Bulls' Jimmy Butler setting tone in camp with his play and his mouth


Bulls' Jimmy Butler setting tone in camp with his play and his mouth

Wake-up calls at 5 a.m. for summer workouts in San Diego forged camaraderie between Jimmy Butler and the visiting Doug McDermott, but it didn’t stop Butler from incessantly trash talking his teammate in Bulls practice, leading McDermott to believe Butler forgot whose side he’s ultimately on.

“It didn't feel like he was on our team for a second,” McDermott said. “Talking crap to all of us. That's just kind of the way he is. He has a completely different mindset. He really wants to win. It's been really obvious the first few days of practice.”

Whether it’s showing little to no mercy on poor McDermott on the defensive end or showing off even more improvement on the offensive end, Butler is making good on his word that his new maximum contract would only make him work harder as opposed to relaxing.

“I knew Jimmy was good (before). But he’s been awesome,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s so strong right now. He’s in great shape and another guy where the amount of work he put in in the summer is paying off.

“He’s probably in the best shape of anybody out here. He’s all over the floor, offensively, defensively. There aren’t a lot of two-way players in this league but he’s definitely one of them.”

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Who knows where Butler ranks in the hierarchy of two-way swingmen in the class of a healthy Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but it’s clear he’s not resting on the laurels of having two significant jumps in his game in the first four years.

It wasn’t long ago when the Bulls balked at giving Butler a nearly $50 million deal in camp this time last year, unsure of whether he could improve enough as a consistent offensive weapon.

But now, Hoiberg is openly stating he believes Butler has yet another leap to go, after last season’s leap that netted him an All-Star appearance and discussion among the league’s top 20 players.

“I think so. In talking to him, he wants to add to his game,” Hoiberg said. “Every offseason, he’s in here working on stepbacks, one-footers, runners. His 3-ball looks great right now. He’s such a well-rounded player. And when you have a guy who has that type of drive and desire and work ethic, he’ll continue to get better.” 

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Being impressive in the first couple days of training camp certainly differs from doing it when the lights are brightest, but Butler has made quite the impression on his coach and teammates.

McDermott came to San Diego to train with Butler for a couple weeks, under the watchful eye of Butler’s trainer, Chris Johnson. It appears to be another step in the maturation of a player now validated but not spoiled by stardom, becoming more vocal on an everyday basis.

“I know going into this camp he really talked a lot about that,” Hoiberg said. “With the amount of veteran guys we have, we should be able to lead by committee with this group. That’s something he wanted to do going into this camp.”

And even if it’s playing point guard, as Butler is wont to do, Hoiberg won’t set any limits on the player who came into camp clearly on a mission.

“He has the confidence,” Hoiberg said. “There’s no doubt about that. You can put him anywhere on the floor and he can make plays, make baskets. So, yeah, if he’s got that feeling, we do as well.”

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


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.