Bulls

Bulls pounded by Hawks, snapping six-game winning streak

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Bulls pounded by Hawks, snapping six-game winning streak

ATLANTAAll good things must come to an end, but the way the Bulls (7-2) six-game winning streak ended Saturday night at the hands of the Hawks (6-3) was jarring. Outworked from the games outset, the Bulls took a pounding, 109-94, in front of a spirited crowd at Philips Arena, in a game were they trailed for the entire contest and their vaunted defense was shredded the entire evening.

"I thought we were prepared, but I didnt like the way we started the game. We started it the same way we did in Chicago, got in a big hole, said dismayed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team allowed a layup by Hawks All-Star center Al Horford off the opening tip. Theyre good. Youve got to give them a lot of credit. I thought that they came out with a lot of intensity.

This is the NBA. Youve got to come every night, youve got to bring great intensity and if you let down a little bit, this is what happens, he continued. It was a compilation of things. It wasnt any one particular area. It starts with our defense, our rebounding and taking care of the ball. So we didnt do those things. The rebounding was fine, the defense was poor, taking care of the ball was poor and dancing with the ball. There was way too much one-on-one.

Chimed in Derrick Rose: They came out aggressive, got us out of our game, playing hard. I give them credit. They came out and played the way theyre supposed to play.

We were keyed in. We thought we were, but when we went out there, it was totally different. Everything wasnt going together. Of course, you can see the score, he added. We were just out of sync. Dont get me wrong; theyre a good team, they played good, but there were some things we could have done differently in that game.

Both teams came in tired after playing the previous evening, but the Bulls were clearly less prepared to play, as the Hawks, playing the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, started the game on a 12-1 run, seemingly scoring at will against their guests. The first quarter was a repeat of the Bulls lackluster first three periods against Atlanta at the United Center last Wednesday, with Chicagos shooting miserably and surprisingly unable to defend either.

Athletic Hawks forward Josh Smith (25 points, six blocked shots) wreaked havoc both inside and outan inconsistent perimeter shooter, Smith was knocking down jumpers, as well as being active on the interiorvictimizing Carlos Boozer (12 points, five rebounds), in particular, who was also glaringly inept on offense, bobbling passes and unable to finish. The entire teams struggles couldnt be pinned on the much-maligned power forward, however, as the guests trailed, 33-18, after a quarter of play.

Tonight was terrible. They were soft blitzing like in the playoffs, trying to get the ball out of my hands. Just wasnt clicking tonight, with making the extra pass and just playing, said Rose. It is the starters fault. If anything, Ill take the blame. Me, I didnt push the ball, wasnt aggressive, but I couldnt be because they were trapping. But its no problem for me to take the blame.

Chicago was forced to play catch-up in the second period and behind reserves Taj Gibson (11 points), Omer Asik (eight points, 13 rebounds) and Kyle Korver (13 points, 3-for-5 three point shooting, five assists), made a run at the hosts, cutting the deficit to just two points to get back within striking distance. Perhaps the effort took too much out of the visitors, as they once again became lax, Derrick Rose (eight points on 3-for-10 shooting, six assists, five turnovers) couldnt get going and Hawks go-to scorer Joe Johnson (17 points) began to heat up.

This ones on the people who started the game. Our second unit came in, brought it back and then, we went back in and dropped it again, so theres a pattern and we just need to find a way to play better because it was embarrassing tonight, observed Joakim Noah. You know what? They played very well tonight and we know were capable, and we know weve beaten this team before, but at the same time, the way we played tonight was embarrassing.

Added Luol Deng: Just our defense. our defense was really bad. We gave up the lead again and they had a lot of energy playing at home. Normally, we rely on our defense, but they shot the ball well in the first half. Give them all the credit, but our defense has got to be better.

I really thought our second unit played well. Our first unit, we gave up a big lead to start the game and to end the half, we gave up that lead again. They went into the half with a lot of confidence and in the third quarter, we didnt play very well defensively and we didnt make shots, and they got out in the open floor and ran, he continued. Were never going to have any excuses. We just didnt show up and they played well."

