Bulls

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

Bulls physicality a new wrinkle from last season

College teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder made plans to go to dinner after Thursday’s game in Chicago but for a few short moments they weren’t just competitors but unexpected combatants, getting tangled up in the second quarter.

There looked to be some harsh words exchanged after Butler took a charge on an unsuspecting Crowder near three-quarter court, with Crowder putting the basketball in Butler’s chest while Butler was still on the floor, causing players on both teams to convene for some tense moments.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas got involved and then before Butler could blink, Bulls guard Rajon Rondo joined the proceedings, as pushing and shoving ensued before technical fouls were assessed to both teams after an officials’ review.

If one wondered whether these Bulls—a team that touts itself as young with so many players having three years or less professional experience—could play with some bark and bite, perhaps the season opener provided a bit of a positive preview for the next 81 games.

Nearby, an unbothered Dwyane Wade took a practice 3-point shot, much to the delight of the United Center crowd, as observers witnessed the first sign of tangible proof the Bulls have intentions on regaining a bit of an edge on the floor.

Wade joked and took it as a sign of respect between the two teams.

“It looked like it, right? Yeah. It was a little something out there,” said Wade when asked if there was some chippy play. “Every time we play them it’s gonna be like that. Two teams finding their way in the Eastern Conference. We know we gotta see each other a lot. They never give up. They can be down 30 with 15 seconds left and they’re still gonna fight.”

The Bulls have externally preached toughness from the start of camp. Although Wade didn’t participate in that meeting of the minds, he isn’t exactly running away from such matters.
And Rajon Rondo is competitively ornery enough to have his voice hard no matter the setting.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s been a big theme of practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We want to play with physicality and toughness. I think it was evident on the glass tonight.”

Yes, the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 19, but that could’ve been a by-product of the Bulls’ crashing the offensive glass on a porous shooting night. And yes, the slightly tense moment between Butler and Crowder probably won’t be an expected occurrence.

But when’s the last time one had multiple examples to dissect to discern this team’s level of toughness—or lack thereof.

“That’s something to show that the guys are out there fighting for each other,” Hoiberg said. “That they were playing with an edge. It happens with this game. You have to be competitive.”

Competition boiled over slightly, but considering the NBA isn’t exactly UFC, one doesn’t have to do much to display a little physical resolve.

“The fact that nothing escalated was good,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that those guys are out there and playing for each other and have each other’s back, that’s a huge thing right now.”

Too many times last season, it seemed the Bulls would submit in situations like those. Not that they were particularly soft, but it didn’t appear they had the collective will to fight for one another if an altercation arose.

Half the time, they looked like they could barely stand to be in the room with each other.

“It’s people’s will to win. Not saying a bad thing about anybody from last year,” Butler said. “To tell you the truth, I study the game and put in a lot of work but Rondo studies the game a lot. Every time I’m in the gym, he’s in the gym. That lets me know, these (dudes) are going to war with you. Every day. When I hit that deck, Rondo was right there. I wanna play with guys that’s gonna play hard, that’s gonna fight.”

And it didn’t take long for Butler to realize he has at least a couple teammates willing to jump in the foxhole with him.

Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

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USA TODAY

Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

The Jonas Brothers are in Chicago for concerts that are taking place on Thursday and Friday night, and they have enjoyed quite a week. This week the trio has enjoyed a nice golf outing at Village Links in Glen Ellyn, had some quality BBQ at Bub City and even got the amazing opportunity to play a touch football game at Soldier Field. But one particular Bulls guard is looking to add another fun experience to their Chicago trip.

The Bulls organization welcomed the Jonas Brothers to the city with a set of custom jerseys for the trio and their significant others and that's when Ryan Arcidiacono chimed in with his offer. 

Since the Jonas Brothers have already got to play some football on the actual Soldier Field grass, Arci figured they might as well keep the Chicago sports-themed fun going and shoot some hoops with him. 

Now, Arcidiacono didn't make it clear whether or not he was offering for the Jonas Brother to get some shots up with him at the United Center, where their shows take place on Thursday and Friday night. But, either way, his time is running out as they will be moving on to Jackson County, MO for their next stop on tour on September 21.

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Bulls player preview: What can a healthy Denzel Valentine provide?

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USA TODAY

Bulls player preview: What can a healthy Denzel Valentine provide?

