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Bulls: Masked Derrick Rose returns to practice, optimistic about opener

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Bulls: Masked Derrick Rose returns to practice, optimistic about opener

Perhaps the Elusive One, the Reclusive One should now be called the Optimistic One.

Or the Masked One.

Derrick Rose walked over confidently to the assembled media after shooting around with his newly-fitted mask at the Advocate Center and delivered his first comments since his orbital bone surgery two weeks ago, while not ruling out a debut on opening night Oct. 27.

“No pain,” Rose said. “I haven't had no pain since the first couple days after the surgery. After that, it's just getting it open, waiting for my eye to get right in the center, because it's a little bit higher than the other eye right now.”

[MORE BULLS: Until Butler and Rose succeed together, speculation will always loom]

He spoke so positively about where is now, it appears he’s made enough progress to at least be optimistic about having his name called when the Bulls take the floor against the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.

“It’s whenever I can go play. I want to play. I’m anxious to play. I’m getting jittery just watching them play and the freedom we have playing,” he said. “If I’m willing to go and I know there’s nothing in my way, I’ll play.”

Despite the left eye looking like he’d been in a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns for a few rounds, barely staying open at times, he seemed to be comfortable with the temporary reality of having accepted his left eye has gone through this type of trauma.

The dark moments, both literally and figuratively, directly after his procedure were the worst ones, but he quickly quipped with a level of humor, “I’m happy it’s not my knees.”

Referring to the knees that have often failed him and played a part in the derision he’s endured subsequently, he described the darkest—and worst moments of the last two weeks.

“Getting out of surgery. Throbbing, it felt like a blowtorch on your face,” Rose said. “Just having to stay in the house for two weeks. Felt like I was in jail or something, but just happy to be out, happy to be with my teammates, and happy to be back on the same mission previous to this [injury].”

[MORE BULLS: Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons]

Rose has spent plenty of time watching this team with his one good eye, and sees an open floor with plenty of opportunity to involve his teammates to the tune of at least seven assists per game, numbers he reached in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, his best as a professional.

“I’m cool with that. Whatever makes the game easy,” Rose said. “Even when I came back and practiced before training camp, I wasn’t being aggressive. I was just trying to get the feel for the offense and just get used to pushing the ball the way he wants us to push it.”

And if need be, he could play with the left eye not at maximum efficiency because a Rose with one eye is better than many with two. He hasn't yet been cleared for contact, taking things a step at a time while keeping an eye to the near future.

“I think I can. I can’t open my other eye,” Rose said. “That’s when I get double vision. But with one eye open, I think I could play pretty good.”

When asked if he ever wondered “why me?”, Rose said the temporary feeling didn’t last long, a sentiment many in the Chicago basketball community could wish they shared.

“Not at all. I will say the first day it's like that,” Rose said. “But after that, I just know there's a bigger plan. I'm doing all I can do on and off the court to try to be the best person I am and be the best athlete I can become. That's the only thing I can do. All the other things, like the injuries and all that; I'm just happy that it's not my knees. My eyes, anything else, I can deal with it. As long as it's not my legs, I'm fine.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The film showed Taj Gibson as the culprit who hit Rose with an inadvertent elbow on the first day of training camp, the day that was supposed to signal the new beginning for the player who had a few too many new beginnings in short time.

“It comes along with it I guess. Just another cool story I can tell my son, for real,” he said.

As the swelling went down, the optimism rose even as the criticism surrounding his Media Day comments began to swell even more, as if the injury was some karmic payback for an awkwardly-placed answer.

“Everybody knows why I'm here,” Rose said. “That's why I picked this profession, just to win games no matter how we win games. It's all about winning. The No. 1 goal is to win the championship. This is my eighth year in the league. I was hoping I would win one before my eighth year, but it's all in God's plans, so just got to follow along with it and keep my goals pretty strict.”

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.