finishing lineup. He spent time with each member of the Bulls at some point over the summer, meeting with Noah on his journey along the West Coast that included meeting with Derrick Rose (Los Angeles) and Aaron Brooks (Oregon). Much was made last season about the Bulls potentially splitting up true centers Noah and Pau Gasol, shifting Noah to the second unit to better balance the Bulls' depth.

[MEDIA DAY: Rose proclaims his innocence in strongest statements to date]

Hoiberg said he'll experiment frequently during the preseason with lineups, presumably meaning Noah will see time both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench.

"There’s a lot of flexibility to put guys in a lot of positions. There’s a lot of versatility on this roster. I don’t know if I can answer that question today. The important thing for me is before that first game against Cleveland on October 27th, hopefully that’ll be more defined."

Hoiberg may not know where he'll place Noah in his rotation, but what he can expect is the old energetic center who feels fresh after an offseason spent on the basketball floor instead of the training table.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.