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Bulls' stagnant offense leads to season-low assists in loss to Knicks

Bulls' stagnant offense leads to season-low assists in loss to Knicks

One of the expected benefits of dealing Derrick Rose this offseason was that it would help free up a Bulls offense that stagnated too often on their way to missing the playoffs last season for the first time in eight years. Rose returned to the United Center on Friday night for the first time in a visiting uniform, but it was his Knicks that looked like the sharper, crisper offense, while the Bulls stumbled to their second consecutive loss.

The final box score numbers don’t tell the entire story. The Bulls – in the 117-104 loss – still topped the century mark for the fifth straight time to begin the year. Dwyane Wade scored a season-high 35 points on 12-for-20 shooting, and Jimmy Butler also managed a season-high with 26 points – he made all 11 of his free throw attempts. Even Nikola Mirotic was impressive again, tallying 14 points – though just two after halftime – while Taj Gibson grabbed four offensive rebounds that helped the Bulls to 20 second-chance points.

Those positives masked the main issue that plagued the Bulls against a below-average Knicks team. The Bulls, which entered Friday’s action with the third most efficient offense, handed out a season-low 15 assists, and just two in the decisive fourth quarter; the Bulls’ second-to-last assist came at the 8:48 mark. It was the second consecutive night the Bulls had a season-low in helpers, as Wednesday night’s 21 assists against the Celtics also resulted in a loss.

“It wasn’t nearly as good," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You look at the assists, 15 (assists) and 13 turnovers. They have 32 assists and five turnovers. That tells you all you need to know.”

Rajon Rondo continued his slide after two brilliant performances to open the season. The Bulls’ point guard missed nine of his first 10 shots as the Knicks defense sagged in and dared him to shoot outside shots in the opening period. When he didn’t, New York’s 26th-ranked defense was waiting for him in the lane. Rondo tallied just five assists, marking the third straight game he’s tallied five or fewer. Last year he led the NBA with 11.7 helpers per game, but has only reached double-digits once this year.

Michael Carter-Williams’ absence hasn’t helped matters, as Isaiah Canaan and Jerian Grant combined for two assists in 19 combined minutes.

Butler was aggressive, driving to the basket at will, and his 11 trips to the line admittedly lowered what that assist total could have been. Wade, the brightest spot on the Bulls offense Friday night, tallied just one assist. He did his damage in the scoring department, topping the 30-point threshold for the first time with the Bulls. When he and Mirotic were at their best, scoring 20 of the Bulls’ 34 points in the second quarter, the offense was moving the ball its best. The Bulls tallied six assists, 40 percent of their total for the game, in the only quarter they won (34-24).

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But it stalled again in the second half. The Bulls managed to get into the paint early in the third quarter, and were helped out by five offense rebounds that turned into eight points. But in the fourth quarter a 10-0 Knicks run sent the Bulls into an iso panic, with Wade and Butler perhaps forcing the issue in an attempt to slow down their opponent. Butler and Wade made nine field goals in the second half, and only one was assisted.

The Bulls entered Friday’s action averaging 329.5 passes per game, which ranked fourth in the NBA. Their 26.5 assists per game were fifth in the NBA, and despite the season being just four games old it was clear from watching them that the ball was moving well thanks to Wade, Rondo and Butler. That wasn’t the case against the Knicks and Rose, a player who caught criticism in Chicago for looking too often to score as well as careless turnovers.

Instead, Rose and the Knicks tallied a season-high 32 assists. Rose had 11 of those, the first time he had reached double-figures this season. Playing with a chip on his shoulder in his return to his hometown, he was a step quicker than the Bulls defense, and though he committed three turnovers, his corner pass to Carmelo Anthony for 3 with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter put the game away.

Even Joakim Noah, who twice led the Bulls in assists per game before leaving this summer via free agency, was sharp on his passes. He finished with four assists, while adding 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Bulls offense doesn’t appear to be bending. But the ball isn’t moving as well as it had the first week of the season. Wade said after the game he’d have to look at the film to determine exactly what went wrong with moving the ball, but that not matching the Knicks’ intensity in the opening 12 minutes was a factor in them playing from behind much of the night.

The good news, as Gibson said after the game, is that the Bulls will get a chance to turn around and right their wrongs. They’ll square off Saturday on the road against the Pacers, a team that they handed out a season-best 34 assists on in a 118-101 win last week.

But for one night, the Bulls’ new additions who had made them one of the best passing teams in the early season, struggled to find open passing lanes and shooters against a defense that two days earlier had allowed 25 assists to the Rockets.

