Bulls

Bulls make it six straight

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Bulls make it six straight

ORLANDO, FLA.Another one bit the dust Friday evening, as the Bulls (7-1) used a strong all-around effort and contributions from multiple sources to gut out a 97-83 win over the Magic (5-3) at the Amway Center. Clearly tired from its hectic schedule and frequent travels, as well as having several players either sidelined or at less than 100 percent, Chicago survived various runs from the hosts to eventually conquer Orlando, mostly based on its familiar staples of strong defense and balanced offensive play.

Anything to win, that was the whole mindset, said Derrick Rose, who battled through a bruised left elbow. Just try to come out aggressivewe tend, in the past, to come out kind of sluggishso try to get guys going early and that was the whole game plan, especially with Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard.

The visitors were at the wrong end of an 8-2 start at the games outset, as a Howard (28 points, 15 rebounds) jump hook to open scoring and a thunderous dunk were sandwiched around two Jason Richardson (17 points)the veteran shooting guard was pursued by the Bulls in free agency before he re-signed with the Magicbuckets, prompting an early Tom Thibodeau timeout to restore order. His goal was accomplished, as the Bulls found their offensive rhythm, highlighted by pushing the tempo and excellent ball movement, with Rose (21 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds) and Luol Deng (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) leading the charge as both scorers and playmakers.

I didnt like our first quarter, but I thought after the first quarter, we were pretty good, said Thibodeau. We had a lot of guys come in and do a really good job.

With Chicago back in the thick of things, Thibodeau atypically used his bench liberally in the opening periodperhaps because the absences of starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton (groin) and backup point guard C.J. Watson (elbow) altered the regular rotationshuffling in the likes of Omer Asik and Kyle Korver (18 points, 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range) earlier than usual, though the moves did little to stop a dominant quarter by Howard. Although Orlandos shooters went cold, the Bulls continually swarmed Howard and aggressive play from Joakim Noah (10 rebounds), Deng and Rose as penetrators attacking the basket persisted, the Amway Center guests trailed, 27-26, after a quarter of play.

Definitely with Rip not playing, I wanted to be aggressive early and no disrespect or anything, but playing Orlando, I knew they were going to be up for it and they were going to try to take touches away from Derrick, said Deng, who admitted before the game that he was fatigued in Wednesdays win over Detroit, though he didnt have to exert himself much offensively that night, as his teammates picked up the slack. I just wanted to be aggressive and make sure I was an option on the floor.

It remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, as the Bulls reserves held down the fort, with designated marksman Korver, in particular, making significant contributions.

It felt good, said Korver. I felt good in warm-ups and tried to be aggressive tonight, and guys were looking for me, set some pretty good screens and I was in the flow of the game.

Added Thibodeau: Hes shown that hes a big shot-maker and I liked the way we moved the ball. We had good ball movement tonight and guys were sharing it. When they were helping, they found the open man and made the extra pass.

Thibodeau reinserted his starters and the combination of continued solid ball movement, Noah using his ballhandling ability to pull Howard away from the basket, team defensive awareness, timely outside shooting, opportunistic up-tempo play and both Rose and Deng making plays off the dribble, allowing power forward Carlos Boozer (20 points, 13 rebounds) to get involved in the action, gave the Bulls a slim cushion.

Just take whatever the game gives me. Im just trying to work hard out there. Dwight is definitely a handful and hes a great player, very physical, but it was a great team effort tonight. Everybody came in and chipped in and helped in a positive way, said Noah. Hes such a presence down low defensively that I was just trying to make plays from the elbow and do whatever I could.

Chimed in Thibodeau: I liked his aggressiveness. I thought he missed a couple of bunnies, but hes not hesitating as much, his timings getting better, hes rebounding the ball. I thought he competed with Dwight. Dwight is big, hes strong and its a physical pounding that youre involved with. From the start of every time he hits the paint, hes going to hit your body, so he was engaged. He did a really good job. I think his offense will come around.

The dinged-up Rose frequently went to high-arcing floaters when faced with the proposition of the behemoth-like Howard, while Deng showcased his improved ballhandling skills as driver and playmaker, as well as knocking down jump shots, propelling the Bulls to extend their advantage to double figures as the first half wound down.

Explained Rose: A lot of floaters tonight, knowing that when I did go to the holeI think I got fouled a couple times tonight, but they didnt call itbut Im used to throwing floaters up and tonight, some of them fell.

Although Chicago would suffer lapses toward the end of the period, the visitors, buoyed by their usual strong defensive effort, went into the intermission with a 53-43 lead, following an improbable Boozer fadeaway at the buzzer off a beautifully-executed set inbounds with 0.9 seconds left.

