Bulls ready for final regular-season showdown with Heat


Bulls ready for final regular-season showdown with Heat

CHARLOTTEThats the next day, said Bulls head coachTom Thibodeau, indicating that his focus had finally turned to the Bullsshowdown Thursday in Miami against the rival Heat. Next day, next game.If Thibodeau wants to pretend that he isnt completelyconsumed with, as he often says, the next game on the schedule, and not evena small part of his brain wasnt concerned with the marquee matchup prior toand during his teams dismantling of the lowly Bobcats, thats fine. Hisplayers can do the talking for him.We want to continue to win. We want to go into theplayoffs playing well, so we can have good momentum. Obviously we want to lockup the No. 1 seed throughout, so its a big game. We want to win, acknowledgedCarlos Boozer. Its a war, relatively speaking. Battle, hard-fought, they allcome down to one or two-possession games, usually in the last seconds of thegame, so it should be fun.Both teams are very good. I think both teams put a lotinto it defensively, offensively and its the two best teams in the East, hecontinued. I dont know if the Heat respect the Bulls. If they do, they do.If they dont, they dont. Im not really concerned with that. Im moreconcerned with how were doing, how were progressing, how were getting betterand today was a great step in the right direction.Rip Hamilton, a relatively newcomer to the fairly freshrivalry, but no stranger to playoff battlesor even the Heat, let alone theirtwo superstars, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, both of whom he faced off withwhen he played for the Pistons during their title-contending eraalso admittedthe magnitude of the game, even for regular-season purposes, as Miami is stillchasing the Bulls for the Eastern Conferences top seed.Miamis a great team. Special players with LeBron andD-Wade, and Chris Bosh. Youve to make them play at your pace. Youve got tomake them play a half-court game. They get up and down the court, get on thebreak and make easy plays, then thats where theyre good. When you turn itinto a half-court game, then your chances are a lot better, he said. I feelas though since they were the team that made it to the Finals last year,theyre the team to beat. Youve got to go through them, so the intensitysalways going to be high and in order for you to get to where you want to getto, since they were the team that went to the Finals last year, then you feelas though youve got to go through them. You cant go around them.

Zion, Reddish, RJ and Little: How the projected top 2019 NBA prospects would fit with the Bulls


Zion, Reddish, RJ and Little: How the projected top 2019 NBA prospects would fit with the Bulls

Best player available or need?

In seven months the Bulls will begin Year 3 of their rebuild. They'll do so with a core that consists of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter and Kris Dunn. It could include Bobby Portis.

As far as the draft is concerned, the Bulls have drafted for BPA and for need during their rebuild.

Lauri Markkanen was the best player left on the board even though the Bulls had 25-year-old Nikola Mirotic and 22-year-old Portis (pre-fight) on the roster and a clear need on the wing after trading Jimmy Butler.

A year later the Bulls drafted for need. Desperate for some kind of interior presence to go alongside Markkanen, they drafted Carter over some sexier picks like Collin Sexton or Kevin Knox. It's been less than 20 games but the Bulls' drafting on need appears to have worked out fine, just as drafting best player available worked out in 2017.

So where will they go in 2019? The front court is secured with Markkanen and Carter, and Zach LaVine is both locked in financially and skillfully as the shooting guard of the future. Dunn has some work to do to make believers out of his skeptics, while Portis (and Chandler Hutchison) won't really factor into what the Bulls do next June.

The good news is the Bulls likely won't have to make a decision on draft night. Though plenty can change between now and then, the 2019 NBA Draft appears to be flush with wings at the top, where the 4-13 Bulls should be drafting. Here's a look at five of the top draft prospects and how they'd fit in to the Bulls rebuild.

Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

That being said, of course we'll begin with the one player who wouldn't fill a need. But when considering a talent such as Williamson, throw everything out the window. He's the most unique prospect we've seen since Anthony Davis in 2012, and his combination of size and athleticism is unparalleled: He's 291 pounds with a 40-inch vertical. He's ferocious at the rim, an apt ball handler and distributor and has the length and footwork to defend multiple positions. He doesn't have much in the way of an outside shot yet because he hasn't needed one at any level he's played at. That will come in time, though it doesn't project to ever be a strong suit.

