Bulls

Could Bulls' Butler make an All-Star weekend appearance?

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Could Bulls' Butler make an All-Star weekend appearance?

TORONTOJimmy Butlers averages of 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game arent spectacular, but could the second-year swingmans consistency, effort and above all, the fact that hes a solid rotation player on a winning team lead to a trip to his home state of Texas during All-Star weekend?

It might sound far-fetched, but when you think about it, Butlers 2011 NBA Draft class isnt exactly full of current stars, making his chances at being named a participant in the annual Rookie-Sophomore Challenge a remote possibility.

I really dont think about any of that, Butler, who has tentative plans to visit former teammate Ronnie Brewer in his home state of Arkansas, said before the Bulls morning shootaround Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre.

Predictably, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also isnt thinking about accolades for Butler.

I dont worry about that stuff. I just want him to do his job: Continue to improve, each day, come in ready, alert, dont be satisfied, stay hungry, keep putting the work in. All that stuff will take care of itself, he said. Hes got to continue to do it. The thing is, you dont get there in one day. I think that the commitment thats necessary is to do it day in, day out, and to do it over a long period of time and so, thats what he has to do.

But teammate Luol Deng believes Butler has a shot.

Man, I hope so. Jimmys getting better. Hes showing how much better he got from last year and I thought so far, hes had a great season, so I hope he gets the opportunity, he said. When I came in, I came into a team that didnt make the playoffs, a team that was struggling. Jimmys on a team that for the last two years, had the best NBA record, so its tough for a coach to change things when he has guys that have been winning like that. But Jimmys shown that hes gotten so much better and when we need stops, hes definitely in the lineup. It just shows that when youre in the NBA, youve got to find something you do that the coach has no choice but to put you in and hes starting to understand that, and hes becoming very consistent with it.

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Upon examination of the leagues second-year standouts, the likes of Clevelands Kyrie Irving, Golden States Klay Thompson, Houstons Chandler Parsons, San Antonios Kawhi Leonard, Detroits Brandon Knight, Charlottes Kemba Walker and Denvers Kenneth Faried seem like virtual locks to make the game, while Orlandos Nikola Vucevic and Sacramentos Isaiah Thomas also should be in Houston. Butler is likely in a group of players that include Philadelphias Lavoy Allen and Rockets backup big man Greg Smith for the final spots on the Sophomore team.

Its part of my growth, Butler said, referring to his defensive-stopper role. Its part of a lot of young players growth, knowing your role and sticking to it, not getting outside of it, so I feel like every day I come in here, I know what its going to be, I know how to play it and I know what to do.

Among the NBAs rookie class, No. 1 overall pick and Chicago native Anthony Davis, Portlands Damian Lillard, Washingtons Bradley Beal, Charlottes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Detroits Andre Drummond, Clevelands Dion Waiters and Golden States Harrison Barnes can be penciled in, with Torontos Terrence Ross, Orlandos Andrew Nicholson, Bostons Jared Sullinger, Charlottes Jeff Taylor and Milwaukees John Henson on the fringe. Bulls rookie point guard Marquis Teague has had his moments, but doesnt play enough to receive real consideration.

Regardless of whether or not Butlers defensive ability has garnered notice around the league, hes shown that hes good for an occasional game-changing highlight, utilizing his athleticism for crowd-pleasing above-the-rim finishes. Butler claims hes never been in a dunk contest in his entire basketball careerincluding high school, junior college and at Marquettebut hed be open to participating in the NBAs dunk contest, if invited.

Definitely. Me and Lu would have to pull some tricks out of the bag, but I guess, yeah, if I was invited, Id have to take it, he said. I dont really have a favorite dunk, to tell you the truth. I dont even know what I can do until I get out there and actually try, so I guess it would take a lot of practice.

I dont know. I feel like thats not my thing, he continued. I think Im athletic enough to compete in one.

Deng was encouraging of his reluctant understudy, relaying tales of Butlers practice-floor exploits.

Ive been telling him to. I dont know who hes got to talk to, but Ive seen some of the stuff that he does in practice and I really think that he should be in it. I dont know who hes got to talk to, but he needs to make that move, Deng said. Man, he just does everything so simple and its just to warm up. All these dunks between his legs, two hands, reverse between his legs. Theyre just real simple to him and hes a two-feet jumper. When hes in the air, he has time to do all this stuff, so I think he would be fun to watch in the slam-dunk contest.

I think if he gets more opportunity, more playing time when hes out there, hell get more chances to show his dunks. But I think that will come.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.