Chicagos defensive effort and unselfish offensive play continued after the break, as the visitors went on a 9-2 run to open the third quarter, punctuated by a Rose alley-oop finish from Deng in transition, leading to frustrated Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy calling for a halt to the proceedings. Orlando responded with three straight triples to make a 9-0 run, cutting its deficit to single digits and leading an irked Thibodeau to call a timeout of his own to combat his former bossex-Knicks and Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy was courtside, calling the game as a television analystbrothers strategy.

The Magic continued to gradually chip away at the Bulls winning margin as the period waned on, but the Bulls bench, led by the active reserve big-man tandem of Taj Gibson and Asik, as well as third-string point guard John Lucas, playing in place of the injured Watson, gave them a boost, aiding Chicago in pushing their lead back to double figures. Heading into the final stanza, the visitors maintained a 73-62 edge.

Orlando made an early fourth-quarter stand, led by its familiar combination of Howards inside dominance and three-point marksmanship, not to mention a jolt of energy from backup power forward Glen Davis (eight points, 10 rebounds), making a 9-2 run at the beginning of the period to get back within striking distance. The Magic continued to close the gap through the contests midway mark, making it a one-possession game, as Thibodeaus vaunted defense failed him for a critical stretch, although the Bulls, dead on their feet as a wholeDeng, Noah, Boozer and Rose were clearly laboringsomehow obtained a bit of breathing room entering the games stretch run.

Your lead is never safe against them because of the way they shoot the three, so they can make up ground quickly on you, said Thibodeau. When you have the lead, youre concerned about the three, so we used some fouls. Dwight has really improved; theyve done a great job with him and their team is tough. The pressure is on you constantly. You can never let your guard down against them.

By grinding out possessions on both endsThibodeau went small up front with Boozer and Gibson, whose defense on Howard and off the ball was crucial, while Boozer made shots from the field and charity stripe when it countedand receiving timely shooting by Korver, who found his way out of a slump, the Bulls again made it a double-digit game late.

This is the NBA, man. Youre not going to make every shot that you take, but youre going to have an opportunity to take another shot. This is my 10th year; I dont get rattled by too much. Ive seen a lot, said Boozer. We just keep playing.

The one thing that I can always tell you: no matter what happens offensively, our defense has been great all season. Were holding teams to 80-something points, were keeping their field-goal percentage low and thats why well always have a chance to win, he continued. We just play, man. Were a veteran group, just because of what we went through last year.

We always keep our poise. We believe in our system, we believe in each other and they made a runbut we knew that we would have a chance to make our run, and we did.

Said Rose: Kyle is someone that youve definitely got to look out for. He can definitely put the game away and you see thats what he did tonight. Give him any type of space and hell knock it down.

The Amway Center crowd hit the exits early and the tired visitors cruised in the end, headed to Atlanta for a rematch against the equally, if not more, haggard Hawks the following night.

We just played great, especially at the end. Every time they made a run, we answered to it. Someone came up and made the big play, and at the end, with six minutes to go, we just made plays to win the game, said Deng. We just stuck together. They made their run. NBA teams are going to make runs; its how you answer back to it. Our whole mindset was just, stop, score, stop, and we got a couple stops in a row and guys are making big plays right now.

Concurred Korver: I think weve had a bunch of close games this year. Weve kind of had to pull it out in the end and I think were fairly confident that when we have to do that, were going to be able to.

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

It wasn’t an exciting night at the Advocate Center but it was a successful one in the eyes of the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

And a telling one, from their inaction as they stayed put to select Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison with their two first round picks.

They’re not looking to press the fast-forward button on this methodical process, placing unrealistic expectations on themselves that they’re nowhere near ready to embrace.

But perhaps, it was necessary.

Trade offers were around, and the Bulls were enamored with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III in addition to their interest in Mohamed Bamba. But the price of swapping picks, along with giving up the 22nd spot and a future first-rounder was too rich for the Bulls, according to sources.

“We’re always looking and probing for opportunity. How close we got, we don’t know,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “We looked into some things. We thought it was more than a six-player draft. And Wendell is a guy we’ve been high on for quite awhile.”

They believe they’ve opted for prudence instead of panic on a night where bold, confident steps are expected.

After a painful march to the end of an unsatisfying season and dropping a spot in the lottery, a trade would’ve been a do-good when many felt the Bulls should’ve been at the top of the draft order.

