Can Bulls Find Winning Formula vs. Cavaliers?


Can Bulls Find Winning Formula vs. Cavaliers?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
8:34 PM

By Mark Schanowski

Kind of an empty feeling after watching Game 2 in Cleveland. The Bulls played about as well as they possibly can, tying an NBA Playoff record with only 4 turnovers, and they still wound up losing by 10 points. So, with the series heading back to Chicago for the next 2 games, are you encouraged or discouraged? Can the Bulls win a game in this series, or like Jordan, will LeBron find a way to steal every game in the 4th quarter? Feel free to post your opinions and predictions in the comments section below.

If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, it's pretty unlikely the Cavs will match their shooting from Game 2 during the upcoming games at the United Center. Cleveland shot 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3 point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. They had a journeyman role player named Jamario Moon hit 4 of 5 three point attempts, 3 of them in the 4th quarter when the home team took control. They also got big contributions from bench players Delonte West and Anderson Varejao. Generally, role players perform a lot better at home than they do on the road. So, you wouldn't expect Moon, West and Varejao to be big factors in the next 2 games. But Cleveland General Manager Danny Ferry has done a nice job of assembling talent around James, and now Cleveland has one of the deepest rosters in the league. 2nd year forward J.J. Hickson was a starter for much of the season, but now he's not even in the rotation. With the addition of Antawn Jamison, and the return of the guy they traded to get him, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland now has a deep and talented frontcourt that allows Mike Brown the option of rotating Shaq, Big Z and Varejao in any way he see fit. The Bulls just can't match Cleveland's size up front, even when they play Joakim Noah and Brad Miller together.

So far in the series, the Cavs have been able to get just about anything they want in their halfcourt offense, And when all else fails, they can always give the ball to LeBron to create his own shot. That's the beauty of having a superstar in your line-up. The Bulls had it for so many years with Jordan, and maybe one day Derrick Rose will start to get the favorable calls from the officials reserved for the game's biggest stars. But for now, James gives the Cavs a big advantage in any close game they're in. He can shoot over any defender, and get to the rim anytime he wants. If you try to get physical with him, he'll either drive past you or initiate contact to get to the free throw line. And, just ask Bulls' rookie James Johnson about getting off-balance trying to guard LeBron. You could wind up on a poster that will be a hot seller in the city of Cleveland.

The Bulls really don't have a lot of options in trying to defend James. Luol Deng isn't physical enough to body LeBron, and he's lost some of his lateral quickness because of nagging knee and calf injuries. Kirk Hinrich is too short, so LeBron can just shoot right over the top of him. Johnson doesn't have enough experience and tends to overreact to any fake. Vinny Del Negro seems to have lost faith in Hakim Warrick, but he's really not strong enough to keep James from backing into the paint for easy shots. So, about all the Bulls' coaches can do right now is send double teams from different spots on the court to try to disrupt James' rhythm. LeBron is a willing passer, and double teaming him will undoubtedly lead to open shots from guys like Jamison and Anthony Parker. But at this point, James has made it obvious he's capable of winning games by himself in the 4th quarter, so the only chance for the Bulls is to try to take the ball out of LeBron's hands, and hope the other Cavs aren't hitting a high percentage of their shots.

Offensively, the Bulls did a much better job of attacking the basket in Game 2. Deng scored 20 points and showed a willingness to drive to the hoop. The big question about Luol is how strong will he be physically after bumping knees with James late in the game? Noah piled up 25 points and 13 rebounds, Taj Gibson had 11 points and 7 rebounds and Flip Murray chipped in 14 points off the bench. The Bulls aren't intimidated by Cleveland's defense, and they should be able to get some easy baskets inside with Rose penetrating and dishing to open big men. The key in Game 3 will be getting off to a fast start, and putting some doubt in the minds of the Cleveland players. The Cavs fully expect to sweep the Bulls in round 1, and they will have supreme confidence if the game stays close since 23 is on their side. The Bulls need to take advantage of the energy they should get from the home crowd and run out to an early lead. Maybe then some of Cleveland's role players will start forcing bad shots, and LeBron won't be able to save the Cavs in the end.

