Bulls

Bulls: Mirotic hopes he's turned the corner on inconsistency

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Bulls: Mirotic hopes he's turned the corner on inconsistency

Nikola Mirotic had been getting in some extra work with Fred Hoiberg, but for those who don’t have access to the Advocate Center, he might as well have been on a milk carton with a sign that said “missing in action”.

Going scoreless in one game where production was sorely needed along with combining for 24 points in the other five games before Saturday, it began to appear a sophomore slump was not an outlier.

Then Saturday happened, and the alarm clock went off just in time for Mirotic, who went off for 17 in the Bulls’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night.

[MORE: Bulls stun Cavaliers, spoil Tyronn Lue's NBA coaching debut]

“Finally, you know? It’s been huge for me,” Mirotic said in the visitor’s locker room Saturday night. “I’ve said before, I’m working on my shots but even with my shots they haven’t been going in. My teammates were finding me. But it’s just one game. Miami is next. I need to play well.”

The frustrating pump fakes, the bricked jumpers kept adding up as Mirotic looked bottled up and the only constant observation that could be said centered around his indecision. Even his breakout game against the Cavaliers can’t be praised too much because nobody knows what’s to come behind it.

And with the Bulls going out west for a grueling trip after their last home game against Miami, no one can predict what’s coming next, not even his coach. Almost a microcosm of this team to date.

“This year against good teams we play great. But we need to change our mentality, we need to play great against everybody,” Mirotic said. “Today we started at the beginning, great physicality, played for each other. The second unit, we played good.”

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For some reason, comfort has been hard to find for Mirotic, and Hoiberg has tried virtually everything to get him going. He’s started at power forward, come off the bench, started at small forward and now, he’s back as a reserve expected to anchor a second unit.

“I don’t know if I’m feeling pressure but I know I can play better and when you’re not doing your job as you’re expected…I need to play better,” Mirotic said. “Today was a different game and I need to keep building. They trust me.”

As Bobby Portis’ production has tailed off and Doug McDermott has disappeared whenever he’s not on the floor with Joakim Noah, Mirotic is the best and last hope of the recent draft picks to make a difference.

Shocking as it is, he’s the most productive and even through this period of play where you hardly noticed he was on the floor, January is Mirotic’s best month of the season — an illustration of the state of affairs under both circumstances.

“When you care as much as Niko does I think you’re gonna put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Hoiberg said. “Our first game against Cleveland Niko led us in scoring with 19 points. Then last game he was terrific.”

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His confidence has been as unpredictable as his play but unlike last season, he’s a necessity and not a luxury, which brings about a different kind of feeling as he hopes the inconsistency is behind him — but who can be sure at this point?

“Right now it’s up and down and I’m trying everyday to do something good,” he said. 

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

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

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."