Bulls

Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'

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Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'

The numbers were alarming and the way it was done is even more a cause of concern for the Bulls, five games into the season.

But Monday’s non-competitive blowout 130-105 loss to the then-winless Charlotte Hornets exposed some flaws that were covered up in the first few games, ones that looked like fool’s gold in hindsight.

In some twisted way, Jimmy Butler has been expecting a game like this since the preseason began, when the Bulls showed some bad habits they didn’t have any urgency on fixing.

“It was gonna happen sooner or later,” Butler said as he got dressed inside the Time Warner Cable Arena locker room, still smarting from a shocking loss in which he scored a quiet game-high 26 points. “Fifth game in? We can fix it. I can tell you one thing, Thursday it can get ugly very quickly if we don’t guard.”

[MORE: Bulls suffer worst loss of season to Hornets]

Ahh, Thursday. That only brings in the two most dynamic scorers not named Stephen Curry in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder on the national TV stage, a team that can light the Bulls up for 130 without having a special night.

It’ll just be a random Thursday.

“We didn’t stop nobody, they put up 130,” Butler said, referring to the actual 130 points the Hornets put on the Bulls. “We gotta nip that in the bud now. That’s not winning basketball, it’ll never be winning basketball here, never has been winning basketball here. We always prided ourselves on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight we were pretty, we were soft. Got our (butts) whipped.”

The recent Bulls teams wouldn’t dare allow themselves to be called soft, let alone allow it to have a grain of truth to it. The Hornets drove to the basket without feeling an opposing player breathe on them, much less fear retribution at the rim, much less being misdirected to take another route to their destination.

Bulls’ basketball used to be about detours, and Butler fears the muscle memory is disappearing way too easily. It’s a simple solution, he feels.

“Effort. Effort will fix all of that on the defensive end,” Butler said. “It’s all if you want to do it, to tell you the truth. We have a lot of guys capable of it. I think we focus too much on offense a lot of the time.

“Not most of the time, a lot of the time and we forget about what you gotta do on the other end of the floor. Speaking for myself and a lot of guys on the team, we gotta guard, that’s where it’s gotta start for us. We gotta be the dogs that everybody in Chicago knows we are and always been. Just some hard-playing guys that play harder than everybody.”

The paradigm shift that’s taking place hasn’t been an easy transition, going from a primarily defensive team to one that tries to outscore people. The lineup change that puts Joakim Noah on the bench for the talented Nikola Mirotic is exhibit A in the change.

[RELATED: Bulls' defense carrying the load thus far; Dunleavy on the mend]

The freedom that comes with a change on the sidelines from a buttoned-up Tom Thibodeau to a buttoned-down Fred Hoiberg can be intoxicating. And right now the Bulls are drunk off the hooch, perhaps seduced by the numbers that said they were just as potent a defensive team through four games as they had been last year.

“We haven’t been playing (any) defense,” Butler said. “Other teams just been missing shots, to tell you the truth. We (have to) get to guarding, we score enough points, that ain’t the problem.”

Telling from their defensive effort Tuesday, one wouldn’t think they treat defense serious enough from the roots, but Butler said they go after each other harder in practice than they do against an actual opponent, when the games count.

Wednesday’s noon session sounds like a showdown at the O.K. Corral, which from the looks of their recent performance, is a necessary expense.

“It’s more important to go in practice and compete,” Butler said. “Man up, roll that ball out and be dogs, y’all go dive on that ball, y’all play one on one, get a basket, get a stop.”

“Until we start competing the way we’re supposed to compete, ain’t no film, no talking gonna get you to do that. You gotta go out there and compete. The way we compete in practice, everybody’s going hard, hitting each other, fouling, we gotta do that to the opposing team not just each other.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In his comments, Butler made sure to include himself in his assessments, as not to separate himself from his teammates. And he didn’t give the slightest indication about individual agendas, but the transition is indeed a transition.

“I know what everybody’s mindset is, it’s to win,” Butler said. “At times people take it on themselves, ‘I’m gonna get this basket, I’ma do this, do that’. We gotta focus on team. On offense, on defense, it’s five guys out there.”

“We got a play for one another. We can never get lost in the fact we’re all good players, we’re a really good team, a deep team. When we buy into that team aspect, and everybody goes toward that common goal, we’re gonna be tough.”

Considering Butler has made such a big to-do about being more of a vocal leader this season, he was asked if this was his time to speak up, but he said he has to be the change he wants to see in everyone else—before expecting it of his teammates.

“This is the time most definitely,” Butler said. “But I think it’s gonna start for me on the floor. You can talk about it all you want, yadda, yadda, yadda, until I man up and start locking my man down and set the example, this is how you do it, I can’t say too much.”

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

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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.