Defense will be the key for the Bulls. They can't allow Cleveland to shoot a high percentage from the field like they did in Game 2. The rotations have to be crisp and the Bulls' perimeter guys have to get out to the three point line to prevent Mo Williams, Parker and Moon from hitting big shots. And if Shaq becomes a factor inside, Vinny needs to mix in a little zone defense to make it harder for the big man to operate. You hate to say the Bulls will have to play a perfect game to win, but that's the situation they find themselves in right now. Cleveland is more talented, deeper, and they have the best finisher in the game. It's hard to say if any lead is big enough to keep James from working his late game magic.

LeBron is in his 7th NBA season right now, the same point that Jordan was when he won his first NBA title. No doubt Cleveland will face some tough series down the line with possible match-ups looming against Orlando and the Lakers, but James has the look of a champion right now, and I'll be surprised if he isn't clutching that gold trophy in mid-June. And once LeBron gets that championship feeling, it's hard to picture him leaving Cleveland to go to another team in free agency and start over. This summer's long-awaited free agent derby could turn out to be a big disappointment if James and Dwyane Wade wind up staying with their current teams, but that's the way it looks right now. The Bulls will pursue All-Star caliber players like Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire, but the only real franchise-changers are James and Wade. Just like we saw during the Jordan era, it's amazing what impact a dominant player like James can have, making every other player on the team a little more confident. Only time will tell if LeBron comes close to the run of success Michael enjoyed with the Bulls.

Don't forget you can watch Game 3 on Comcast SportsNet Thursday night at 6 o'clock. Bulls Pre-Game live sets the table at 5:30, and we'll have expanded post-game coverage on Bulls Postgame Live and CSNChicago.com. I'll be talking to you from the United Center on Thursday! You can also watch the game live on CSNChicago.com!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

The Bulls ended long-standing speculation and drafted Boise State senior wing Chandler Hutchinson with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-7 Hutchison has been linked to Chicago since opting out of the 2018 NBA Draft Combine in May as he gives the Bulls a versatile and experienced wing on the perimeter.

A late-bloomer both during high school career in Mission Viejo, California and during his four years at Boise State, Hutchison has always been willing to put in the work to reach the next levels of basketball. Hutchison elevated from a mid-major recruit into a top-100 national prospect by the end of high school. And similar to his prep career, Hutchison blossomed into a first-round pick after a slow start to his career at Boise State.

Broncos head coach Leon Rice offered strong praise for his former star player, as Hutchinson became the go-to player for the Broncos during his junior and senior seasons. Because Hutchison can play multiple spots, rebound, defend and push off the break, he's an intriguing piece for the Bulls' future rotation. Hutchison should be able to play on the wing alongside other rebuilding pieces like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

"I think the Chicago Bulls got a steal," Rice said to NBC Sports Chicago. "You look at the last four years, he's gotten better every year."

"I think it's a great fit. You've got a terrific coach out there for Chandler and the style that he is. It's just the same way. I think it's a really good match."

It wasn't always easy for Hutchinson at Boise State. Rice and former Broncos assistant coach Jeff Linder were both convinced that Hutchison had the ability to develop into a star from the time they started recruiting him. But Hutchison needed time to develop his strength and skill level before he became a standout player.

"Our assistant coach Jeff Linder, who I really think is one of our best evaluators, he went and watched this kid. And he calls me, and it's five minutes into the game, and he's like, 'I've seen enough. He's what we need,'" Rice said. "He's got a feel for the game, he's long. I think people labeled him a little bit because he's from Orange County. In my estimation, he didn't fit that label. He just wasn't developed yet. He was young and he looked young. He just wasn't mature yet, that's the bottom line."

