Dunleavy on the mend, could return in two weeks


Dunleavy on the mend, could return in two weeks

Mike Dunleavy was drenched in sweat, doing his usual routine of jump shots and free throws after Bulls practice, another sign his return is in the near future although not immediate.

Dunleavy declined to speak to reporters after his workout following Bulls practice, but it’s clear he’s on the mend after his unexpected lower back surgery was the first salvo in a somewhat rocky start to the season.

“He’s getting closer to getting back out there on the floor,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He did a tempo run (Tuesday), all in a straight line as of right now. Hopefully in the next few days he’ll be cleared to start cutting.

“Right now is about building his strength back up. He’s been in the weight room for I think five days. [Tuesday] was an off-day for him after getting his load back up pretty good, and now the next step is getting back full movement, which hopefully will happen within the next week.”

The Bulls aren’t trying to rush Dunleavy back on the floor with strict adherence to the initial timetable, but Dunleavy will accompany the team on the upcoming four-game, eight-day west coast swing next week.

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Next week marks the eighth week of the 8-10 week prognosis given on September 25 when his surgery was announced. It appears he’ll be back closer to the 10-week mark than sooner.

“On our off-days out there hopefully he’ll be able to really increase his activity,” Hoiberg said. “So yeah, still too soon to say because of all the work he’s about to begin, and we’ll see how he handles that.”

The Bulls have been in flux at the small forward spot since Dunleavy’s injury, alternating between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, and experimenting with Nikola Mirotic there in the preseason.

Dunleavy’s defensive awareness has been missed more than his timely shooting, as McDermott is third in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, but not many could’ve predicted Dunleavy’s importance would’ve been so critical, considering he turned 35 right before camp.

Whether it’s more an indication of the Bulls’ other inconsistencies remains to be seen, but Hoiberg will certainly welcome back Dunleavy’s stability.
“He means a lot. He means a lot to this team,” Hoiberg said. “He had a great year last year. Look at what he did with analytics, the numbers he had, he was as important as anyone on this team. He’s just a pro. He knows where to be, he’s always going to be in the right spot.”

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Hoiberg has certainly been liberal with his lineups so far in the season, ready to deploy Joakim Noah as a starter in Philadelphia before his left knee flared up on him in warm-ups, so Dunleavy’s return will give him more to play with.

Or at least reduce the dependency on Dunleavy if he struggles defensively or if Snell struggles to make an offensive contribution.

“He brings an element of toughness as well, that guys that have been around the league as long as he has just have instilled in them,” Hoiberg said. “So yeah, we’re looking forward to getting him back, but in the meantime Doug and Tony have been good.”

NBA Power Rankings: League on pace for best offensive season in decades


NBA Power Rankings: League on pace for best offensive season in decades

The NBA season is off to an explosive start, with offense being the theme so far.

NBA fans have gotten to see great offense from all around the league. Rookie guard Trae Young went off for 35 points, the Pelicans scored 149 points in a (no overtime) game and even well-known downtrodden franchises like the Sacramento Kings have got in on the fun, putting up 131 points in a surprising win over the Thunder. 

If the pace of play keeps up league-wide, the 2018-19 season will end up being an offensive masterpiece, sure to spark change to defensive systems in the ever-evolving NBA.

With the Golden State Warriors still shaking off rust and the Rockets looking weaker, (relatively) new powerhouses like the Raptors and Nuggets have dominated this very early portion of the NBA season.

You can take a look here to see how the new hierarchy is shaping up in this week's NBA Power Rankings. 

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

The Phoenix Suns released guard Shaquille Harrison last week, and although it is not a move that will send shockwaves through the league, the Bulls picking up Harrison could be the exact type of move to help solve what ails them.

At 6-foot, 4-inches and with a long wingspan, Harrison would step in and likely be at least the second-best perimeter defender on the team behind Kris Dunn. And he is the type of player, when combined with a talent like Wendell Carter Jr. and/or Dunn, could help form the type of lineup that could have a transformative effect on the overall team defense.

Last season Harrison had a defensive rating of 109, this despite the fact that the Sun—as a team—had a defensive rating of 113.51, over four points worse than when Harrison was on the floor.

His best skill is his ability to “get skinny” around a screener, meaning that on defense, Harrison is adept at angling his body to get around players trying to screen him off his man:

The Bulls need more players who show Harrison’s effort level when navigating screens on defense, not just because it will make life easier on their rim protectors, but because they also need to make sure they continue adding players who lead by example on that end of the floor. A team as young as the Bulls needs to collect young talent who pride themselves on defense, and Harrison fits the part.

When it comes to offense, Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive profile, but his play on that end of the floor is similar to former Bull David Nwaba. Harrison is not even an average 3-point shooter  (23.1 percent from 3-point range), but he makes up for it in other ways.

His rebounding is an area of strength, and fitting in with his preference to bring physicality to his matchup, he is adept at getting to the free throw line.

Last year Harrison’s 30.6 percent free throw attempt rate would’ve been a top-five mark on the Bulls. But his low usage rate (18 percent) will likely be lower in Chicago, so the free throw numbers may fall. But with so many score-first players on the roster, Harrison will still be able to crash the glass against the many guards who forget to box out their man.

Offensive rebounding will be less of a focus for a Bulls team that wants to preach getting back on transition defense, but Harrison gives Fred Hoiberg a special player that can do both. Harrison will run back on defense to help create the “shell” that the best teams create to cut off easy forays to the rim, and then when his team gets the ball back and is on the fastbreak, he brings value as the “trailer” (trailing man on a fastbreak) even without shooting ability:

This signing could end up being a big one for the Bulls, however small it may seem now.

Around the league, more and more teams are starting to invest resources in multiple ball-handler offenses that negate the differences between point guard and shooting guard, making versatile back court defenders a must.

This will be evident when the Bulls take on the Dallas Mavericks in game No. 3 of the regular season, as Rick Carlisle's Mavericks feature Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic in an explosive offense that doesn't have a defined "lead" guard.

The Bulls will continue to attempt to curtail offense with a high-scoring back court duo when they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a back-to-back on October 26 and 27. If Harrison is worked into the rotation by then, expect to see Harrison and Dunn on the floor together to match up with Doncic and Smith respectively, but have the flexibility to switch defensive assignments on the fly. If Chicago's perimeter defense starts to offer significantly more resistance, it will allow quicker improvement from Carter and the rest of the Bulls bigs on the interior.

With Zach LaVine currently in the top-five in the NBA in points per game, Dunn returning and Lauri Markkanen getting healthy, the Bulls front office is slowly approaching the point where their team has enough players who are considered possible focal points of an offense.

To become a championship contender, you need to have that one player who is unequivocally a superstar capable of a heavy workload, and only time will tell if the Bulls already have that player or need to acquire him. But the other important factor in building a championship roster is having the elite-level role players who do the little things that make life easier for their teammates in all phases of the game, and Shaq Harrison is excellent prospect who fits that exact mold.