Bulls in foreign territory needing to fight for playoff spot


Bulls in foreign territory needing to fight for playoff spot

By Philip Rossman-Reich

ORLANDO, Fla. — Derrick Rose has never really been in this situation before.

During his sometimes stellar, sometimes frustrating eight-year career with the Bulls, Rose has never had a season where his team missed the playoffs. In every year he has finished the season, Rose has played in the playoffs.

It is an odd place then for Rose to sit in front of his locker before and after a game in early March and see his team staring up at the playoffs. With the Bulls' twin losses in Florida, the team now sits a half game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Yet, after a 102-89 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at the Amway Center, the Bulls feel a little emptier. This Bulls team has problems that are completely foreign to a franchise that has made the playoffs for seven straight years and 10 of the last 11.

“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Rose said. “I can’t. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through this. All this is new to me. Just trying to figure things out. Thoughts, plays, everything is going everywhere. But we’ve got to figure it out.”

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In the final 22 games, the Bulls will have every opportunity to make their case and make up that ground.

Jimmy Butler will return from his injury, as will Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Whether that will be enough to straighten out a defense that went from elite to frustrating within a season is the question. Even so, it is not like the Bulls are losing too much ground either.

Right now, though, teams know the Bulls are struggling, and they are looking to pounce from the tip and burying them.

“Pride is always on the line every night you go out there 82 games a year,” Mike Dunleavy said. “Whether you are up 20 or down 20, your pride should always be on the line. This is a pretty solid group of guys. We’ll get this thing figured out. I’m pretty confident of that.”

After losing two games on this Florida road trip by double digits, it is easy to sense the frustration. Everyone is reacting to this reality in their own way.

How they respond will ultimately decide whether they make the playoffs or not.

“Even to be behind from the beginning of the year, before we even started our goals and everything: Are we trying to get into the playoffs?” Rose said. “We have to ask these questions. We just have to come out here and play. Our actions should be everything.”

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short


Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.