When he arrived on campus, Hutchinson was a touted top-100 prospect -- a rarity for the program and the Mountain West Conference. But the program already had talented and experienced players ahead of Hutchison in the rotation. Earning playing time, and a spot in the starting lineup, wasn't guaranteed to Hutchison.

Junior wing Anthony Drmic was one of the best, and most competitive, players in the league as Hutchison had to earn his stripes by battling a veteran in practice every day as an underclassman. Forward James Webb III was another all-conference piece that was already in place for Hutchison to learn from. 

"By the time he got to Boise, there were a lot of strong guys to compete with. I think that brought him something positive. Things that he didn't have," Rice said. "Anthony Drmic is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached. Chandler got to go against him day-in, day-out as a freshman. I don't know if across the country, who had a tougher practice. It shapes who he is today."

When Drmic and Webb departed Boise State, Hutchison was ready to step up into a consistent double-figure scorer and go-to player before his junior season. Already putting in the work to become a more well-rounded wing, Hutchison set out to improve an inconsistent three-pointer that was never above 28 percent during his first two seasons with the Broncos.

The arrival of assistant coach Phil Beckner to Boise State was another huge part of Hutchison's personal development. An experienced coach who spent time developing Damian Lillard as an assistant at Weber State, Beckner also had NBA G-League coaching experience and trained NBA players. Beckner's work with Hutchison took the junior's game, and his jumper, to a new level during his final two seasons in college.

"I think the last two years there was a great jump. He got to work with Phil Beckner, one of our assistants, who has worked with Dame Lillard and a number of players. I think he's one of the best at player development. It was a lot of hours and a lot of time doing it. A lot of dedication," Rice said.

Hutchison saw his three-point percentage jump to 37 percent as a junior as he put up 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, helping lead the Broncos to an NIT appearance. Senior year was even stronger for Hutchison. Elevating to 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hutchison was named first-team all-conference while being named a top-10 national finalist for the Jerry West Award. 

"He led us in just about every category. And we had a good ballclub, too." Rice said. "He was a do-it-all player and he could do it at every position. He rebounded. He guarded big guys and small guys. Led the break. He's a great decision-maker with his feel."

Rice is also impressed that his star player was always coachable and easy to deal with away from the court. Hutchison earned his degree from Boise State, and even attended graduation in the midst of his pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Hutchison even flew straight back from his graduation and didn't miss his next pre-draft workout.

"He finishes. He got his degree and there's only two or three guys in the first round that got degrees and got it done. I mean, that's impressive," Rice said. "These guys that are elite-level players have so much demands on them with media and with the team and the workouts and all of these extra workouts. To get a degree while dealing with all of that is very impressive."

Hutchison has taken some time to find his footing in every level of basketball. Rice thinks playing around other talented, high-IQ players will help Hutchison's all-around game shine in the NBA. Rice in convinced that Hutchison's work ethic and versatility make him a great fit for the Bulls.

"That's what I love about him. I think he can fill a lot of different positions and a lot of different needs. Depending on what you need, night-in, night-out he can adjust his game and bring those things," Rice said.

"A great organization like the Bulls, he couldn't be more excited. It's a match made in heaven."

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

It wasn’t an exciting night at the Advocate Center but it was a successful one in the eyes of the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

And a telling one, from their inaction as they stayed put to select Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison with their two first round picks.

They’re not looking to press the fast-forward button on this methodical process, placing unrealistic expectations on themselves that they’re nowhere near ready to embrace.

But perhaps, it was necessary.

Trade offers were around, and the Bulls were enamored with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III in addition to their interest in Mohamed Bamba. But the price of swapping picks, along with giving up the 22nd spot and a future first-rounder was too rich for the Bulls, according to sources.

“We’re always looking and probing for opportunity. How close we got, we don’t know,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “We looked into some things. We thought it was more than a six-player draft. And Wendell is a guy we’ve been high on for quite awhile.”

They believe they’ve opted for prudence instead of panic on a night where bold, confident steps are expected.

