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Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths

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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.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:


Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.