Bulls

Bulls postseason a stunning turn of events

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Bulls postseason a stunning turn of events

A week and a half ago, the No. 1 seeded Bulls were preparing for a long playoff run that would start with a mildly challenging series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, they're one game away from being eliminated from the postseason in the first round.

It started with the devastating injury to Derrick Rose who left Game 1 in the final minutes with a torn ACL. The emotional shock of losing their floor leader took its toll in Game 2 and the Bulls got blown out of their own gym.

You can give them that one. An understandable letdown. But the Bulls just haven't been able to bounce back.

Joakim Noah leaves Game 3 with a severely sprained ankle and is lost for Game 4. Suddenly, they look lost unable to execute down the stretch, losing two close games in the fourth quarter.

The past week has been a stunning turn of events. One I asked players afterwards if they could fully comprehend.

"I never thought we would be in this position," said John Lucas III. "It's amazing. It's been one thing after another, but we've been fighting all season long."

"No," answered Kyle Korver. "I never thought we'd be here, but here we are. So we have to find a way to win."

"We should have won the last two games," bemoaned Carlos Boozer, the only starter left who's 'doing his job' as coach Tom Thibodeau would say.

Boozer is right. The Bulls should have won the last two games. Philadelphia is not a good team. I mean no disrespect, but the Sixers are the 8th seed for a reason. Their shooting percentage hovers in the 30-35 percent range for the better part of these games. The Bulls outrebounded them in Game 3 and had more points in the paint. Statistically speaking, Philadelphia hasn't been that impressive in the last two games.

So why are the Bulls down 2 games in this series? Lack of a closer for the most part.

Jrue Holliday hit two big three-pointers in the last five minutes of Sunday's game and the Bulls just couldn't respond. CJ Watson, though he hit two key shots in the fourth quarter, missed five others. Luol Deng hit just one. Rip Hamilton, who was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Bulls in the playoffs only played 27 seconds in the final 12 minutes. Thibs went with Korver instead who ended up missing the two shots he took.

The team that seemed to have so much depth and 'more than enough to win' during the regular season, suddenly is lacking playmakers and shot-callers in the playoffs to finish close games.

You could say the injuries to Rose and Noah has forced other players to fill roles they're not accustomed to, but this isn't baseball. You're not asking an outfielder to pitch or a reliever to play shortstop. Guys should still be able to put the ball in the basket when their number is called. Isn't that how the cliche goes?

However, like baseball the Bulls need a closer and it's becoming painfully clear, no matter how much toughness they show the first 40 minutes of the game, if they blow the save, it doesn't matter.

After watching Game 4, I believe the Bulls won't go down without a fight. But, I also believe without clutch shooting, the Sixers will be punching their ticket to the next round.

A stunning turn of events, indeed.

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

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USA Today

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Kris Dunn.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky

2019-20 Stats

7.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 SPG | 44.4% FG, 25.9% 3P, 74.1% FT | 14.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 26

July 2016: Dunn signed a 4-year, $17,488,287 rookie-scale contract with Minnesota Timberwolves

2020-21: RFA (QO: $7,091,457)

(via Spotrac)

Strengths

Seeing the ball, attacking the ball and stealing the ball. At 6-foot-3 with a 6-9 wingspan, Dunn doesn’t discriminate when it comes to ripping opponents — he owns the length and physicality to swallow up guards and hang with wings of all shapes and sizes. In 2019-20, amplified by defensive schemes that demanded aggressive blitzing in pick-and-roll scenarios, Dunn currently sits tied for second in the NBA in steals per game, seventh in steal rate (34.1%) and fourth in deflections per game (3.7)… All in spite of logging only 24.9 minutes per contest across 50 games.

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And even in an underwhelming team-wide season, Dunn’s contributions were impactful. The Bulls were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively in 2019-20 with Dunn on the floor than off, and played their best basketball after he was inserted into the small forward slot of the starting lineup on Nov. 29 with injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, going 7-7 in December and bumping their defensive rating to as high as second in the NBA. He was an anchor for a squad that turned opponents over — and scored off said turnovers — at a higher rate than any team in the league by a wide margin.

Most importantly for Dunn, he found his niche, despite coming off an offseason littered with trade rumors. He’s a ball hawk and a bonafide perimeter stopper at a level few in the NBA can boast. A legitimate All-Defense candidate. Just ask Trae Young, Paul George or anyone else that had the misfortune of happening across his path this season.

