Bulls

Bulls hold on for opening-night win against rival Cavaliers

pau-gasol-lebron-james-1027.png

Bulls hold on for opening-night win against rival Cavaliers

It was tailor-made for an instant replay, another chance for LeBron James to quiet a crazed Bulls crowd and break hearts, albeit on a night in October rather than one in May.

But Jimmy Butler refused to give James even a sliver of space as Mo Williams tried to inbound the ball underneath the rim with 3.6 seconds left, tipping it away and chasing it downcourt to secure the Bulls’ opening-night 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.

“To tell you the truth I thought it would be the same play he made over me in the playoffs last year,” Butler said. “Stay on his body and threw the ball over the top, I got a piece of it.”

It came after Pau Gasol blocked a James drive mano a mano, his sixth of the night in a surprising defensive showing.

“I made myself very small in my finish,” James said. “Pau was having a great game, and he made a great play.”

[MORE BULLS: President Obama takes in Bulls-Cavs, optimistic about Bulls' chances]

Everybody remembers James’ fadeaway jumper over Butler’s outstretched arms in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, preventing the Bulls from going up 3-1 in that series and possibly to the NBA Finals, starting the chain of events that led to Fred Hoiberg’s debut as head coach.

He knew the play well enough to prepare his players for what could occur and didn’t see any panic from his team late.

“I thought when LeBron lined up in front of the ball, similar to the play (in last year’s playoffs) when he hit the 3, and they had a good counter to it,” Hoiberg said. “But Jimmy stayed right into his body and just jumped up there and got the deflection, defended it very well.”

Hoiberg’s first official game featured as much drama as some of Tom Thibodeau’s final games on this very floor, as Kevin Love scored eight straight in the last minute to pull the Cavaliers within striking distance after the Bulls seemingly pulled away, making President Barack Obama feel secure enough with 1:38 left and the Bulls leading 95-87.

It took awhile for the Bulls’ offense to get in gear, as they only shot 42 percent overall but got better looks down the stretch with their ball movement leading to opportunities for Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Rose and Butler.

James’ runner with 5:31 left gave the Cavaliers a 83-82 lead after they trailed for all of the second half, but Mirotic had a three-point play which was followed by Butler dunk and Rose layup to give the Bulls a little breathing room.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls Prediction: Season will end in May instead of June]

Mirotic led the Bulls with 19 points, as he helped the Bulls break out of some early lethargy with 11 in the first, including two of his three triples on the night.

Butler’s thievery completed a night where he didn’t do much offensively for the better part of three quarters but he finished with 17 points on six of 17 shooting in 36 minutes, five rebounds and of course, that key steal that sealed the win.

They withstood James’ night of 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes as Butler had to play his shadow, knowing he would give up some spectacular plays from the game’s best player but getting deterred wasn’t an option.

“All I know is try to stop 23 (James) from going off,” Butler said. “End of the day, I think I did a decent job of that at the end of the game.”

Rose, who’s still suffering from double vision in his surgically repaired left eye, played 32 minutes after playing just 10 in one preseason game, scoring 18 points with five assists on six of 22 shooting.

The double vision hits hardest when he’s driving closer to the basket, affecting his depth perception. So the fact he missed so many shots at the rim is more of a good sign than anything else, evidenced by only taking two 3-pointers.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

In the 14 games where Rose took more than 20 shots last season, he took two 3-pointers or fewer just twice and had 10 games of six or more 3-pointers attempted.

“When we catch the ball, we are going downhill,” Rose said. “We’re not catching the ball with teams knowing exactly what we’re doing. It’s a new wrinkle to us. Coach doesn’t call many plays. It’s more a read-type offense.”

It certainly had its choppy moments, but with five players in double figures and playing 10 players, the effort was able to drown out the lack of efficiency.

Pretty it was not, but the Bulls showed they still have the ability to get their hands dirty in this new era.

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

Bleacher Report named Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season. The list included five players whose expectations have exceeded what author Grant Hughes, felt is realistic for this upcoming season. It is not entirely shocking for LaVine to make this list, and his defense was the main reason he was included. But the potential for his offensive output to get even better was somewhat overlooked. 

