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.”

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.


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.