After a painful march to the end of an unsatisfying season and dropping a spot in the lottery, a trade would’ve been a do-good when many felt the Bulls should’ve been at the top of the draft order.

After all, so much was made of their scouts and staff spending so much time during the year to assess the top talent—nobody wanted to see all that unspoken promise result in a mid-lottery seventh selection.

“We feel we’re in a situation at this time of our rebuild that to give up assets, important draft assets to move up a spot or two, that didn’t make sense to us and the way we’re planning,” Paxson said. “We continue to talk about being patient and disciplined in how we make decisions.”

One can look at it as the Bulls being unwilling to embrace what comes with taking a top-four talent—especially with Jackson being viewed as a long play as opposed to an instant impact prospect—the word “playoffs” would’ve been swirling all around Madison and Wood for the next several months.

Or one can view it as a sober approach, that Paxson and Forman know there’s far too many unanswered questions about their core, that a slightly better-than-expected regular season wasn’t going to seduce them down a costly road.

They don’t seem to be completely sold on Kris Dunn as the unequivocal point guard of the future, unafraid to take Trae Young if he fell into their lap.

Zach LaVine didn’t play to his expectations, the franchise’s expectations and he didn’t look comfortable playing with the Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, in part because they didn’t have the opportunity.

He enters restricted free agency and nobody will know how much the Bulls value him until they put an initial offer in front of him, likely on the eve of free agency a week from now.

As much as the last 12 months were about hitting the reset button and trading Jimmy Butler to put themselves in this spot, the months of October to April didn’t shed as much light as many anticipated—hence the talk from Paxson about patience and not being in a rush with the rebuild right now.

Because honestly, there’s nothing to rush—the last thing this distrusting fan base wants to hear.

Carter can be exactly what the Bulls need—some ways immediately, other ways in time provided the roster construction is competent and not done at a snail’s pace, the biggest fear from this jaded fan base.

Having to sacrifice at Duke once Bagley III reclassified to get to college, his offensive game didn’t develop as much as it could have—and it’s not like he’ll be featured early on in Chicago with Markkanen and LaVine penciled in as main scoring options.

“As much as you wanna talk about the game getting away from bigs, big guys and their ability to score, the way the game’s going,” Paxson said. “He wants to set screens for guys. This is a young man who’s gonna fit into the team concept that we want to have. And Chandler will do the same.”

Carter had to submerge his talents and gifts during the one season he had to showcase it for the greater good. It speaks to a certain emotional maturity the 19-year old has, a sober approach to look at the bigger picture while still making the most of his not-so-plentiful opportunities.

“Wendell is still a young guy,” Paxson said. “Very few draft picks are finished product, especially in our game where we’re drafting so young. He’s got a lot of room to grow. Defensively as a rim protector, he’ll do really well. Verticality at the rim, he’s been taught really well. Smart kid, we think he’s gonna be really good.”

Hutchison isn’t the high-upside talent Carter is, having played four years of college ball, improving each year to the point that the Bulls supposedly made him a promise very early on in the draft process.

Their unwillingness to give up the 22nd pick, whether they like the perception or not, stems from their belief Hutchison can be an impact player.

“We like Chandler a lot,” Paxson said. “We scouted him early, scouted him often. He knew we liked him. He addresses a position of need. We had debates on wings and players at his position. His ability to rebound and take it off the board, those things are really valuable, especially the way we want to play.”

Paxson alluded to tense discussions leading to the draft, where one can surmise there was serious consideration about not just going with the status quo—their reported interest in point guard Collin Sexton should be proof of that—and that should come as a positive sign for Bulls fans, who feel the front office is satisfied with a slow-rolling, low-accountability approach since they aren’t saddling themselves with high expectations.

To paraphrase Forman, the Bulls are “still building up our asset base” and subtly saying they expect to be in a similar position next June.

Soberly saying winning and contention isn’t on the horizon can be refreshing to hear, but they walk a fine line of expressing too much comfort in things staying the way they are.