Butler rises to the occasion in Deng's absence


Butler rises to the occasion in Deng's absence

BOSTONIt only occurred because starter Luol Deng had to leave the game with a right-hamstring injury, but second-year Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler not only played over 25 minutes in Friday nights overtime win over the Celtics, he was a major reason why the visitors prevailed.

Butler scored six consecutive points for the Bulls in the extra sessiona dunk, layup and two clutch free throwsas part of his 13 points on the evening, prompting his teammates to celebrate him in the jubilant visiting locker room at TD BankNorth Garden nearly as much as Marco Belinelli, who hit the game-winning shot in the 100-99 victory.

It was really fun. Being out there with my guys, man. I love this team and its crazy that they have faith in me to be out there with them, and want me out there with them and when I score a basket, theyre cheering, Keep goingsee? Butler said afterwards, as his teammates, from Nate Robinson to Rip Hamilton, shouted out his name as he conducted postgame interviews.

It was crazy. It was nice to know that my teammates have faith in me, to give me the ball whenever Im open and they know that I can go down there and guard, and come back and try to score another basket. Thats big for my confidence. To tell you the truth, in my head, I was like, Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was also proud of Butler, who he said could start if Deng misses Saturdays contest against Memphis at the United Center.

I thought Jimmy was terrific. I thought his defense, his offense was very good, hustle plays, energy, he said. We needed every bit of it and hes not afraid of the moment. You can throw him in, in any situation and hes ready to go.

If Butler has to start in Dengs place Saturday against Memphis, the Marquette product believes hes ready to raise his level of play for extended minutes.

I think so. Be more aggressive, obviously on offense and on defense, he said. I think with more minutes comes more confidence, so itll be a sight to see.

Teammate Kirk Hinrich supported that opinion, telling CSNChicago.com, Hes played well for us all year in kind of limited minutes, pushing to get more time, but hes definitely played well for us when hes been in there.

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short


Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?


Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.