Bulls

Denzel Valentine hoping to stand out in camp filled with competition

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine hoping to stand out in camp filled with competition

In this season of whatever this will be for the Bulls, the only certainty is the uncertainty in which they will march toward the bottom of the standings in hopes of obtaining a high lottery pick.

Last year, only one starting spot was up for grabs and the Bulls did everything they could to hand it to Nikola Mirotic, but it’s the opposite this time around as only one spot seems to be nailed down in the form of Robin Lopez at center.

So the rotation spots and starting positions will be determined by who plays best, which should lead to some intriguing personnel battles in practices and in the preseason.

The spirit of competition was initiated by Bulls Executive Vice-President John Paxson and reiterated by head coach Fred Hoiberg, who after games in his first two years often lamented lackluster efforts against lesser opponents.

One would think that shouldn’t be the case this season.

“I love their effort. I think our guys are out there competing at a very high level,” Hoiberg said. “We're making mistakes, there's no doubt about that. Most teams at this stage are, especially young teams. The important part is we've gotten better each day.”

Hoiberg said the turnovers have been an early issue but that’s to be expected in the first week of camp, especially with Hoiberg wanting to increase possessions and play faster.

“It’s really just play as hard as you can when you’re out there,” second-year guard Denzel Valentine said. “We’re young. With youth, there’s a lot of energy. We should be one of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA. If we play hard and play the right way, we have enough talent and we’re deep enough.”

Speaking of the simple plays as opposed to making the spectacular ones, the vision of Valentine trying to squeeze passes into rapidly-closing windows was a frequent occurrence in his rookie year last season.

After playing with the ball throughout his college career at Michigan State, he didn’t have many opportunities with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo rightly making most of the decisions.

So when he did get his chances, he often played too fast but not quick enough to make the flashy look-away passes he was accustomed to pulling off. It led to an uneven rookie season and left him as a forgotten man of sorts when the Bulls made their draft-night trade to acquire Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn.

“There wasn’t need for me to try to playmake. My role last year was pretty much be a spot-up shooter and be efficient when I get the ball,” Valentine said. “This year, my role is going to increase. I’m going to be able to make more plays and do things I’m comfortable doing. It’ll be better.”

In theory he has a leg up on Dunn, if he’s in the running to play the point. He’s had a year to be in Hoiberg’s offensive system and should know the terminology and concepts better than any other perimeter player.

Even though his ankle surgery over the summer had a longer recovery time than he expected, leading to an uneven showing at Summer League, he has plenty of opportunity to show where he fits in the present and future of the franchise.

He’s shown he’s a capable shooter, shooting 35 percent from 3 and 38 after the All-Star break when his minutes doubled.

“(I’m) really just slowing down, getting more comfortable playing at pro speed, and my shooting of course,” he said. “Defensively, I want to be able to stay on the floor at all times and be able to guard 1-4. Defensively is a big improvement.”

His lack of athleticism certainly hurts him defensively, a place where Dunn is expected to excel, along with Jerian Grant still being in the mix. But he knows he’ll have his chances and presumably, Hoiberg will have no problem making this competition a meritocracy as opposed to fulfilling any preconceived agenda.

“There’s definitely opportunity knocking on the door,” Valentine said. “I just put in the back of my mind that no matter happens, I’m going to stay me, put in the work. Since the trade happened and more opportunity is here, I have to grow up a little faster now. I’m spending more time in the gym, spending more time watching film, taking it more serious with my body.”

As for starting or coming off the bench, Valentine said: “This year, I’m just going to have an open mind. If I start, I start. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m going to try to do what I do and keep progressing.”

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.