After all, so much was made of their scouts and staff spending so much time during the year to assess the top talent—nobody wanted to see all that unspoken promise result in a mid-lottery seventh selection.

“We feel we’re in a situation at this time of our rebuild that to give up assets, important draft assets to move up a spot or two, that didn’t make sense to us and the way we’re planning,” Paxson said. “We continue to talk about being patient and disciplined in how we make decisions.”

One can look at it as the Bulls being unwilling to embrace what comes with taking a top-four talent—especially with Jackson being viewed as a long play as opposed to an instant impact prospect—the word “playoffs” would’ve been swirling all around Madison and Wood for the next several months.

Or one can view it as a sober approach, that Paxson and Forman know there’s far too many unanswered questions about their core, that a slightly better-than-expected regular season wasn’t going to seduce them down a costly road.

They don’t seem to be completely sold on Kris Dunn as the unequivocal point guard of the future, unafraid to take Trae Young if he fell into their lap.

Zach LaVine didn’t play to his expectations, the franchise’s expectations and he didn’t look comfortable playing with the Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, in part because they didn’t have the opportunity.

He enters restricted free agency and nobody will know how much the Bulls value him until they put an initial offer in front of him, likely on the eve of free agency a week from now.

As much as the last 12 months were about hitting the reset button and trading Jimmy Butler to put themselves in this spot, the months of October to April didn’t shed as much light as many anticipated—hence the talk from Paxson about patience and not being in a rush with the rebuild right now.

Because honestly, there’s nothing to rush—the last thing this distrusting fan base wants to hear.

Carter can be exactly what the Bulls need—some ways immediately, other ways in time provided the roster construction is competent and not done at a snail’s pace, the biggest fear from this jaded fan base.

Having to sacrifice at Duke once Bagley III reclassified to get to college, his offensive game didn’t develop as much as it could have—and it’s not like he’ll be featured early on in Chicago with Markkanen and LaVine penciled in as main scoring options.

“As much as you wanna talk about the game getting away from bigs, big guys and their ability to score, the way the game’s going,” Paxson said. “He wants to set screens for guys. This is a young man who’s gonna fit into the team concept that we want to have. And Chandler will do the same.”

Carter had to submerge his talents and gifts during the one season he had to showcase it for the greater good. It speaks to a certain emotional maturity the 19-year old has, a sober approach to look at the bigger picture while still making the most of his not-so-plentiful opportunities.

“Wendell is still a young guy,” Paxson said. “Very few draft picks are finished product, especially in our game where we’re drafting so young. He’s got a lot of room to grow. Defensively as a rim protector, he’ll do really well. Verticality at the rim, he’s been taught really well. Smart kid, we think he’s gonna be really good.”

Hutchison isn’t the high-upside talent Carter is, having played four years of college ball, improving each year to the point that the Bulls supposedly made him a promise very early on in the draft process.

Their unwillingness to give up the 22nd pick, whether they like the perception or not, stems from their belief Hutchison can be an impact player.

“We like Chandler a lot,” Paxson said. “We scouted him early, scouted him often. He knew we liked him. He addresses a position of need. We had debates on wings and players at his position. His ability to rebound and take it off the board, those things are really valuable, especially the way we want to play.”

Paxson alluded to tense discussions leading to the draft, where one can surmise there was serious consideration about not just going with the status quo—their reported interest in point guard Collin Sexton should be proof of that—and that should come as a positive sign for Bulls fans, who feel the front office is satisfied with a slow-rolling, low-accountability approach since they aren’t saddling themselves with high expectations.

To paraphrase Forman, the Bulls are “still building up our asset base” and subtly saying they expect to be in a similar position next June.

Soberly saying winning and contention isn’t on the horizon can be refreshing to hear, but they walk a fine line of expressing too much comfort in things staying the way they are.

 

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls had a decision to make Thursday night at No. 7.

Staring them in the face was Michael Porter Jr., undoubtedly the biggest risk in the draft but also one of the most talented, and a fan favorite to boot. Both Villanova’s Mikal Bridges and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox presented options who would fill needs on the wing for a Bulls team desperate for a perimeter threat. The team was also reportedly interested in Alabama point guard Collin Sexton during the pre-draft process, and the potential to trade up for a Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba at 3 or 4 was on the table.

Instead the Bulls opted against going high upside, high risk. They passed on filling one of their glaring needs. They didn’t mortgage future assets to move up in a draft they felt was already deep enough. What the Bulls did on Thursday night in selecting Duke center Wendell Carter was make clear one aspect of their rebuild: Lauri Markkanen is the face of the franchise and the man they’re constructing this roster around.