So, where does he fit in with the Bulls? It's tough to say. His best position in the NBA will be at power forward, with shooters surrounding him in a similar manner to how LeBron James plays. Markkanen is, of course, cemented in at power forward, which would push Williamson to small forward with Carter at center. Markkanen could move to the 5 in a smaller lineup, and in reality Williamson is adaptable to any non-point guard spot on the floor. Fred Hoiberg would have fun mixing and matching the three players, while Williamson's drive-and-kick ability would entirely open up the offense for Zach LaVine on the wing.

The point is, if you don't have a spot for Williamson, make one and worry about the fit later. He's a winning player and the early favorite to go first overall.

R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke

If not for Williamson, we'd all be oohing and aahing over Barrett. The *other* top recruit dominating for the Blue Devils, Barrett is a do-it-all wing with massive upside. He's averaging 24.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in his freshman season. While he isn't the athlete Williamson is, he's constantly making the right play and is methodical in his decision making. He's got the perfect frame, looks smooth on his perimeter jump shot and is crafty working his way toward the basket.

He'd be a no-brainer for the Bulls. Too often the ball stops in Fred Hoiberg's offense, and it's one area where Barrett would make the Bulls light years better. He'd slot in at small forward - just the other wing position opposite LaVine - and use his playmaking to space the floor for outside shooters. His 6-foot-10 wingspan and instinctive play gives him great defensive potential. He can be the jack-of-all-trades player Jimmy Butler was in Chicago.

Cam Reddish, SG, Duke

The Bulls need shooting. It's been that way for a while now, and despite offensive stars in LaVine and Markkanen the Bulls still have as few outside threats as any roster in the NBA. That's where Reddish comes in. The third of Duke's three freshman phenoms, Reddish is shooting better than 43 percent from deep in the early season and is punishing defenses that chase him off the line. He's going to score at the next level, and his ability to guard both backcourt positions would give the Bulls flexibility.

He'd plug in perfectly next to LaVine. Having two wings who attack the basket and play well in pick-and-roll action will space the floor for Markkanen and Carter, and he'd immediately be the Bulls' best outside shooter. 

Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina

Someone not from Duke! But we'll stay in the state of North Carolina and look at perhaps the player with the highest defensive upside in the class. With Markkanen and LaVine leading the charge, there's an argument to be made that the Bulls already have their 1-2 scoring punch of the future. That's not to say Little can't score, but drafting with an eye toward defense could make sense for the Bulls. Little is a relentless defender with excellent instincts. He isn't a terrific outside shooter but has an excellent first step and isn't afraid to go inside. He's more athleticism than polish at this point, but there's potential for him on offense.

He'd be an excellent complement to LaVine and Markkanen offensively, and give the Bulls a lockdown wing defender. He's also sneaky-good in the post, which would add another dimension the Bulls offense doesn't really have right from in any of its wings.

Quentin Grimes, PG, Kansas

Is Dunn the point guard of the future? We'll have a much clearer answer in April after he (and Markkanen and Portis) has returned from his knee sprain and plays out the year with the rest of the young core. But the verdict is still out on whether Dunn can lead a contender at the point or is simply a Marcus Smart-type player: an important defender who can score in spurts but is better utilized off the bench in an 82-game season.

If the Bulls believe he's the latter, Grimes could be the former. He's not a true point guard, and many believe he'll play shooting guard at the next level. But he's a do-it-all type player that would finally give the Bulls an outside threat at the point for the first time since Nate Robinson in 2012. That's where the league is trending at a rapid pace, and he's a plus defender with that 6-foot-5 frame and 6-foot-7 wing span.

Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls


Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls

The Washington Wizards are having a fire sale and their star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall stand as their most attractive trade assets. The Bulls have their 2019 offseason plan of picking up a max-contract caliber player to add to their young and exciting core, but acquiring a player via trade is the best way to get an asset that is under a control long-term.

