Bulls

Confident Bucks improving with wins, not just experience

johnhensonsdimples.png

Confident Bucks improving with wins, not just experience

When the Eastern Conference playoff matchups were finalized two weeks ago, a quick glance at the bracket showed an appetizing potential second round matchup between LeBron James's Cleveland Cavaliers and the Bulls looming. A pair of contenders and bitter rivals that had met in the postseason three times in the last five seasons appeared to be on a collision course for a fourth meeting.

But the Milwaukee Bucks are getting stronger. And they're committed to putting those talks on hold.

They took another step Monday night, clamping down defensively yet again and receiving contributions from a number of players in a 94-88 Game 5 victory over the Bulls, their second straight win facing elimination in their best-of-seven series.

"Everyone’s talking about the future, everyone’s talking about (the Bulls') series with Cleveland," Jared Dudley said. "We’re still here."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Jason Kidd has made it a point during the series to reiterate the point that his youthful Bucks, whose top four leading scorers in the regular season all are 23 or younger, were playing to win, but also were looking to gain valuable experience and improvement to build for the future.

And in five games they've done just that; their defense against a Bulls team ranked 10th in offensive efficiency has been nothing short of spectacular, budding star Khris Middleton has averaged 17.8 points per game, 20-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone toe-to-toe with All-Star Jimmy Butler and Michael Carter-Williams is coming along nicely after a slow start, scoring 22 points in Monday's Game 5 win.

But more important than the progression and investments for the future, the Bucks are winning. Their inexperienced core got their playoff debuts out of the way in Chicago - both Bulls victories - before returning to Milwaukee, playing in front of a raucous home crowd where they took the Bulls to double overtime in Game 3 and first tasted success in a Game 4 in which they played to their strengths flawlessly.

That victory gave them new life, which they parlayed into Monday's game. The Bucks forced 13 more Bulls turnovers which translated to 19 points, held Chicago to 35 percent shooting (including 10-for-41 shooting from Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler) and found better looks at the basket, scoring 46 points in the paint.

They heeded Jason Kidd's words of starting quickly, scoring the game's first nine points and then withstanding the Bulls' 21-4 run afterwards, taking a three-point lead into halftime. When Carter-Williams, who had spearheaded the offensive attack in the first half, headed to the locker room with what looked to be a nasty sprained right ankle in the third quarter, they clamped down defensively, holding the Bulls to 29 percent shooting in the quarter. And when the Bulls made their inevitable run in the fourth quarter, cutting a nine-point deficit to three, Milwaukee withstood and scored six of the next seven points to push the game out of reach.

[RELATED: Mayo relishing chance to play Bucks enforcer]

It's that sense of urgency that has the Bucks playing with utter confidence. Power forward John Henson, who scored eight points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, likened Milwaukee's situation to that of the NCAA Tournament, a humorous analogy considering many of their core contributors are just a few years removed from college themselves.

"It was good to be out there playing for your life, playing for your season. We don’t have anything to do this summer, so we’re trying to stay here as long as we can," he said. "It’s getting to the point where anything can happen."

Two games in which the pace has played in Milwaukee's favor, combined with that newfound sense of urgency and confidence has quickly made this series feel like more of a toss-up. The Bulls still hold the upper hand, leading 3-2 with a potential Game 7 at home, but Milwaukee is jumping on the opportunity to improve. In the first three games of the series it appeared that improvement would come in the form of experience, but as the wins pile up their attitude has changed. So for now the Cavaliers will have to wait.

"We just go out there and play our type of basketball. We've gotten better," Kidd said. "These guys have a lot to lose. We have an opportunity to get better each time we go to work."

Bulls' Coby White has 7th best odds to win 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year

Bulls' Coby White has 7th best odds to win 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year

The 2019 NBA Draft has finally come and gone, and we now have a much better idea of how the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year race will pan out.

Of course, Zion Williamson has been the frontrunner to win ROY in most sports books before the draft even happens, and not much has changed since then at the top, with Williamson listed as a -450 favorite to win the award via Caesars. But when perusing through the rest of the top ROY odds, it is interesting where the split comes in terms of Caesar’s confidence in each first-year talent.

The top five in the odds were pretty much chalk, with the top five draft picks having the best odds in order, besides No. 5 overall pick Darius Garland finishing ahead of No. 4 overall pick De’Andre Hunter. Garland’s +1000 odds are likely the result of the general expectation that he and incumbent point guard Collin Sexton will be the driving forces of the Cavaliers’ offense.

Meanwhile, Hunter is sure to serve in more of a supporting role as a wing opposite Cam Reddish (+2500 odds) and 2018 NBA ROY runner up Trae Young, who possess much more in terms of ball handling and shot-creating ability. Speaking of ball handling and shot-creating ability, Bulls No. 7 overall pick Coby White comes in tied for 7th with +3000 odds to come away with the ROY award. 

White has the same odds as No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes, and only slightly better odds than No. 9 pick Rui Hachimura and No. 15 pick Sekou Doumbouya. Historically, the ROY award goes to whichever first-year player has the most productive season in terms of raw numbers. White is expected to compete for the starting point guard job with Kris Dunn and whatever veterans the Bulls front office brings in.

While it is true that Coby White is not guaranteed a starring role in Chicago, the average-to-below-average guard play that the organization has received over the years would seem to indicate that the speedy first-year guard will be a fixture in the rotation all season long. 

When bettors first glance at White’s +3000 odds, they make look at it as a normal line and reasonably stay away from the longshot. But if you--like Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson--believe that White is an extremely coachable talent who will help get the entire Bulls team to commit to a more up-tempo style, then rolling with White’s odds in the ROY race is a no-brainer.

Waiting to see how free agency shakes out would be a prudent move on the part of bettors, but have confidence in White, who figures to be a crucial part of the rotation whether or not the Bulls go with a veteran starter or the incumbent, Kris Dunn, in the lead guard spot. 

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

coby-white-620.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

Mark Schanowski is joined by Bulls top draft picks Coby White and Daniel Gafford after they were introduced to the media Monday at the Advocate Center.

0:50        White on how he thinks he can help the Bulls

1:25        White on his meeting with Jim Boylen

2:00        White on joining a very young roster

2:30        White on the influence of his father

3:33        White on the viral video of him reacting to Cam Johnson being drafted

4:50        White on his teammate first personality

5:38        White on looking forward to playing w Gafford

6:42        Gafford on his skill set

7:15        Gafford on watching the NBA when he can

7:40        Gafford on evolving big man role

8:47        Gafford on if he can do more offensively

9:20        Gafford on Bobby Portis, and some of their similarities

10:30     Gafford on some of his highlights from Arkansas

11:10     Gafford on Jim Boylen

11:30     Gafford on pick n roll game

12:00     Gafford on Coby White

12:40     Gafford on falling to the 2nd round, how getting drafted by the Bulls worked out

13:22     Gafford on throwing out 1st pitch at an upcoming Sox game

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

Subscribe: