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Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East

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Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East

Friday, April 1, 2011Posted: 9:33 p.m. Updated: 10:48 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

AUBURN HILLS, MICH.On a night celebrating Dennis Rodmana champion in both Chicago and Detroittwo longtime divisional foes battled in Detroit. And while the game didnt exactly bring back memories of the rivalrys heyday, it did come down to the final minutes, with the Bulls pulling out a 101-96 win over the Pistons Friday night. Coupled with Miamis win and Bostons loss on the same night, the Bulls are now 2 games ahead of the Heat and three games ahead of the Celtics with seven games remaining in the regular season.

I take a win any day," observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Any way we can get it, Im taking a win. But its fools gold, too. Weve got to make the corrections. The three things we always look at on the road are the defense, the rebounding and the turnovers. We didnt rebound well, we didnt defend well and we turned the ball over.

Concurred Carlos Boozer: We didnt play our best basketball tonight, but well take the win.

Perhaps inspired by the packed housefans and basketball luminaries alike came in droves for the halftime ceremony to retire Rodmans Pistons jerseythe Pistons kept pace with their first-place Central Division and Eastern Conference historical rivals in the early going. Longtime Pistons bookend wings Tayshaun Prince (17 points) and Richard Hamilton (30 points), two of the last links to Detroits last NBA titlist, propelled the home team with their skilled perimeter games.

For the Bulls (55-20), All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (27 points, seven assists)named the Eastern Conference player of the month earlier in the dayLuol Deng (15 points) and Boozer (22 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) were the teams offensive catalysts. But, Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams defensive effort, which allowed Detroit (26-49) to keep the game close before tying it at 21-all. Toward the end of the opening period, however, Chicago played at a faster pace, forcing the Pistons into turnovers and capped a quarter-ending spurt with a Rose (13 first-quarter points) three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls a 31-21 lead.

Even on a special night for Pistons fans, the visitors strong close of the opening period seemed to take some of the air out of the Palace and unlike the vehicles Motor City natives have so much pride in, Detroits offense sputtered. Conversely, the Bulls Bench Mob built upon the team's momentum, maintaining the double-digit lead while the Palace crowd could only take solace in video montages of the Bad Boys era.

But even after Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest, Detroit found its competitive spirit again and behind a balanced offensive attack led by Hamilton, the Pistons still attempted to claw their way back into the game, briefly making it a single-digit affair. The Bulls, however, again finished the quarter strong and at the break, they held a 58-47 advantage.

During halftime, the Pistons held an emotional ceremony during which Rodmans jersey was raised to the arena rafters. Afterwards, Rodman reportedly told assembled media that he was informed Thursday of his upcoming induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame at the NCAA Final Four in Houston.

Re-energized after halftime, Detroit scored the third quarters first six points and eventually cut the Bulls' lead to 60-57 at the 8:52 mark, at which point Bulls fans nearly had a collective heart attack, as Rose rolled his left ankle after landing on Boozers foot.

Its fine. I dont feel it right now. I told Jo, usually when guards do it, you bounce right back, but with themwith seven- footers and big menthats a bad injury for them, joked Rose afterwards, referencing his teammate Noahs sprained ankle, which kept him out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. At first, it was scary, but my will to play got me back in that game.

Its a tough game, especially to be on the road. We sat for like 30 or 40 minutes at halftime.

Added Boozer: We came out a little flat. We had the long halftime. We tried to talk about it, but for whatever reason, we couldnt overcome the inevitable. That long halftime took a little wind out of our sails, but we fought through it.

It became a game of who was going to win, who wanted it more.

Thibodeau, however, is a man who doesnt believe in excuses and didnt think the long intermission caused a competitive disadvantage.

Were faced with things like that throughout the course of the year. They had the same halftime. They came out more aggressive than us, said the NBAs Eastern Conference coach of the month for March. We were flat to start the third, then we got the lead and we got loose. We didnt play defense. That was a problem and Rip Hamilton was able to get to the line, so they made up ground on us and rebounding was poor. We had to scratch for it at the end.

Rose stayed in the game after a timeout, even incurring a technical foul, and the visitors rebuffed the hosts push with a 17-5 spurt led by Boozer, giving the Bulls some breathing room en route to creating double-digit separation between the teams again.

Carlos was outstanding. Post-up, making plays, praised Thibodeau. It makes us a different team. We have Carlos in the post, we have Derrick off the dribble and then pick-and-roll, it creates a lot of easy offense for you.

One thing about Carlos, if you cut and youre open, hes going to hit you every time, and I think our players know that. Were doing a better job searching him out, weve got to keep him in rhythm. Hes doing a better job running the floor, hes getting deeper into the paint and hes playing very well right now, so weve got to keep him going.

In addition to his scary moment, Rose also incurred a technical foulangered by not making trips to the foul line when he drew contact on shot attemptsbut that wasnt the least of his worries, as the Pistons battled back as the period waned on. Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to an 80-72 lead.

Detroit initially persisted with its rally in the final stanza, but Chicagos second unit met the challenge and solid play from the likes of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, the Bulls rebuilt their prior double-digit advantage midway through the period. The constant swings in momentum continued, as the Pistons repeatedly cut into the deficit, only to have their guests widen the gap.

A fast-break layup by Pistons guard Will Bynum (12 points), a Chicago native, with 2:37 remaining, however, made it a 90-87 contest, threatening the Bulls' once-safe lead in the midst of the games stretch run. After a timeout, the Bulls went to Boozer, who converted a traditional three-point play with 2:22 to play, giving the Bulls a six-point lead.

The teams exchanged turnovers on the next two possessions and after a pair of Hamilton free throws cut the Bulls lead to a four-point margin, veteran Kurt Thomas came up with a key offensive rebound, then knocked down a baseline jumper with 57.7 seconds left, making it a 95-89 contest in Chicagos favor.

When I was coming out, they called me Dennis Rodman with a jumpshot, joked Thomas, a native of the same Dallas neighborhood where Rodman was raised. Its definitely great to see his number retired, but the bottom line is we wanted to get the win.

Added Thibodeau: Hes just smart, tough. Hes going to make big plays, he plays great defense all the time for you, he sets great screens and is always ready. He had not been playing a lot, Jo goes down, throw him right in and hes ready to go.

An exchange of baskets ensued, leading to Hamilton nailing a triple with 24.1 seconds on the clock, once again cutting the Bulls lead to just three points. C.J. Watson hit a pair of foul shots with 20.5 seconds to go and although the teams exchanged turnovers on each of their next two possessions before a Bynum layup, Rose sealed the deal by hitting two attempts from the charity stripe.

It might sound crazy, but Im just worried about over here, said Rose, after being informed of the Celtics loss. Our destinys in our hands.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.