Bulls

Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

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Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

NEW ORLEANSTom Thibodeaus comparison of the 4-21 Hornets to the Bill Russell-era Celtics dynasty aside -- unless its just lip service -- the Bulls are preparing for Wednesdays opponent as if theyre as good as any team theyve faced on their current nine-game road trip, which has already featured foes as varied as the title-contending Heat and upstart 76ers to lowly New Jersey and Washington. Although league-owned New Orleans is banged up and mostly devoid of top-quality talent -- their one potential star, shooting guard Eric Gordon, is sidelined -- Chicago understands that in order for it to reach its championship potential, at least under Thibodeaus hard-charging style, they have to treat the Hornets as if theyre an elite team.

Hell no, said Derrick Rose, when asked if he would consider taking off Wednesdays contest to rest his ailing back because of the quality of the Bulls opponent. We still know that weve still got to go out here and play this game. Theyre an NBA team. That means they have good players on their team ... got some people thats nicked up on their team, but they might come back -- so weve still got to go out here and play this game.

When Im on the court, I dont pace myself like that, he continued. If anything, when Im out there, Im trying to create or do something to lead us in the right direction to get that win and pacing yourself, I think Thibs wouldnt allow you to do that anyway.

Added Luol Deng: The Bulls' mindset really doesnt change because of the opponent. I think our mindsets got to be 'everyones back tonight.' Its been that kind of season. Whether its us or other teams, it gives somebody an opportunity to step up. Its the NBA, so youve got to come ready to play.

Even if the Bulls are up big on a team, such as in Mondays win over the Nets, their quest is to continue to keep pressure on the opposition or, in Thibodeaus terms, play 48 minutes of basketball.

Its something that we have to learn to do better. I think weve been coming out with great energy to start the games. Weve just got to keep that up, but it is a 48-minute game and weve just got to play better, I guess, Joakim Noah said after Mondays blowout victory. Every games going to be different. Basketballs a game of momentum, but were trying to control what we can control as best as possible. I think overall, our energys been pretty good. Youre not going to just have unbelievable starts all the time. Sometimes, shots arent falling, things like that, but at the same time, you have to come out with great focus and good energy. I think we did a pretty good job with that tonight.

Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver added: Well, its human nature, I suppose, to let up a little bit, but obviously were trying to play 48-minute games and Thibs preaches it every day, so its something weve got to get better at. But its a good problem to have, I suppose. But its something that weve got to keep working on.

Deng explained that, as of late -- whether he intended it or not, referring to his return to the lineup from torn ligaments in his left wrist last Saturday in Milwaukee -- the Bulls have been putting pressure on the opposition from early in the game and as Thibodeau likes to say, playing from a lead and able to sustain a cushion, even when the other team makes an inevitable run.

I think were just coming out with a lot of energy, not waiting to pick it up. Coming out, our defense has been great in the first quarter. Weve just got to keep doing that and weve been playing very unselfish on the offensive end, Deng said Monday. Its been there all year. We want to play like that every day. Theres times when you have a lot of energy, times when you dont have energy, but I think right now, were not just playing hard. Were also playing smart and thats the difference.

Chimed in C.J. Watson: Its kind of hard. We try not to play the score, just keep attacking, play the way that weve been playing and thats what we did for a little bit.

As impressive as Chicagos performance in wins over elite-level competition has been, its level of focus against the dregs of the league has been equally eye-opening, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign, which has yielded some surprising results around the NBA. Thus, even though funnyman Will Ferrell will be present at Wednesdays game -- the actor-comedian, whos filming a movie in New Orleans, will announce the starting lineups -- playing the Hornets, or any opponent of their ilk, are no laughing matter to the Bulls.

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.