Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front


Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front

It wouldn't truly have been a Bulls media day without injury updates, rehabilitation schedules and timetables for returns making up a significant portion of the conversation.

But as the Bulls enter the Fred Hoiberg era tomorrow with the commencement of training camp, the team's two biggest injury concerns appear headed in different directions.

The good news is Taj Gibson is recovering well from ankle surgery he underwent in June. Gibson, who revealed two weeks ago at his youth basketball camp that he played through a ligament tear in the playoffs, is ahead of schedule and still is aiming to be available on Oct. 27 when the Bulls begin their regular season against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Gibson has dealt with multiple ankle sprains during his career - they cost him 20 games last season - and admitted at media day he'll be more cautious in his return this time around.

"It’s about getting back into game shape. I haven’t really been able to run for three months, so these last couple weeks have been really tough," Gibson said. "But it’s been a learning process, and I’m taking it slow."

Still, general manager Gar Forman said Gibson is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitaiton, which in mid-June was projected at four months. While he may not participate fully in two-a-day training camp sessions, Gibson has already been working out with teammates in Chicago and Forman expects him to be "very close or at 100 percent once the first game gets here."

"He's got a spring to his step," Forman said. "He looks live, he looks active, and we're really happy with where he's at.

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

The same necessarily can't be said for Mike Dunleavy, who underwent a lower-back microdiscectomy on Friday. Forman said Dunleavy began having "back issues" in the summer, and the team attempted to alleviate the pain with epidurals and physical therapy. When those failed to fully correct the issue a few weeks ago, the Bulls made the decision to have the 35-year-old small forward undergo surgery.

The team announced in a press release that he was expected to miss 8-to-10 weeks following the surgery. But the 35-year-old didn't sound as confident in keeping with that timeframe. He walked gingerly to the press conference table on Monday and admitted he's unsure of when he'll return.

"I think they released to (the media) eight to 10 weeks. I really don’t have a timeframe on it," he said. "I’m coming back when I feel good enough, the doctors have cleared me. I have no idea. Hopefully that will be this season. I’m not looking at it week-by-week. It’s going to be a process, I can’t skip the steps. Going to have to listen to what these guys say, follow through with all that. I’ll be back when I get back.

"I don’t have a set amount of time in my head that I want to get back. I haven’t broken out the schedule and said, 'OK, eight weeks from this Friday is this game, I want to be back for this game.' Just can’t do it that way."

Dunleavy said recurrence is a possibility if he rushes his rehabilitation, which initially will consist of zero basketball activity "for a while."

"It’s just all about being safe about it, taking the proper steps and hopefully being back sooner than later," he said. "To put an absolute date on it or if I’m not back in eight to 10 weeks is not going to be the end of the world."

[MEDIA DAY: Rose admits looking ahead to free agency in 2017]

Dunleavy missed 19 games with an ankle injury last season after starting all 82 games in his first year with the Bulls. His absence will be significant, Hoiberg said, because of what Dunleavy provides from a team standpoint. Though he averaged just 9.4 points per game last year, the lowest mark since his rookie season, the Bulls were significantly better offensively with Dunleavy on the floor, and their defense also saw an uptick compared with him on the bench.

"We need Mike Dunleavy healthy at the end of the season, but when you look from an analytics standpoint, when Mike Dunleavy was on the floor good things happened," Hoiberg said. "And you look at the offensive efficiency, defense efficiency, those numbers, Mike was as good as anybody on our roster."

Hoiberg admitted Monday replacing Dunleavy will be done "by committee," naming reserves Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic as players needing to step up and run with an extended opportunity for at least the first two months of the season. Hoiberg also added that reserve guards E'Twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich may see increased roles, presumably with Jimmy Butler shifting to small forward.

"We’ll miss Mike a lot, but at the same time we’re going to be careful with it. And anytime something like this happens it’s a great opportunity for somebody else to step in and show what they can do," Hoiberg said. "So again, training camp’s going to be very competitive. When we step on that floor tomorrow for the first time I know those guys are going to be going at it and going after each other."

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.