Areas to Improve

Dunn is a serviceable playmaker in spurts, and actually improved his finishing drastically this season on cut-back volume. But for him to ascend from defensive specialist to truly valuable role player on a winning team, he’s got to find a jump shot.

It’s not just that in 2019-20, he regressed from a 32.3% career mark from 3-point range to 25.9% (24.1% on NBA.com-defined “wide open” long-balls). It’s that other teams stopped treating him as an even marginal threat from outside, opting instead to sag off, hone in on other creators (read: Zach LaVine), and muck up driving and passing lanes. It’s a testament to just how great Dunn’s defense is that he’s still an impactful NBA player at his position despite that deficiency. But no matter how stingy a defender Dunn is, it’s hard to survive in the modern NBA with more than one non-shooter on the floor.

Ceiling Projection

Exiting his rookie contract, Dunn is 26 and coming off a sprained MCL sustained Jan. 31. He'll be a restricted free agent when the offseason begins, but due to his mixed bag of attributes and the Bulls' uncertain position, the market for his services is unclear

As for his individual ceiling: Any point guard of the future premonitions have passed in Chicago. And that’s OK. If he can pull off a Marcus Smart-ian turn as a long-range shooter to at or close to league average, it doesn’t feel outlandish that Dunn could compete for All-Defense consideration as a reserve on a good-to-great team through his prime.

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Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

In his first public comments on the Bulls' new front office, coach Jim Boylen believes he's forming a strong initial relationship with executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley.

"The relationship has gone really well," Boylen told Jack Doles of WOOD-TV, an NBC affiliate in the coach's hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., with a question and local angle given to Doles by sister station WGN-Ch. 9 in Chicago. "We communicate every day. I think they understand where we were, what we're trying to get to. They've been very supportive and collaborative. It's a process to build this team into what it can be. I just like the fact that we have a relationship already. It's never perfect. Nothing's perfect. You just work at it. Tell the truth. You get your guys to play hard. That's what we're trying to do."

 

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Boylen spoke after giving a speech at a Unity in the Community event in Grand Rapids in which he continued to show support for social justice and addressing racial inequity. Last month, Boylen participated with Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls staffers in a Juneteenth march in Grant Park. And Karnisovas said on a conference call with reporters that Boylen has been vocal in team Zoom discussions on the issues.

"I just think we have to tell the truth. We can't cover things up. We've made mistakes. We've got to own up to those mistakes," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "It's a difficult time. It's raw right now and it should be. I'm just hoping we can use this moment to be better, all of us."

As for Boylen's future, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen for now, although plenty of speculation about his long-term fit exists. Karnisovas has asked for Boylen's input on player development strategies and potential hires in that department. The front office and coaching staff also have had multiple meetings about the current roster as well as draft and free agency discussions.

Publicly, Karnisovas has made it clear he wants to get to know Boylen and his staff and also watch him in action before making a decison on his future. The NBA and NBPA are discussing possible holding a second so-called "bubble" for the eight teams, including the Bulls, not invited to the NBA's restart in Orlando, Fla. That bubble almost certainly would take place in Chicago and would give Boylen and his staff an opportunity to work in a developmental phase with players for Karnisovas and Eversley to view.

Boylen and his staff are operating as if they'll return for the 2020-21 season. He is confident Karnisovas and Eversley understand the improvement the Bulls made as a young team in areas like defense, pace and shot quality before widespread injuries hit. Boylen has two years remaining on his deal and has a strong relationship with ownership.

"We have a young team," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "We were 23 1/2 years old. We had an injury-laden season. We need to play. We need to compete. We played very hard. We were a hard-playing team, but we want to keep that edge going into next year. It's hard to do that without the competition part of it. We're hoping we can have some of that."

Boylen dined with Karnisovas and Eversley last week in Chicago. They also have been watching the voluntary player workouts that have been taking place at the Advocate Center together, which last week included Zach LaVine. Boylen had welcomed Karnisovas to the organization in a team-issued statement upon the executive's hiring in April but hadn't commented publicly on the full new regime, which replaced John Paxson and Gar Forman. Paxson, who held Karnisovas' role, is now in a senior advisor role. Forman, who was the general manager, was fired.

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