Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively


Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively

One more.

That’s all the Bulls truly needed to challenge the Golden State Warriors on their home court, with the dual opportunity to end the champs’ unbeaten streak and become the first team to win at Oracle Arena since they did it nearly a year ago.

It wasn’t one more shot, but another shot creator was needed besides Jimmy Butler considering Derrick Rose was out with his ankle injury.

And although Joakim Noah doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional shot creator, if he were the confident, swaggering Noah who could make plays with everybody around him, it could’ve made things truly interesting.

But as Noah sat in his locker after Friday’s loss, after 17 frustrating minutes that saw him turn the ball over four times along with going scoreless for the second straight game and fifth time overall this season, he looked to be confused—not necessarily at his play but he wonders how he’s supposed to play.

[MORE: Derrick Rose aiming to play Tuesday vs. Trail Blazers]

“I guess be more aggressive. It’s frustrating right now, not being able to help the team win tonight,” Noah said. “Disappointing, but just come back next game and do better.”

When Noah was an offensive hub back in the 2013-14 season, Rose was out with injury after the first 10 games and Butler hadn’t yet emerged as a true No. 1 option. So Noah exemplified making lemonade out of lemons.

No sugar, no sweetener and no ice.

It wasn’t always pretty but it was effective, as he averaged 5.4 assists and had an offensive rating of 111 points per 100 possessions.

Now that Fred Hoiberg has taken the helm and there are a plethora of options offensively, either he hasn’t found a way to best utilize Noah or Noah isn’t comfortable with how he fits in this new scheme—as Noah is averaging 3.5 assists but his offensive rating has dropped to 84 points per 100 possessions.

His down-on-himself demeanor hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates who believe he’ll get out of this funk soon enough.

“I feed him a little bit,” Rose said after the team's practice at Golden State's facility in Oakland. “When he’s in the game with me, they kinda forget he’s out there when I have the ball. There’s been some plays in the past where I’ve fed him and he’s had a chance to dunk the ball or whatever. Whenever he’s in the play and rolling to the rim, if he’s open I’m definitely gonna give him the ball.”

[RELATED: Bulls hang with Warriors but can't finish them off]

To be fair, Pau Gasol, an offensively wizard for his size if there ever was one, wants the ball to go more inside as opposed to being so perimeter oriented.

So there’s plenty of kinks to be worked out, still, although Noah’s issues seem more front and center because of the sway he holds in the locker room, his contractual status as a free-agent-to-be, and all he’s accomplished in a Bulls uniform.

“The big thing is if you cut and move and screen and do the unselfish things, that stuff takes care of itself,” said Hoiberg, not speaking of anyone in particular. “With Pau, you give him the ball at the elbow and he can make plays. He’s a very good passer. But we can’t stand. That’s where we need to get better. We’ve made improvements from where we were at the beginning of the season. But it needs to continue to get better.”

In training camp, Hoiberg said Noah would flash to the ball almost too quickly from the baseline, something that could muck up the desired spacing on the perimeter considering Noah isn’t a threat to shoot.

What’s happened since is Noah has become far more tentative and unsure of when to exercise his instincts, perhaps in fear of disrupting a rhythm-based offense.

“He made a couple good backdoor passes. Those are the type of plays that Jo can make from out on the top of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “But you have to have movement. If he gets the ball up top, you can’t be stationary. You can’t stand still. That’s with all players but especially with our big guys. You can’t stand and allow them to load on the guy in the middle of the floor.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The bigs often screen, then re-screen from a different angle near the perimeter. Rolling to the basket isn’t as prevalent in Hoiberg’s offense, and considering he’s big on the team playing with pace there’s a fine line between being methodical and rushing.

Hoiberg said he doesn’t have to make severe modifications to the offense to fit any one player, but seemed to admit they haven’t put Noah in supreme positions to be successful.

Noah, who struggled through last season after knee surgery following the 2014 playoffs, certainly looks to be in more discomfort mentally than physically.

“I got to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” he said before repeating himself. “Right now I’m not really sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt


Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

Through the opening four weeks of the NBA season, Dallas swingman Luka Doncic has emerged as one of the early favorites for the Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old from Slovenia is averaging 20.8 points on .489 shooting from the field and .395 from the 3 point line, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

We’ve been hearing about Doncic for a number of years because of his sensational play in the European leagues, but some scouts questioned whether his lack of elite athleticism would limit his ability to excel at the NBA level.

So far, Doncic has silenced all the doubters with his innate feel for the game and the joy and flair he exhibits on the court. Paired with high-flying second year guard Dennis Smith Jr., Doncic is giving basketball fans in Dallas hope for the future despite the team’s current 4-8 record.

The Mavs beat the Bulls in the third game of the season in Dallas, 115-109, led by 19 points and 6 assists from Doncic and 18 points and 16 rebounds from veteran center DeAndre Jordan. The Bulls got outrebounded 41-34 and fueled the Mavs’ transition game with 19 turnovers that led to 27 points for the home team.

Monday’s rematch could be even tougher since Dallas will have the services of talented small forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who missed last month’s game because of injury, is averaging 14.5 points and five rebounds a game.