 “It’s been very strong,” Hoiberg said of his team’s ball movement. “Again, we were looking to come into this game, third in the league in passes per game and assists per game. It wasn’t moving like it needed to, obviously.”

Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Anquan Boldin offer solutions to US racial inequity

Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Anquan Boldin offer solutions to US racial inequity

Steve Kerr joined Gregg Popovich, Anquan Boldin, Demario Davis and Andrew McCutchen to co-author an op-ed offering concrete solutions to address some of the problems raised by protesters across the country.

To achieve a more equitable justice system for people of color, the op-ed says police need to be held accountable for their actions.

“When these killings occur, we tweet, we write letters, we make videos demanding accountability,” Kerr et al. said. “We protest and we vow to change hearts and minds so that our young men can run through the streets without fear.

“And soon after, we see another officer kill a black person, usually a man, and usually without consequence. Where, we wonder, is the ‘accountability’ allegedly so important when it comes to arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating young people of color?”

The problem, Kerr et al. say, is that police supervisors simply don’t have the power to take away a bad officer’s badge.

“Among the greatest obstacles to cleaning up our police departments are police union contracts, which hamstring officials’ ability to fire officers who engage in bad and even deadly behavior,” Kerr et al. said. “Those contracts, nearly always negotiated behind closed doors, have clauses that determine how misbehavior may be disciplined. Many contracts prevent departments from investigating reports made by anonymous civilians. They allow officers accused of serious misconduct to review the complaint and the evidence before making statements to investigators, ensuring that they can craft their story to best explain whatever the evidence will show...

“In the rare case that a department pursues disciplinary action, many contracts require arbitration, which almost always results in reduced sanctions. In a survey of data compiled from 37 police departments in 2017, The Washington Post found that of 1,881 officers fired since 2006, 451 appealed and received their jobs back — nearly 25%.”

RELATED: Mitchell Trubisky breaks social media silence to support George Floyd protests

The op-ed says these contracts are renegotiated every few years, so if you’d like them to change it’s not hopeless.

“In Philadelphia, for example, the mayor renegotiates the police union contract next year. In Minneapolis, it is renegotiated every three years and is in negotiations now. We must demand that our elected officials remove terms explicitly designed to protect officers from investigation and discipline if we are going to have accountability and safety.”

The second suggestion the op-ed makes is doing away with “qualified immunity” for cops, which protects them “from legal liability for even the most outrageous conduct,” unless a legal precedent has been set with “basically identical facts.”

They elaborate by saying “qualified immunity” can be used to protect cops from wide-ranging accusations.

“One court, for example, found an officer had qualified immunity after he let his dog maul a homeless man,” Kerr et al. said. “In another case, officers who tried to steal $225,000 while on the job received immunity.”

Again, the heart of the matter for Kerr, Popovich, Boldin, Davis and McCutchen is accountability.

“Citizens face consequences for breaking the law and harming others; our government should make sure officers are no different.”

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NBCA, Adam Silver speak out following George Floyd’s death and recent protests

NBCA, Adam Silver speak out following George Floyd’s death and recent protests

The National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA hereafter) and commissioner Adam Silver recently joined the chorus of voices speaking out in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

A statement from the NBCA, signed by 33 coaches and almost 180 assistant coaches, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports:

 

The statement pinpoints “police brutality, racial profiling and the weaponization of racism” as “shameful, inhuman and intolerable.”

And their call for “positive change” will reportedly be followed by some action. The NBCA has also formed a “committee on racial injustice and reform to pursue solutions within NBA cities”  Wojnarowski reports, which will be comprised of at least Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, David Fizdale, Stan Van Gundy, Doc Rivers, JB Bickerstaff and Quin Snyder.

Already, many in the NBA community have acted to protest systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of Floyd’s death. Stephen Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie demonstrated with many in Minneapolis. Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to lead a peaceful march in Atlanta that also featured Malcolm Brogdon. Lonnie Walker aided in clean-up efforts after a night of protests in San Antonio. The list goes on from there.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote in an internal memo to NBA employees obtained by ESPN that he was “heartened” by those “speaking out to demand justice, urging peaceful protest and working for meaningful change.” Silver also called for introspection and promised the NBA will “continue its efforts to promote inclusion and bridge divides through collective action, civic engagement, candid dialogue and support for organizations working towards justice and equality.” He expressed condolences to the Floyd family, outrage over the wrongful deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and an obligation to not ignore the issues of “racism, police brutality and racial injustice.”

As of this writing, 26 of 30 NBA teams have issued statements on Floyd’s passing, either as entities or through organization spokespeople, ranging from executives to coaches. Hopefully, the words of many lead to action — and that action to appreciable change.

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