Atlantas frontcourt in general started to feast on the Bulls, as face-up big man Vladimir Radmanovic (17 points, 5-for-5 three-point shooting), defended by Boozer, was a menace from behind the three-point line, backup center Zaza Pachulias hustle made an impact and All-Star Al Horford (14 points, seven rebounds) was solid, as usual. Following a Johnson jumper over Luol Deng at the halftime buzzer, the Bulls went into the break behind, 63-45.

They were up into us. I thought we were dancing with the ball and when you dance with the ball, youre not going to get a shot against these guys. The ball has to move. Thats the one thing. I thought offensively, they were terrific. They moved the ball. The ball was hopping for them. They got good shots. We couldnt get our defense established, Thibodeau explained. I thought we dug out of the hole in the second quarter and then, they went 13-2 to end the half to give themselves a cushion again. So you cant keep fighting to get out of holes and then, we went back and we started the second half. We just repeated what we did in the first half. Josh Smith is a great shot-blocker.

Radmanovic played huge, but again, they were breakdowns with our defense, so it created shots in which they were walking into their threes. They were rhythm threes; they werent challenged threes and so, you give a shooter open space, hes going to make. In this league, you usually get what you deserve.

While Boozer redeemed himself offensively immediately following the intermission, the Bulls continued to have defensive issues, as the prolific shooting of Radmanovicwho started the second half in place of small forward Marvin Williams, who sprained his ankle early in the contestJohnsons scoring prowess, young point guard Jeff Teagues (12 points, eight assists, five steals) burgeoning floor generalship and the athleticism of Smith and Horford on the defensive end helped the Hawks cushion further balloon. In addition to its defensive woes, Chicago simply couldnt find an offensive rhythm, as turnovers, poor shot selection and a general lack of fluidity plagued the Philips Arena guests.

You win as a team, you lose as a team, but at the same time, Ive got to take responsibility for my play. I just feel like I need to do better, said Noah, who was then asked whether he previously thought the Bulls were incapable of such sieve-like defense. As soon as you start feeling that way, thats when things like this happen, so weve stay on edge.

Concurred Rose: Its our defense. I give them credit for what they were doing, but our defense let them score, get easy baskets in transition. You give anybody easy baskets, its definitely going to hurt you.

Midway through the third period, however, a Rose driving layup and traditional three-point play when Atlanta was on the verge of pushing its lead to a 30-point margin sparked a mini-rally, as the Bulls discreetly chipped away at the massive deficit. However, continued lapses quashed their momentum and heading into the final stanza, the visitors were on the wrong end of an 85-62 score.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau understood when to cut his losses and went with an all-reserve lineup to start the fourth quarter, which became extended garbage time. Things didnt improve for the visitors, as Atlanta native Smith threw down numerous fast-break dunks, exciting his hometown fans, who chanted for the likes of longtime NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse and brawny newcomer Ivan Johnson alike, while deep reserves Brian Scalabrine and rookie Jimmy Butler (12 points) saw action for the Bulls.

The group that ended the contest for Chicago actually showed some positive signs, as Butler and third-string point guard John Lucas III (16 points) used the opportunity to showcase their abilities against the Hawks regulars, who surprisingly remained in the contest late. But overall, the disappointing outing was something the Bulls were surely ready to put behind them, with a welcome day off Sunday before a rematch with another likely-vengeful opponent Monday, this time at the United Center with Detroit.

Ill say this: the intentions, I think were good. I know we want to win. I think where youve got to be careful is trying to do it yourself and we have to stay committed to being a team, even when things arent going our way. Settle down on defense, settle down on offense, do it as a team, get the ball moving, share the ball and we do that, and play defense tied together, were good, said Thibodeau. But if we dont do thatthis is a tough league and every night, youre facing someone whos really good and the Hawks are a really good team. Theyre well-balanced, theyre good on offense, theyre good on defense.

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.”