Even though he’s only shooting .377 from the field right now, Barnes' presence gives the Mavericks another three-point shooting threat on a team that lives and dies on its proficiency behind the arc. Dallas currently is tied for fifth in the NBA with 33.9 three point attempts per game.

Wesley Matthews scored 20 points in the first meeting between the two teams and veteran guard J. J. Barea always seems to comes up with big games against the Bulls. Barea is coming off a 21 point performance against Oklahoma City Saturday where he knocked down three of four attempts from three-point range.

So, what will it take for the Bulls to earn a split in the season series Monday night?

1. DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE Like so many teams in the modern NBA, the Mavs won’t get discouraged by early misses from long range. They’ll keep jacking up threes throughout the game, with everyone on the roster except DeAndre Jordan given the green light. Doncic, Matthews, Barnes and Smith Jr. are all capable of big nights from three-point land, as are Barea, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith off the bench.

2. LIMIT TURNOVERS  Dallas wants to play at a fast pace with their young guards making plays in transition, so careless turnovers will make the Mavericks even more dangerous in the open court. Inserting Ryan Arcidiacono into the starting lineup improved the Bulls offensive efficiency early in their win over Cleveland on Saturday, but the challenge now is sustaining that efficiency over four quarters.

Shaq Harrison also gave the Bulls quality minutes at the point guard position against the Cavs, and he’ll use his size and aggressiveness to put some defensive pressure on the Mavs’ guards.

3. ANOTHER BIG NIGHT FOR ZACH  LaVine poured in 34 points in a losing effort in Dallas last month, and he’ll have a big advantage in quickness against either Doncic or Matthews. Dallas might go with Barnes on LaVine at times to challenge Zach’s outside shooting, but that might open up more opportunities to drive to the rim, where Jordan will be waiting.

LaVine has been very successful so far in challenging opposing centers on drives, and even though Jordan is an excellent shot blocker, don’t expect the NBA’s fourth leading scorer to back down.

With match-ups against Eastern Conference heavyweights Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto coming up, you know the Bulls would love to come away with a win over Dallas on Monday night.

We’ll have the game for you on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, starting with Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium at 6:30. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the play by play call at 7, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

We hope you make your plans to join us Monday night.

Bulls practice notes: Wendell Carter Jr. looks up stats differently

Bulls practice notes: Wendell Carter Jr. looks up stats differently

The Bulls got a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Here are my thoughts from practice on Sunday.

1. Winning Sunday

Following the Bulls 99-98 win over the Cavs, there was an upbeat vibe on Sunday as guys hit the hardwood laughing, joking around and putting up shots. Then it was off to watch film and back to business. It was two weeks ago in that film room where this team had its ugliest and hardest session of the season… watching the Warriors dismantle them time and time again.

But, since then, the Bulls have actually made big strides defensively, ranking sixth in the league since that blowout. While they’ve gone 2-4 over that stretch, you could argue the losses were all close and coach Fred Hoiberg believes that’s progress.

“Since that night, guys have really bought in to film sessions. They’re coming out on the court and trying to correct things where we were making consistent mistakes. We’re still not there 100 percent, we’re still making [mistakes], but we’re making less of them and that’s a good sign," Hoiberg said. "If we can get the rebounding to where we need it and finish off possessions that’s what will really take us to the next level.”

2. Carter relishes his role as the defensive anchor

Meeting the media with a big grin Sunday, Wendell Carter Jr. joked that he didn’t mind our questions getting him out of some of the team’s film session. Don’t worry Bulls fans, Wendell is a quick study with an extremely high basketball IQ.

“He’s a smart kid. If he does make a mistake, you only have to tell him once and he won’t make it again,” Hoiberg said.

I mention the grin, but the rookie has a lot to be smiling about as he continues to turn heads in this league. He’s averaging nearly 12 points, 8 rebounds and over 2 assists and 2 blocks a game. WCJ joked he was robbed of a fourth swat against the Cavs near the end of the game, but the one everyone wanted to talk about came in the opening quarter where he came from the weak side and blocked Jordan Clarkson.

“It all depends on who I’m guarding, the personnel. For Clarkson I knew he wanted to get a shot up. So, I knew he wasn’t going to pass the ball, so I knew that was the perfect opportunity for me to come over for help-side defense," Carter said. "I just kind of do whatever I can to help the team win and I feel like being a defensive anchor right now is something I have to do just to help this team win.” 

3. Gen Z looks up stats differently

Speaking of Wendell Carter Jr., the 19 year old said the three stats he pays attention to when evaluating his game are: Plus-minus, rebounds, and blocked shots. But don’t expect the Gen Z, Duke stud to look those up in a box score. Nope, he’ll just scroll through his IG page, duh. (@wendellcarterjr)

“I’m seeing them on Instagram and on Twitter, but I don’t really try to look for them," Carter said. "I’m not going to lie. After the games I don’t really try to pay attention to my stats, but if I’m scrolling through my Instagram I’ll probably see them at some point. I’m not going to just scroll past them and pretend like I don’t see them. I’m going to look at them.”