Bulls: Jimmy Butler faced with task of slowing down LeBron James


Bulls: Jimmy Butler faced with task of slowing down LeBron James

There’s no greater high for the Bulls than closing out a series with a record-54 point margin for a victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, and no greater subsequent challenge than taking on the four-time MVP in his prime in his home building.

Jimmy Butler will be on the frontline of defenders Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James will see Monday night, and through the duration of the Bulls-Cavs series, which tips off at Quicken Loans Arena.

James is one of the few players Butler can’t outmuscle at his position, while Butler is one of the few who can physically match up with perhaps the most gifted basketball player of his size in NBA history. 

Butler sounded like a man who knew the inevitable was coming—that he’d have to be James’ shadow for nearly 48 minutes in the series opener—but resignation doesn’t mean fear from Butler’s end.

[MORE BULLS: Thibs must make most of versatile bench against Cavs]

“I like to think I’m big and physical as well. We’ll see,” said Butler, who’s averaging 42.2 minutes in six playoff games this spring. “It’s playoff basketball. It’s never just me guarding him anyways. We’ll see what all this matchup stuff is about. I want to help win, no matter who I’m guarding. Tonight, it’ll probably be LeBron James.”

That means advice can come from any and everybody on guarding James, which is why Derrick Rose won’t publicly divulge what he’ll tell his backcourt mate, if he has specific advice at all.

“I’ll keep that to myself,” Rose said after catching himself.

James averaged 27 points, nine rebounds and 6.3 assists in the Cavaliers’ four-game sweep over the Boston Celtics in the first round.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“I think he’s focused. I think he’s going to take that challenge,” Rose said. “But who knows what he’s actually going through? When you’re playing against one of the best players in the NBA and you’re coming in this arena knowing how much he did in this arena, I think nerves play a little part to it. But I know during the game, that should be gone. And he should be ready.”

Considering Butler is the Bulls’ leading scorer (24.8 points against Milwaukee), he knows he has to balance the delicate dance between expending his energy chasing James around and making him work on defense. As great as James is, he doesn’t have an endless reservoir of energy, and has appeared to coast on defense at times this season to save his body.

The prospect of matching up with James can lead to the most confusing of answers, even to the most unflappable players.

“Yes, no. I don’t know the answer to that,” said Butler when asked if he needs to focus more on offense. “I think I have to be aggressive but I don’t think I have to put all my energy on the offensive end. I think I have to spend a lot of energy on the defensive end. It’s definitely gonna be a balance tonight and the rest of the series.”

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets


Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.