Bulls: Joakim Noah wants another shot at pairing with Pau Gasol


Bulls: Joakim Noah wants another shot at pairing with Pau Gasol

When the Bulls made their expected coaching change, one of the on-court changes many expected was to break up the tandem of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt.

In fact, when Fred Hoiberg had his availability on Media Day, the new Bulls coach anticipated it would be among the first three questions. The notion stemmed around Noah limping around last season and to a lesser extent, Gasol advancing in age. With Gasol being an All-Star player, the speculation was growing louder that Noah should come off the bench to balance out the floor.

But Noah feels Hoiberg should hold off on making a decision based off the tape from last year. The film doesn’t lie that the duo looked uneven last season, despite the gaudy record posted by the starting five for the few games they played together (16-5).

“I think we should give it an honest evaluation while I’m healthy,” Noah said. “Last year, I wasn’t healthy. Let’s see how it goes and then coaches can make a decision from there.”

In some respects, Noah was kept on the floor due to loyalty and a level of comfort from Tom Thibodeau, even as his left knee affected virtually every aspect of his game, including his confidence.

[MORE: Derrick Rose will resume basketball activity in two weeks following surgery]

The numbers fell across the board, which have been well-documented. And he wasn’t able to cover Gasol’s back defensively, contributing to his 102-point defensive rating, his highest in the Thibodeau era by far.

So Gasol, who underwent nasal surgery in June to alleviate breathing issues, is keeping an open mind to the pairing, although he knows he’ll see considerable time with Nikola Mirotic as a way to maximize the Bulls’ offensive prowess.

“That's got to be the coaching staff's decision, obviously, not ours,” Gasol said. “I think each player will do the best he can to be on the floor as long as possible and have significant minutes. It's good to see Jo healthy and moving well.”

Everything should be prefaced with saying it’s the first days of camp so bodies don’t have the wear-and-tear on it that will be around in February, but Noah won’t be limited by minute restrictions or the mental fears that he can’t do it physically.

“He looks fresh,” Gasol said. “He looks like he's in really good shape, has worked hard during the summer. Now he does feel and look bouncier. It's great to see him that way. From what I've seen so far, yes. The day and a half I've seen him, he looks really good.”

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Moving well means lateral movement being the biggest improvement for Noah, allowing him to cover ground quicker baseline to baseline and on high screen-rolls, should the Bulls decide to trap up high in an aggressive setting.

“I just feel bouncier, just lighter on my feet,” Noah said. “Just waking up in the morning and moving good, that’s a good feeling. Doing a lot of yoga every morning before I come in. Just taking care of myself a little different. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Of course Noah has been through it before, and Gasol is a veteran of many training camps, so one wonders how much Hoiberg can experiment with the two playing together in the preseason, especially when the plan is to limit Gasol’s usage to under the 34.4 minutes he played per game last season, his highest mark since the 2011-12 season when he was a much younger man.

“Well, we'll see how the season goes,” Gasol said. “Ideally, I'll play less than I did last year and that's kind of the plan, I guess. But we'll see what happens. I've just got to be ready. Seasons are long, are tough, are demanding and as a professional, you have to stay ready. It's not going to be ideal all the time. It's never ideal. You just have to work through it and do the best you can.”

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen. 

Bulls Talk Podcast: Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the league?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the league?

Mark Schanowski talks all things hoops with Indianapolis Star Pacers beat writer J.Michael. Is Victor Oladipo ready to take the next step as a legitimate MVP candidate? Can the Pacers challenge the top three teams in the East? Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the NBA? And, will the signing of Dwight Howard mean disaster in the nation’s capital? Plus, the guys make their predictions for the upcoming season.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: