Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths


Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths

You can see it, a tide rising in Chicago that grows with every game as the one thing many felt was improbable now feels more and more likely.

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.

Or Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, however you choose to describe it.

But no matter how you put it, the Bulls’ backcourt is not only playing well together but efficiently, and the most important thing shouldn’t go unnoticed: They’re complementing each other.

Well, they’ve always complimented each other in public, especially after games, in respectful terms. But now there appears to be more of an appreciation and synergy with one another.

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence the most valuable Bull and most important Bull are playing their most efficient basketball in this successful stretch where many are in agreement about the Bulls being ready to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy.

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence Butler’s two best passing games of his career have taken place since Rose has returned from a three-game absence with a hamstring injury.

Or maybe, just maybe, Rose’s newfound aggressiveness many believed no longer existed in his body or psyche caused Butler to play more of a facilitator — or even vice-versa.

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“He’s explosive. And he’s staying aggressive and attacking the rim,” Butler said of Rose. “When he’s playing like that, he’s making it easy on everybody. When you gotta guard everybody, it makes it easy. Yeah, he made some great shots and great moves.”

While Rose attacks the basket with a careful version of reckless abandon, Butler has been the one finding Doug McDermott for triples or kicking it out to Pau Gasol for open jumpers.

“We’re good, but we can always get better,” Rose said. “I told him to keep shooting, to keep being aggressive because him being aggressive opens it up for everybody else. He continued to do that.”

In other words, they’re performing like a total backcourt, becoming more keenly aware of the team needs in the construct of recognizing who has to do what when the other is in a rhythm.

“Derrick has got his rhythm back,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Thursday’s win over the Celtics. “It’s good to see Derrick sharing the ball with Butler, and they play off each other and it makes us much better.”

Former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars was a member of perhaps the best backcourt in modern NBA history, with himself and Isiah Thomas leading the Pistons to titles in 1989 and 1990, each winning Finals MVP (the only time backcourt mates have won the award in consecutive years).

When Dumars put together a title-winning backcourt as an executive with Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, he wasn’t looking at “point guard” and “shooting guard.”

He looked at skill sets.

“I looked at what each guy could do individually and figured they could play well off each other together,” he once said.

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Simple as it sounds, Dumars was drafted in 1985 with the thought of being a perfect complement to Thomas.

The game’s best backcourt these days, Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, was put together with a similar thought in mind, as Thompson was drafted in 2011 as an early first-round pick to pair with Curry, who had been in the league for two years.

Ditto for Bradley Beal being drafted as a dead-eye shooter to sit next to John Wall’s window-to-Wall speed and penetration in Washington, D.C.

Any top backcourt this league has to offer was put together on purpose — except for this one.

The Bulls didn’t have the foresight to see what Butler could become when drafting him in 2011 — it just happened that way. And even if John Paxson and Gar Forman could envision this fantasy coming to reality, it was done under the guise that Rose would be a consistent MVP candidate.

So both are working under circumstances nobody could predict, and even the best well-placed situations take time.

It makes for good copy, as the public sentiment appears to be a “Rose vs. Butler” stance. Whether by rumor, grain of truth or flat-out media creation, things look firmly split in two factions: Team Jimmy or Team Derrick, with no room for nuance, common sense or patience.

The urgency of everything surrounding last season made Rose and Butler central figures in a drama-filled 2014-15 season, but either few paid attention to or noticed the uneven nature with everything surrounding the duo.

Once Butler began to emerge as a legit All Star in the first two months, people began wondering or even demanding the two figure it out together, in the midst of all the internal and external issues surrounding the franchise last year.

Rose, having taken basically two full years away from the game, was trying to find his own game with his new reality of dealing with a fragile body. Negotiating his own basketball existence took priority over “figuring it out” with anybody, let alone a burgeoning teammate.

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Butler, the overlooked, under-recruited, overworked workaholic, was dealing with being a far better player than he was the year before, a true focal point for the first time in his basketball career. We’ve long seen and bemoaned as a basketball public how players who’ve had rose petals thrown at their feet their entire careers dealt with professional success, both on and off the court.

And for Butler, it was his first time experiencing all of those emotions at once — with clearly no room for patience from the public and no room for mistakes with so much riding on last spring’s playoff run.

A playoff run, it should be said, that was the only time both Rose and Butler played together for an extended period, with the highest circumstances, the most pressure and biggest microscope.

Of course things aren’t going to flow in the same direction at all times.

But now, things are beginning to mature at their own pace, and the two most talented Bulls are at the center of it.

It’s happened in part because they’ve embraced the new offense implemented by Hoiberg. And much was made about their so-called lack of belief in the offense, but players who don’t need systems to be effective are usually the last on board in embracing radical change.

Now that they are, not only is a mutual respect and admiration growing, but it also seems to be an understanding between the two.

“I think we’re starting to figure out where each other is going to be on the floor,” Butler said. “You kinda don’t even gotta look, you just know where he’s gonna be. A lot of that is on Fred. Putting us in positions where you know you gotta get 'here' when another guy is 'there.'”

And though there are many more tests to be passed, they’ve passed an early critical one with flying colors.

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


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.

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins


The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

The Boston Celtics have been the surprise of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and after last night's Game 5 win against LeBron James and the Cavs are one game away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

They've done it with some of the most interesting splits in league history for a team that's advanced this far: they're 10-0 at home and  1-6 on the road.

The six road losses are something else, but with the convincing 96-83 victory over Cleveland, the Celtics tied a record held by the 1996 Bulls for the most consecutive postseason home wins in a season.

Boston earned home wins against the Bucks in Round 1 in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. They crushed the heavily favored Sixers in five games, earning home wins in Games 1, 2 and 5 (and their only road win in Game 3). They took the first two games of the series from the Cavaliers at home and then again in Game 5. If they can't close the series in Cleveland they'll have a chance to break the record Sunday in a potential Game 7. If they do close the series in Cleveland their next chance will be in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; Boston will be on the road regardless of whether Houston or Golden State comes out of the West.

Jordan's Bulls won 10 consecutive games during their historic 72-10 season. They swept the Heat in Round 1, winning at home by 17 and 31 points. In the second round they knocked off the Knicks in Games 1 and 2 at the United Center, winning by 7 and 11 points. After the Knicks earned a Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden the Bulls won the final two games of that series, including a 13-point win at home to clinch the series and a fifth straight home win.

The conference finals were no problem for the Bulls at home or on the road. They began their eventual sweep of Orlando with a 38-point shellacking in Game 1 at home. A five-point win in Game 2 gave them their seventh consecutive home win and they wouldn't be back at the United Center until Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

They smoked the Sonics by 17 in Game a 1 and held on for a four-point win in Game 2. Seattle took Games 4 and 5 at their place to avoid being swept, but when the series returned to Chicago the Bulls were back to their winning ways, earning a 12-point win - their 10th consecutive in the postseason - and their fourth NBA title.

Yes, the Bulls lost just three times (half as many as the Celtics) and actually won the title. Boston, of course, has plenty to do before they reach that status, and they'll do so with at least six losses. We're not comparing the two teams. Simply pointing out a record.

And if you're wondering, Steph Curry and the Warriors have simply been too good to get to 10 wins. Last year they swept all three rounds of the West playoffs, giving them six straight home wins. Then they only needed five games to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, with three of those coming at home. So they went 9-0 at Oracle Arena before winning it all. They recently had their streak of 16 consecutive postseason home wins, regardless of year, snapped when the Rockets earned a Game 4 win on Tuesday.