Per Hughes:

In 2016-17, he ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus metric. Last year, he was 490th out of 521. According to Basketball Reference, he's never posted a defensive box plus-minus in positive territory. He topped out at minus-2.0 in his abbreviated 2017-18 season.....It's hard to justify rotation minutes for a player like that, let alone $78 million.

Hughes’ critique is harsh, but based off of statistics that are hard to argue with. LaVine has indeed been one of the worst defenders in the league for the entirety of his NBA career, and his netting of the $78 million falls hand-in-hand with Jabari Parker’s comments on players not being paid to play defense. But for the Bulls to take the leap from lottery-to-playoff contender, at least a league-average D will have to be cobbled together. But that responsibility will not fall solely on his shoulders, and that is why I am skeptical on the idea of LaVine being “overhyped”. 

The post goes on to elaborate that even if LaVine was to recapture the magic of his solid 2016-17 season, he still would be a player who gives up more points on defense than he gets his team on offense. That is a strong possibility, but with the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. as another rim protector, capable of at least providing a hard hedge (if not an outright switch), there is a possibility that LaVine becomes a more aggressive defender out on the perimeter. But that is unlikely, and a much more realistic outcome is LaVine’s offensive value surpassing what is expected.

LaVine’s strength last season was his ability to get to the free throw line. Despite coming off a major ACL injury, he was able to get 4.5 free throw attempts per game, a mark that would’ve had him sandwiched between players like Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo had he qualified (LaVine only played in 24 games). It was the highest free throw attempt rate of his career, and assuming he expands on that in a year where he should be completely healthy, he will be one of the best in the league at getting to the line. 

His efficiency will be helped by players like Parker and Lauri Markkanen, who will draw attention off of him. LaVine’s 3-point percentage last season was 34 percent, a number that was more of a reflection of that fact that he was still working his way back into game shape. That 3-point percentage will soon trend more towards the 38 percent mark he shot the previous two seasons. And his 3-point attempts were also down, another mark that is sure to trend upwards, especially with Parker’s inclusion as a scorer who does most of his half-court work in the mid-post area. 

The way the 2018-19 Bulls are built, there is little behind Kris Dunn in the way of a reliable backup point guard, though there is belief internally that Cam Payne can develop into that player. But there is a strong possibility that LaVine will be used as a backup point guard to free up minutes for one of Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine or Chandler Hutchison. And in his rookie year, playing point guard, LaVine had an assist rate of 24 percent, but also an incredibly high turnover percentage. Since making the full-time switch to shooting guard, he has not posted a turnover rate above 10 percent. So, if he can adjust to the fact that there are other players capable of scoring 20 points on the floor—like he did in Minnesota—it is entirely possible for LaVine to be a player capable of getting you 20 points and five assists per game while scoring efficiently and avoiding turnovers. Even if his defense continues to be dreadful, a player who can keep the offense running well from either guard spot is definitely valuable in today’s league. 

In his last season with Minnesota, LaVine had a usage rate of 21.7 percent, a number much lower than his extremely high 29.5 usage rate last season with the Bulls. And while many think of LaVine as a high-volume shooter, his usage rate last year was likely a result of him forcing the issue to try to prove he was worth a significant investment. With his shiny, new contract in tow, LaVine should be focused on making the team better, and get one step closer to his Timberwolves self. On that squad, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each scored 20+ points per game, while LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game. And the team finished in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive rating.

It is not crazy to think the Bulls could have their own high-scoring trio in LaVine, Markkanen and Parker. And if that is the case, then the expectation is for LaVine to be a efficient scorer who can occasionally spot the open man. Hyped? Yes. But overhyped? No one is banking on him being an All-Star, though it remains in the realm of possibility. The idea that he is overhyped is based on the fact his new contract is $78 million and he is poor at defense, but this is overlooking the fact that LaVine has proven he is a player capable of having a large role on a top-10 offense. September 30 can’t get here fast enough.  

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

lauri.jpg
USA TODAY

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.