Bulls

Bulls fall to Heat in chippy affair

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Bulls fall to Heat in chippy affair

MIAMIFinally, the rivalry thats been discussed so often, not only in the cities where the teams play, but across the basketball universe, manifested itself in the chippy play that brought back memories of postseason basketball from an era long passed.

Unfortunately for the Bulls (47-16)who were without Derrick Rose for the third consecutive game and 26th of the seasonthat resulted in an 83-72 loss Thursday night to the Heat (45-17) at American Airlines Arena, as MVP candidate LeBron James was simply too much for the visitors.

The Bulls were offensively flawless in the early going, knocking down each of their first five attempts, as the starting post tandem of Carlos Boozer (10 points, five rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds) took advantage of the absence of Heat All-Star Chris Bosh on the interior.

Luol Deng (11 points), in his first game back in the lineup after missing a pair of contests due to a rib injury, was also productive from the outset, displaying no ill effects from the brief layoff, as he knocked down outside jumpers.

However, the Heat tandem of Mario Chalmers (16 points, five assists), who seemingly got to the rim at will, and James (27 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) literally went on the offensive, literally, to keep pace with their guests in the opening period.

James repeatedly penetrated and hit pull-up jumpers en route to a 15-point frame, as he was matched up with Noah on switches, aiding the hosts in taking a 27-23 advantage after a quarter of play.

Backup point guard John Lucas III (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) showcased his instant-offense game in the second periodpicking up for fill-in starter C.J. Watson, who focused on distributing the ball in his first-quarter stintto propel the Bench Mob, as the only true scorer in the unit.

When the regulars returned, Noah again made an impactboth with his play and inadvertently, as he took a flagrant-two foul from Heat reserve sharpshooter James Jones, leading to the latters ejection and inciting the partisan crowd to chant derogatory slogans at the Bulls centerhelping the Bulls maintain a slim cushion.

But Miami kept plugging away behind James and his struggling sidekick, Dwyane Wade (18 points, five assists), eventually seizing the lead from the visitors late in the quarter, as Chicagos offense went through one of its periodic droughts.

While the Heat werent exactly proficient at scoring themselves, they managed to go into the intermission with a narrow 42-40 edge.

Miami gained some separation after the break, as Wade came to life, Chalmers continued to contribute and James picked his spots in which to dominate, and while Noah put up a good fight, his presence alone couldnt prevent the Bulls from falling into a hole. All of that got overshadowed, however, as the chippiness of the game took center stage, with Wade shoving longtime rival Rip Hamilton, leading to a double technical and flagrant foul on Wade.

Minutes later, James set a hard screen in the backcourt on the diminutive Lucas, as he tried to pressure Chalmers full-court, leaving him slightly dazed before going after the much bigger man, leading to technical on both players and posturing between the two teams.

Although Lucas offense and a spark off the bench from Taj Gibson kept the Bulls from facing an insurmountable deficit, the Bulls faced a 66-61 deficit heading into the final stanza, mostly due to the runaway freight-train quality and circus-shot ability of James.

Behind Lucas offensive prowess, the Bulls stayed within striking distance early in the fourth period, as the visitors defense continued to make life tough for vaunted rivals on the offensive end of the floor.

But Chicago had their own issues manufacturing offensean eye injury to Deng didnt help mattersand by the midway point of the quarter, Miami extended its lead to double digits.

While the Bulls didnt let the game get out of hand, they simply didnt have enough offense to muster a comeback in the playoff-style battle and the Heat wore them down with similarly-stifling defense and timely scoring and playmaking by James, leading to baskets from co-star Wade and role players alike.

As the game wound down, the festive atmosphere in the building built up to a crescendo, as the home crowd once again celebrated the vanquishing of their chief foes.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.