Bulls

Bulls put on defensive clinic, demolish Hornets

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Bulls put on defensive clinic, demolish Hornets

NEW ORLEANSIn an effort to show the good people of New Orleans how to thoroughly dominate an opponent defensively, Tom Thibodeau brought his team to the Crescent City and put on a clinic Wednesday night. With an audience that included Hollywood star Will Ferrell watching, the Bulls (22-6) demolished the Hornets (4-22), 90-67.

The challenge is to study, prepare and when the ball goes up, know your opponent well and know what youre going to try to get accomplished. I think if you build that habit and you continually work on it, and do the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves, said Thibodeau. Were just pleased with the win.

Aided by the presence of Derrick Rose (six points, six assists, five rebounds) in the starting lineupthe All-Star starter was a game-time decision, due to his ailing backthe Bulls jumped out to a 9-0 start, based upon their stifling, turnover-inducing defense and an efficient, balanced offense. The early run was exacerbated by the fact that Hornets fans attempted to stand until their team scored (they eventually relented during a timeout aimed to stop the bleeding), which they didnt do until 7:55 was left in the opening period.

Were playing well right now. Were coming out early, defending, running the floor, getting the lead and playing well with it. Weve just got to keep doing that, said Luol Deng. Were learning how to play with a lead. Theres times when teams get a run, but were better at it now than we were last year. Theres a lot of times where weve played well and let teams get into it, and theres times where weve played bad and played from behind, but I think guys are more comfortable, youre more confident when you come out and play with a lead.

Observed Thibodeau: Again, I think readiness to playfirst quarter, well-balancedand offensively, the way the ball was moving. Its not sticking anywhere and were getting good shots, so I was pleased with overall performance.

Chimed in Carlos Boozer: I dont know what the first quarter was, but I think we did a good job contesting shots, making them take tough shots and at the same time, I thought we did a good job of executing our offense to make the lead grow.

Rose didnt have to do much heavy lifting for the visitors, as Boozers (18 points, six rebounds) deft scoring touch and Joakim Noahs (13 points, 10 rebounds) energetic play and high activity level were the focal points for Chicagos offense. However, behind backup center Chris Kaman (17 points, nine rebounds), New Orleans charged back and after a quarter of play, the Bulls held a 23-14 advantage.

Kaman came in, he got some shots on us and theyre dangerous. As they get their players back, theyll be fine, said Thibodeau. The challenge is to be ready to play and I thought we did that. There are a lot of things that we could do better and thats what we strive for.

With increased focus on Kaman and fresh legs in the form of the Bench Mobparticularly reserve big men Taj Gibson (14 points, six rebounds) and Omer Asik (eight points, eight rebounds), who were both strong defensive presences and active around the basket on the offensive end of the floorthe guests lead again surged to double digits. While Chicago was less efficient scoring the basketballwith the exception of the interior duo of Boozer and Noah, whose offense was hitting its stride, as he showcased more confidence and diversityits sieve-like defense limited their hosts to several empty possessions.

Undermanned New Orleans simply couldnt find many answers for the defensive pressure it facedfor the moment, Kaman was tamed, although Hornets starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli (13 points) went on a late scoring spree late in the second quarteragainst a clearly superior ballclub. At the intermission, the Bulls had a 44-31 edge.

After the break, the visitors extended their winning margin, going on a 8-2 run at the beginning of the third period, behind continued overall unselfishness, with Boozer and Noah being the prime beneficiaries. But it was the Bulls defense that was the main protagonist, as the Hornets just couldnt score against Chicagos length and tenacious perimeter defense.

Were getting better and better, trying to improve, said Boozer. Were staying humble, were staying hungry and were just doing a good job of setting the tone defensively.

As a whole, were trying to get more post-ups now, he continued. I thought everybody from one through the whole team did a great job.

Added Thibodeau: All four bigs were really good in all aspects. Defense to rebounding to post play to making the extra pass. I thought they played complete games and I thought that set the tone for us.

Rose, clearly not at 100 percent, played the role of facilitator for the Bulls, but neither he nor Luol Deng (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists)the potential Eastern Conference All-Star reserve played a solid all-around gameneeded to be a potent scoring threat, as they tend to be on a nightly basis. Although Kaman remained effective for New Orleans and starting center Emeka Okafor (10 points, nine rebounds) began to make a slight impact, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 70-46 lead.

Staying focused, knowing that were on a mission and we cant take any steps back. It takes us playing with a lot of energy in the beginning, getting a comfortable enough lead that, if were out of the game, the bench can come in and do what they have to do, said Rose. Were learning. This is something that we have to work on. The last couple of games, weve been jumping on people and thats the right way to be.

That was the biggest thing, playing defense. I know on the defensive end, we were playing against scorers. Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack is definitely a great scorer and thats what I was really worried about, just sticking him and getting other people involved in the game, he continued. We know that we have a little more work to do, especially on the weak-side defense, but I think that its coming along.

With the game long over and the already sparse crowd in attendance increasingly dwindlingand more excited about 80s Night at New Orleans Arena than the actual gameThibodeau sent in rookie swingman Jimmy Butler early in the period and actually took a seat on the bench, something the normally-pensive coach is usually loathe to do. His teams defense continued to suffocate the Hornets, while Gibson and reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver provided enough offense to mercifully finish the job.

This is the NBA. Every team has talented players. They have a talented roster. Jarrett Jack is very talented, Belinelli is very talented, Chris Kaman is very talented. All those guys, their team is a talented team. Now, dont get me wrong, theyre still missing some other guys that are very talented, like injured shooting guard Eric Gordon and other guys, as well, said Boozer. But for us, were not concerned with who they play or who they have. Were concerned about the Chicago Bulls. We want to continue to improve how were playing and I think were doing a very good job of it, especially on the road.

While Hornets head coach Monty Williams was critical of his own squadWe couldnt throw it in the ocean, he remarked at his postgame press conferencehe also lauded the Bulls for their defensive performance, which would have held the Hornets to a franchise-low point total, if not for a Belinelli three-pointer at the final buzzer.

Thats the way you play if you want to win a championship. Everyone on their team knows their role, they have an identity and they live it out every night, he said. They have defensive players, a great system and a great coach, so that is a combination for success.

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.”