Bulls

Bulls: Jimmy Butler has firmly entered conversation as NBA's best shooting guard

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Bulls: Jimmy Butler has firmly entered conversation as NBA's best shooting guard

Jimmy Butler wouldn’t entertain the question with any sincerity, shunning the thought of crowning himself the best at his position.

“You're not going to draw me into that nonsense,” Butler said half-jokingly. “I just want to be the best two-guard I can be for this team. That's all I'm worried about.”

With his play of late, averaging 31.3 points over the last four games on 54 percent shooting (42-78 FG), he’s now firmly in the conversation of being the league’s best shooting guard.

Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Houston’s James Harden are certainly in the discussion as well, with Miami’s Dwyane Wade as elder statesman at the spot.

Harden was MVP runner-up last year but he’s reverted back to his old habits of refusing to play defense.

[MORE BULLS: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance]

With there’s no clear answer, so it’s all about preference. And unlike a couple weeks back when Butler voiced his opinion about the state of the team, comments that were necessary, it should be said, he’s letting his game speak for itself.

“Jimmy’s been unreal right now,” said Derrick Rose after Butler’s 32-point, 10-assist performance against the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night.

Rose was asked if Butler should be considered elite and he agreed wholeheartedly. Butler’s coach, Fred Hoiberg, endorsed that train of thought as well.

“Absolutely I think Jimmy has reached elite status in this league. You can see every game he’s getting more comfortable as far as overall,” Rose said in Tuesday’s morning shootaround. “He’s such a complete player. It’s a testament to what he does in the offseason. He just continues to add new elements to his game. He was in here at 8 a.m. this morning getting shots up. And he’s never satisfied. And I think that’s the true sign of a superstar, when you continue to work when you have success.”

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

Next to Harden and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, he’s third at his position in scoring average at 22.1 points per game and clearly the best defender of the top shooting guards in the league.

“I'm just playing basketball, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “My teammates are always finding me in great positions to score the ball. And I play with such great passers, such great scorers that my job is really easy.

“You've got to guard the guys around me, so I get a free lane to the basket. I get a steal in the open floor or I get a wide-open jump shot. A lot of it goes to them. Yeah, I put in the work to make sure I'm confident to take the shots I know I can make, but when you've got to guard the other four guys on the floor and the ball's in my hands, I have an easy job.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.