Bulls

Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

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Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

It seems like just about every Bulls' fan I talk to wants to know why the front office wasn't more aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster over the last month. By now, you've probably already heard the explanation from Gar Forman and the team's beat writers. The Bulls want to maintain salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2014 when a big free agent class could provide a second star to go with Derrick Rose. That's also the summer the Bulls figure to use the amnesty provision on the final year of Carlos Boozers contract, and sign top European prospect Nikola Mirotic .So the question is: Are the Bulls in a holding pattern for the next two seasons?In terms of adding long term salary commitments, yes. But not in terms of fielding a team that can still compete in the Eastern Conference. Forman and his staff did a good job of rebuilding the Bulls' bench with the addition of solid veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. Hinrich will begin the season as the Bulls' starting point guard, then move into a reserve role when Rose finishes his rehab from knee surgery.
Belinelli is something of an unknown commodity since he came over from Italy and played his first five NBA seasons with bad teams. But the 26-year-old shooting guard is a career 39 percent shooter from 3-point range, and he's a more athletic player than the departed Kyle Korver. Belinelli admits he's not a great defensive player, but if anyone can help him, it's Tom Thibodeau.Hinrich is definitely an upgrade over C.J. Watson when he moves in to a reserve role, and we hear Captain Kirk is working out like a madman this summer, dropping weight and sharpening his skills for a second tour of duty with the Bulls. Hinrich has never been a high percentage shooter, but his ability to play both guard spots should give Thibodeau a lot more versatility late in close games. And no one will question Hinrichs work ethic and intensity on the defensive end.Second year forward Jimmy Butler also looks ready for regular rotation minutes. He has worked extremely hard at the Berto Center throughout the off-season, and was very impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League, making the All-Star team, along with free agent forward Malcolm Thomas. Butler looks a lot more aggressive on the offensive end, and should be able to get to the free throw line regularly with his ability to drive to the basket. Butler will eventually be an upgrade over the offensively-challenged Ronnie Brewer.
And lets hope the Bulls find a way to sign Thomas, whos getting attention from several teams after his strong summer league showing. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, his build is very similar to Taj Gibsons, and he would provide some insurance in case Tajs salary demands become too high as he gets ready to head into restricted free agency next summer.As far as Mohammed goes, the Chicago native has battled injuries in recent years, but he does have a nice touch around the basket, something that could not be said about the departed Omer Asik. Of course, Asik is a much better defensive player than Mohammed, but considering their relative salaries, its a trade-off the Bulls can live with. Bottom line, the bench will look a lot different than the last couple of seasons, but it could be just as effective, with more offensive potential.So where do the Bulls figure in the East? With Rose rehabbing for the first half of the season, the Bulls will go through some rough patches, especially on the offensive end. But the schedule is favorable early, and never underestimate the ability of Thibodeau and his staff to get the players prepared and motivated to take on every opponent. Assuming Luol Deng bypasses surgery on his injured wrist, the Bulls should have more than enough offense to win a high percentage of their games in the upcoming season. A finish somewhere in the four-to-six playoff seeding range is certainly reasonable. And, if Rose comes back strong for the second half of the season, the Bulls could be one of those dangerous teams that no one wants to face in the playoffs.Miami is still the class of the league, and the Heat got even better with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Boston also reloaded with the addition of Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and first round draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
Indiana will give the Bulls a battle for the Central Division title after keeping Roy Hibbert, and some of their young players should continue to improve. Add in the two New York teams, and its clear the East is stronger, especially at the top. But I would never bet against Thibodeau in giving his team an edge over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season. The Bulls might take a step back, but they should still be able to win at least 45 games, and qualify comfortably for the playoffs.The 2013-2014 outlook should be even brighter with Rose probably back in top form, and then well see if the long range planning by the front office will pay off big time in the summer of 2014. Believe me, the Bulls did not want to lose Asik. They scouted him, traded three second round draft picks to acquire him, and worked extremely hard to develop him over the last two seasons.
But that huge cap hit in 2014-2015 season was just too much to absorb. The focus continues to be about building the best possible team around Rose, and if that means passing on guys such as O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee and Randy Foye in the short term, lets hope it pays off in the addition of a second major star somewhere down the line.In the meantime, dont panic Bulls fans. Your team will still be extremely competitive and fun to watch in the upcoming season, and we can all look forward to the day when Tommy Edwards can announce:...From Chicago...Welcome Back, Derrick Rose!

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t come to the NBA Draft Combine with the boastful statements made by his peers, refusing to declare himself the best player in a loaded draft.

But it doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.

Carter Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects in next month’s draft, even though he doesn’t come with the heavy fanfare of what many expect to be the top three picks.