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio | Tomas Satoransky | Chandler Hutchison | Otto Porter

How last year went

Well, Valentine didn't play. Instead, he underwent ankle stabilization surgery that kept him on the sidelines the entire season. What was initially ruled a day-to-day injury wound up costing Valentine upwards of 8 months. It was an obvious setback to a player who would have logged minutes in a backcourt that allowed Antonio Blakeney 14.5 minutes per game.

The last time we saw Valentine healthy, he averaged a modest 10.2 points on 42% shooting and 38.6% from deep for a tanking Bulls team. He added 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists, solid counting numbers for the former first-round pick. He's expected to be ready for training camp.

Expectations for this year's role

Whatever he can give the Bulls. The front office addressed the point guard and power forward depth this summer but did very little on the wing. Perhaps it was because they couldn't improve every aspect of the roster, or perhaps they're expecting to get production from Valentine after he missed all of last season. With Chandler Hutchison nursing a hamstring injury, Valentine could have a path to early minutes behind Otto Porter at small forward. More realistic is Valentine seeing minutes at shooting guard, where he'll be taxed less defensively and can focus as a perimeter shooter. In that regard, he should fight with Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison for minutes behind Zach LaVine. His expectations are tough to peg because we just don't know how healthy he is or how he'll respond to missing so much time. He hasn't played an NBA game since April 1, 2018.

Where he excels

Assuming he's healthy, Valentine is the Bulls' second best 3-point shooter behind Otto Porter. Consider that in his last 20 healthy games after the 2018 All-Star break, Valentine shot 43.0% on 5.0 3-point attempts, seventh best in the NBA among players who attempted that many per game. Included in that stretch were 3-point shooting nights in which he went 4-for-6, 5-for-7, 8-for-11, 4-for-7 and 4-for-7. He certainly had the green light on a Bulls team playing for Lottery balls and a chance at Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley, but the numbers were nonetheless impressive. Valentine also shot 39.1% on above-the-break 3-pointers. Why is that important? The Bulls were 26th in FG% on those triples last season, and Valentine's mark would have ranked second behind Porter (Markkanen and LaVine were both 36% on above-the-break 3-pointers).

He's also got sneaky playmaking skills. The belief that Valentine could play point guard in the NBA was nixed quickly, but he's been an above-average passer on the wing. In 2017-18, Valentine averaged 3.2 assists on just 27.9 passes per game. Even if he can simply keep the ball moving on the second unit, he'll give the Bulls something they lacked a season ago off the bench. An offense can never have enough good passers, and Valentine is a good one on the wing.

Where he struggles

Valentine isn't going to provide much defensively. It wasn't his calling card at Michigan State and hasn't been his calling card in the NBA, especially not after ankle reconstruction surgery.

And maybe he'll continue getting that floater to go down, but Valentine isn't going to provide much inside the 3-point line. He'll turn 26 during the season's first month, so there's not much optimism he'll improve in either facet of the game. His value will come from beyond the arc, as both a shooter and passer.

Best case/worst case

It all comes down to health. Valentine missed 25 games his rookie season and all 82 last season. Ankle reconstruction is a major surgery and, while there's precedent of players coming back stronger, Valentine is the roster's biggest unknown. His best-case scenario is he's able to give the Bulls 70+ games as a second unit sharpshooter. He probably isn't going to give the Bulls much on the defensive end, but perhaps he'll play minutes with Shaq Harrison or Chandler Hutchison to help cover some of his deficiencies. Any playmaking on the wing would be a bonus, and it'd be a major positive if he can get anywhere close to the 3.2 assists he averaged on the tanking Bulls in 2018.

Worst case is pretty simple: Valentine, who wasn't athletic to begin with, is really hampered by the ankle. It'll be apparent early in the preseason and regular season what Valentine is going to provide. Sure, he'll be rusty, but you'll be able to see his limitations if he has any.

One key stat

Over the last three Bulls seasons, just four players have an individual Game Score, per Basketball Reference, of 31 or better. Jimmy Butler accomplished the feat on 10 different occasions. Lauri Markkanen accomplished it against the Celtics last year. Otto Porter did it against the Grizzlies a week into his Bulls career. The fourth Game Score of 31? Denzel Valentine, when he scored 34 points on 13 of 20 shooting, and added 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 39 minutes against the Cavs in March 2018. The performances are few and far between, but he's capable of really going off. He made 8 3-pointers in that game, which is still the most for a Bulls player since Nikola Mirotic had nine triples against the Knicks in March 2016.

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