Bulls

Bulls: Wade, Deng impressed by 'household name' Jimmy Butler

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Bulls: Wade, Deng impressed by 'household name' Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler's rise to stardom came rather unexpectedly. But two players who knew the reigning Most Improved Player and All-Star before his fame knew the signs were there.

Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade and small forward Luol Deng, who will square off against Butler and the Bulls tonight in Chicago, were aware of the player Butler was when the Bulls made him the No. 30 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and have marveled at the player he's become.

Deng spent the first two-and-a-half seasons of Butler's career in Chicago, acting as a mentor for the Marquette standout. Butler entered the league as a defensive standout but didn't see many minutes behind Deng, who led the NBA in minutes per game each of Butler's first two seasons.

Deng said at the Heat's shootaround Monday morning at the United Center that Butler's confidence has helped transform him from a defensive plug to one of the game's best two-way players and the Bulls' unquestioned leader averaging 22.5 points per game.

"He's more confident, I think that's what it is," Deng said. "(In the) beginning when Jimmy first came, he's trying to figure out what type of player he's going to be, how to get going offensively. He's always been a terrific defender. Now it's confidence, putting himself out there as a leader. So every night he has to go out and stand up for everything that he says."

[MORE: Bulls hope Nikola Mirotic is turning a corner on sophomore slump]

Before Wade was earning three NBA championships and solidifying himself as one of the game's all-time greats he, like Butler, was an unknown prospect playing for Marquette. In 2003 Wade led the Golden Eagles to their first Final Four appearance since 1977 and was the No. 5 pick in the famed 2003 NBA Draft.

He, too, has been impressed by Butler's ascension to the top of the league.

"One of the biggest things is he has a motor. He's a guy who came in this league as a defender and then started transitioning his game as an offensive guy, and that takes a lot out of you to be able to do both," Wade said. "And he has the motor to be able to do it. He's just worked on his skills. He doesn't over-complicate the game. He doesn't go and try to cross people over and try to get the crowd to ooh and ahh.

"He plays a solid, basic game. Get to his shots, get to his place, be very physical, aggressive, and he's going to keep it on you all night. He's done a great job of making himself a household name in the NBA."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.