One of those top three players was Carter Jr’s teammate at Duke, Marvin Bagley III, relegating Carter Jr. to a supporting role of sorts in his lone collegiate season. He couldn’t turn college basketball upside down as a freshman; He didn’t have the opportunity to, still averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 29.1 minutes last season.

“Bagley's a phenomenal player. He came into college basketball, did what he was supposed to do,” Carter Jr. said. “My role changed a little bit but like I said, I'm a winner and I'll do what it takes to win.”

Like he said, considering it was the fifth time he patted himself on the back, describing his positive attributes. It didn’t come across as obnoxious, but more an affirmation, a reminder that his willingness to sacrifice personal glory shouldn’t overshadow his ability.

“I'm pretty versatile as a player,” Carter Jr. said. “I'd just find a way to fit into the team, buy into the system. I'm a winner. Do whatever it takes to win.”

When asked about his strengths, he didn’t hesitate to say he’s “exceptional” at rebounding and defending, certainly things teams would love to see come to fruition if he’s in their uniform next season.

Playing next to Bagley and not being the first option—or even the second when one considers Grayson Allen being on the perimeter—forced him to mature more in the little things.

“It was (an adjustment) at first,” Carter Jr. said. “I knew what I could do without scoring the ball. I did those things. I did them very exceptional. I found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”

“I think it did do wonders for me. It definitely helped me out, allowed me to show I can play with great players but still maintain my own.”

If he’s around at the seventh slot, the Bulls will likely take a hard look at how he could potentially fit next to Lauri Markkanen and in the Bulls’ meeting with Carter Jr., the subject was broached.

“Great process. I was just thinking, me and him together playing on the court together would be a killer,” he said with a smile.

“I know they wanna get up and down the court more. The NBA game is changing, there's no more true centers anymore. They wanna have people who can shoot from the outside, it's something I'll have to work on through this draft process.”

An executive from a franchise in the lottery said Carter Jr’s game is more complete than Bagley’s, and that Carter Jr. could be the safer pick even if he isn’t more talented than his teammate.

It’s no surprise Carter Jr. has been told his game reminds them of Celtics big man Al Horford. Horford has helped the Celtics to a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in no small part due to his inside-outside game and ability to ably defend guards and wings on the perimeter.

Horford doesn’t jump off the screen, but he’s matured into a star in his role after coming into the NBA with a pretty grown game as is. Carter Jr. has shown flashes to validate those comparisons.

“Whatever system I come to, I buy in,” Carter Jr. said. “Coaches just want to win. I want to win too. Whatever they ask me to do. If it's rebounding, blocking shots, setting picks, I'm willing to do that just to win.”

He was also told he compares to Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge, two disparate players but players the Bulls have had a history with in the draft. The Bulls passed on Green in the first round of the 2012 draft to take Marquis Teague, and in Aldridge’s case, picked him second in 2007 before trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.

As one can imagine, neither scenario has been suitable for framing in the Bulls’ front office, but whether they see Carter Jr. as a the next versatile big in an increasingly positionless NBA remains to be seen.

“I definitely buy into that (positionless basketball). I'm a competitor,” Carter Jr. said. “Especially on the defensive end. Working on my lateral quickness, just so I could guard guards on pick and roll actions. Offensively I didn't show much of it at Duke but I'm pretty versatile. I can bring it up the court. Can shoot it from deep, all three levels.”

His versatility has come into play off the floor as well, deftly answering questions about his mother comparing the NCAA’s lack of compensation for athletes to slavery.

Carter Jr’s mother, Kylia Carter, spoke at the Knight Comission on Intercollegiate Athletics recently and made the claim.

“The only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation … The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

As if he needed to add context to the statement, Carter Jr. indulged the media members who asked his opinion on the matter—or at least, his opinion of his mother’s opinion.

“A lot of people thought she was saying players were slaves and coaches were slave owners,” Carter Jr. said. “Just the fact, we do go to college, we're not paid for working for someone above us and the person above us is making all the money.”

As sensible as his comment was, as direct as his mother’s statements were, he still finds himself in a position where he has to defend his mother. In some cases, teams asked him about her—but that’s not to say they disagreed with her premise.

“My mom is my mom,” Carter Jr. said. “She has her opinions and doesn't mind sharing them. In some aspects I do agree with her. In others...you'll have to ask her if you want to know more information.”

“I never thought my mom is ever wrong. But I think people do perceive her in the wrong way. Some things she does say...that's my mom. You have to ask her.”

The versatility to handle things out of his control, as well as understanding how his season at Duke prepared him for walking into an NBA locker room should be noted.

There’s no delusions of grandeur, despite his unwavering confidence.

“I'd come in and try to outwork whoever's in front of me,” Carter Jr. said. “That's the beauty of the beast. You come into a system, There's players in front of you 3-4-5 years and know what it takes.”

“I would learn those things and let the best man win.”