Bulls

Bulls walk the walk, demolish rival Pacers

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Bulls walk the walk, demolish rival Pacers

So much for that budding rivalry, at least Monday night, justifying the letter, if not the spirit, of Tom Thibodeaus pregame declaration.

After some barbs were exchanged through the media, the Bulls (32-8) backed up their words, demolishing the Central Division rival Pacers (23-13) at the United Center, 92-72, thanks to a huge second half, balanced scoring that saw five players reach double figures and as usual, a stifling defensive effort, for the teams seventh consecutive victory.

Indianas a terrific team and it comes down to multiple-effort plays, and when things arent going your way, youre not shooting well, youve got to find other ways to help your team win and I think we have a lot of guys on our team that do that, said Thibodeau. Our defense and our rebounding. The rebounding was huge. They play hard. Theyre a hard-playing team. they missed some shots that they normally make, but I like the way that our team hung in there. We just found a way to win in the second half.

With all of the build-up prior to the affair, it wasnt surprising that neither team was exceptional at the outset, but it was unexpected that a significant piece on each team would exit the contest early on. One of the featured players in the pregame war of words, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, picked up two quick fouls, and was forced to leave temporarily, while Rip Hamilton appeared to tweak his right shoulder and after heading to the locker room, was replaced by Ronnie Brewer (12 points, seven rebounds), who made an immediate impact with his energetic play.

Indiana wings Danny Granger and Paul George (game-high 21 points), as well as veteran power forward David West, made their presences felt for the visitors, but the Bulls kept pace with Joakim Noah (nine points, 17 rebounds) and Luol Deng (team-high 20 points, six rebounds, four assists) carrying the scoring load, as Derrick Rose (13 points, nine assists), named the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, focused on distributing and playing more of an all-around game.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the hosts held a slim edge, 22-20.

With C.J. Watson out due to a sprained left ankle, John Lucas III (13 points) assumed the backup point-guard role and the never-bashful diminutive reserve not only got on the board, but dominated the scoring action in aiding the Bulls some breathing room.

Thats whats so good about our team. Everybody goes in focused and you stay ready, said Lucas. Like we say, Were all weve got, so one of our teammates goes down, somebodys got to step up.

Thibodeau chimed in: John Lucas did a terrific job filling in, he was ready to go and that gave us a big lift.

Concurred Rose: John is someone that gave us a little bit of energy in the first half and during the second half, just pushing the ball, feeding the bigs and I think everyone just fed off of him.

However, the Pacers had their own backcourt sparkplug off the bench, in the form of offseason acquisition George Hill (17 points), a combo guard and Indianapolis native, who displayed his ability to score in bunches, which he earned a reputation for in San Antonio.

A balanced Pacers attack continued to be effective against the Bulls, though neither team shot the ball particularly well in the defensive-minded second quarter. The hosts were afflicted by ball-security issues and Carlos Boozer, Deng and Rosewho did excel as a playmaker, if not a scorerall struggling with their shooting. However, partially thanks to Brewer and fellow reserve swingman Kyle Korvers outside marksmanship, the Bulls only trailed by a slight margin, 43-42, at the intermission.

We did a good job of rebounding the ball. We played with a lot more energy in the third quarter. Jo was tremendous rebounding. It wasnt really going our way to begin withmissing a lot of shots, guys werent shooting welland in the second half, we just found a way. Got stops, started going out and running, did a good job of rebounding, said Deng.

When we came in at halftime, no one talked about missing shots. We really didnt talk about it at all. We just said we know weve got a lot of guys who can score. It doesnt happen often when everyone is not shooting. Someone is going to get it going. We just really talked about our defense, kind of playing with a lot of energy, like we did in the third quarter and going out and running, getting easy baskets.

Echoed Thibodeau: We made some shots and our defense picked up. Just our energy overall was much better in the third quarter. You have to bring it for all four quarters. We like to count on our defense and our rebounding. Some nights youre not going to shoot as well as others.

Added Noah: We had a great third quarter. Derrick shot the ball very well, Lu shot the ball very well, we played good defense and rebounded the ball well, and it just opened up the game.

After the break, behind Rose beginning to assert himself as a scorer, Brewers energy and scoring and Noahs dominance on the interior, the Bulls gained some separation from the visitors early in the third period.

Additionally, the hosts started clamping down on the defensive end of the court and Deng found his outside touch, leading to a double-digit advantage for the home team, whose fans showed their boisterous appreciation.

Between Rose and Deng, the All-Star duo knocked down five three-pointers in the quarter and with Noah, Brewer and reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots) playing in typically high-energy fashion on both ends of the floor to augment the pairs contributions, as well as stout defense limiting Indianas offensive opportunities, it appeared that rout was on, as the lead continued to balloon.

Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had earned a robust 75-56 advantage.

Our biggest thing was shutting down the paint and I think that we did a pretty good job of that, just making sure they shot contested twos or whenever they shot, making sure someone put a hand up. Theyre a good team. We just tried to make it hard on them tonight, said Rose of the Bulls approach. We just tried to push it a little bit more when we got the rebound and put a little pressure on them on the defensive side.

Deng added: We were just making silly mistakes with our assignments. Certain plays, were supposed to show on the screen. Certain plays, were supposed to blitz, fronting the post. Stuff like that, just little mistakes and we just locked in, and went over the game plan, just did a good job of doing that.

Defense was again the name of the game in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls completely smothered their guests, maintaining their comfortable lead.

Thibodeau rode his reserves for the bulk of the period, before inserting Noah and Dengthe latter actually saw some time at the beginning of the frame, but admitted, When we kept losing the lead, I knew I was going back in, so I stayed ready, while Thibodeau acknowledged that Rose was warming up in the bullpen and instructed him to stretch in preparationbut the outcome had already been decided well in advance, as the Bulls were on cruise control for the extended garbage time, which featured late appearances by rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, who scored the teams final points of the evening.

It was a good win for us, just coming off a back-to-back. We played very hard tonight. We were excited about this game, said Noah. We handled our business, we played hard tonight and it feels good to win in that fashion.

We played with a lot of passion tonight. Its a good feeling to be playing well, especially because we have a tough stretch coming up and we know whats at stake. To be playing good basketball right now, its rewarding, he continued. The whole team, were on the same page. Were about the right things. Just got to keep it up. I know the citys proud right now. The NBAs all about highs and lows. Just got to keep representing and well be all right.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.