Obviously, the Wizards aren’t giving up Beal or Wall without a solid long-term asset coming back, and that is when the question becomes is it worth it for Chicago to give up a blue-chip prospect to add Wall to the core? And do the Wizards consider the Bulls with Wall a  playoff team in the short term?

The proposed trade would be:

Wizards receive: Bobby Portis (restricted free agent) Robin Lopez (expiring contract), Justin Holiday (expiring contract), Denzel Valentine, 2019 1st round pick, 2021 1st round pick

Bulls receive: John Wall

For the Bulls the rationale is that they are still years away from being a playoff contender but making this trade makes them a legitimate playoff contender through the duration of Wall’s deal, a playoff hopeful with the ability to be much more with a few rotation pieces sprinkled in.

Wall is under contract through the 2022-23 season and has a 15 percent trade kicker that would make his yearly contract more than the $42 million a year he is due now. The contract is massive but the payoff would be worth it if Wall’s playmaking prowess could take the games of Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine to an even higher level.

As of now, LaVine has a usage rate (32 percent) on par with that of James Harden (34 percent) but the difference is that LaVine doesn’t have that secondary, high-usage player that can allow LaVine to take a few possessions off on offense.

Antonio Blakeney and Jabari Parker have failed in that role in the absence of Markkanen. Dunn is capable of controlling the offense but doesn’t provide the same upside as Wall in terms of driving to the rim. Wall is third in the league in drives per game (16.9) and fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game off of drives. In Hoiberg’s offense, his ability to get downhill would open up opportunities for Markkanen and Carter, all who offer more in terms of pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop ability than anyone currently in the Wizards big man rotation.

The offense would have a bit of a my turn, your turn-feel to it. But it could work for the Bulls as long as they continue to pick up shooters to space the floor for inevitable Wall-Markkanen pick-and-pops (or PnR).

Defensively this trade offers a ton of upside as well. Hoiberg and the front office would have to go through a bit of a rough patch with the rotation as he figures out how to make up for having one SF after this deal.

Rawle Alkins could be called up from the G League and the free agent market could be explored as Hutchison receives a ton of valuable playing time. Hoiberg would also be able to experiment with three-guard lineups that actually provide some semblance of perimeter defense.

The lineup of Felicio, Parker, Blakeney, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison has a massive 41.2 net rating. That is not truly representative of the effectiveness of the lineup because it comes in such a small sample size. But the reason it’s interesting is because that lineup did so well is the presence of three-guards and the fact that it was one of the Bulls better lineups in terms of pushing the pace.

Hoiberg has slowly started to ramp the pace back up as he awaits the returns of his top talents but Wall’s arrival would allow his offense to work at warp-speed now.

A lineup including Wall and Dunn on the floor together would allow defenses to shrink the floor, but the issue can be mitigated by the Bulls cluster of 3-point shooting bigs and occasionally playing LaVine at the small forward spot.

Ultimately, this trade would give the Bulls a solid core of Wall, LaVine, Markkanen, Carter--and potentially Dunn and Parker depending on what the front office decides--that could develop into one of the more balanced lineups in the league.

For Washington, this trade allows them to unload the massive contract of Wall, which may make him harder to move than Beal.

There aren’t a ton of point guard-hungry teams in the NBA. And even the guard-needy teams will likely want to wait until the 2019 offseason to see if they have a shot at players like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic or Terry Rozier; all who come with less baggage than Wall. The Suns, Magic and Lakers all could arguably make better cases for Wall trades depending on what assets they were willing to give up. But being willing to give up multiple future 1st round picks and/or their 2019 pick could separate the Bulls from the pack.

The main competitor would be fellow Klutch Sports client LeBron James’ Lakers but the fact they think they have a shot in the Jimmy Butler/Kawhi Leonard/Klay Thompson sweepstakes could make them hesitant to make a long-term commitment to Wall.

There are very few windows when a legitimate All-NBA caliber player is available. While the Bulls may think waiting to the offseason to add talent is the best course of action, their low success rate in recent free agency periods suggests that they definitely should reach out to the Wizards and feel out what type of package they are looking for.