Everything that makes the 19-year-old Carter a great prospect is what detractors felt might hold Markkanen back at the next level. Carter was built to thrive in the paint, an energetic center who posted a better offensive rebounding rate (the percentage of rebounds a player grabs while on the floor) than Texas’ Mo Bamba and his 7-foot-10 wingspan. Carter was one of the best players in the country at scoring off those offensive rebounds, and he did all this while playing alongside Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 pick to Sacramento and the ACC’s leading rebounder.

But Carter is more than just a young Tristan Thompson. Though he rarely had to use it on a Duke team littered with perimeter threats, Carter showed a solid touch in making 41 percent of his 46 3-point attempts. He looks comfortable at 15 to 17 feet, and he passed well from those areas, too. That shooting will come as an added bonus; Carter was the anchor a Duke defense that transformed to zone midway through the season, and the Blue Devils defense was nearly 6 points per 100 possessions better with Carter on the floor.

It's not surprising that the Bulls were reportedly interested in moving up with centers Jaren Jackson and Bamba on the table, more defensive-minded complements to Markkanen, and not Doncic or Porter. It felt as though the Bulls were drafting at 7 not only to grab the best player available, but to maximize Markkanen's potential.

What Carter will be asked to do, at least in the early going with this roster’s makeup – is much of what he was asked to do at Duke. He played second fiddle in the frontcourt to Bagley, who led the Blue Devils in all major offensive categories and won ACC Player of the Year. Carter posted modest 13.5-point and 9.0-rebound averages while doing the dirty work on defense. His 7.6 percent block rate (percentage of shot attempts he blocked while on the court) was impressive considering how often Duke played zone.

“The young man sacrificed a lot in order to be a good teammate. A lot of it speaks to who he is,” Forman said. “We think in really studying his game is, if you look long-term, is a guy that can fit with Lauri and obviously Lauri is a huge part of what we’re trying to build here."

The Bulls are rolling the dice that Markkanen can be the face of franchise. A year ago LaVine was far and away the core piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, and that was while he was rehabbing from ACL surgery. Markkanen was a question mark and a project, and Kris Dunn was a 23-year-old rookie who posted awful numbers in Minnesota. Questions about LaVine's future in Chicago with restricted free agency this summer now linger, and Dunn is going on 24 years old with 50 career starts.

It's Markkanen's spotlight, and the Bulls know it. He showed he was for real as a rookie; he was not, however, Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons, a can't-miss, sure-fire star. Yes, he joined LeBron James and Dario Saric as the only members of the 1,000-point, 500-rebound, 140-3-pointer club last year. He put up shooting numbers for a 7-footer matched only by Hall of Fame center Dirk Nowitzki. Questions persist on whether he can make a leap to stardom, but adding pieces like Carter to complement him and cover some weaknesses are a step in that direction.

"You hope you draft players that become stars," Paxson said. "We believe that last year, in drafting Lauri, he has that potential. He has a long way to go, but we believe he has that potential."

That could be part of the reason the Bulls opted against moving up in the draft, like Dallas did in dealing No. 5 and a future first-round pick to grab Luka Doncic at No. 3. Paxson and Forman both hinted at the Bulls being in a state of the rebuild where giving up future assets to attain something greater didn't provide a positive net worth. They're happy and comfortable with where they stand at this stage in the rebuild, with Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and an enormous amount of cap space.

Now they can add Carter and No. 22 pick Chandler Hutchison to that list. The 6-foot-7 Boise State forward was yet another complementary piece to the roster. Like Carter, Hutchison projects as a high floor, low(er) ceiling player. Hutchinson is a four-year senior compared to Carter being a year removed from high school, but the two are similar. Hutchison will provide a physical presence on the wing the Bulls have lacked, and he can cover defensive weaknesses of players like Denzel Valentine, LaVine and even Markkanen.

"We feel these two players complement the team and the roster that we have very well," Paxson said. "One year later we feel like we’ve added five really good young core pieces to build and that's important to us. We’re excited about the future, the direction we’re headed."

The Bulls didn’t need to roll the dice with their 7th pick on Thursday night. They rolled the dice with the same selection one year ago and hit on it. Taking Carter midway through the Lottery is a complement and a compliment to what the Bulls believe Markkanen is and what he will be for a franchise looking to get back in contention.

It's a lot to ask for a 21-year-old Finnish stretch forward. But superstars win in the NBA and the Bulls believe they have one budding at the power forward position. Thursday's decision to play it safe and draft a complementary piece in Carter, one who played a role in college he'll be asked to play in Chicago, only cements that belief.