Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler return but Bulls come out flat against Suns

Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler return but Bulls come out flat against Suns

PHOENIX — Dwyane Wade had a wry smile as he mishandled a dribble on the baseline, an unforced turnover that often leads to nothing.

But the Phoenix Suns were off and running in the blink of the eye, with P.J. Tucker getting it ahead to Eric Bledsoe who Euro-stepped into the lane for a layup and foul on Jerian Grant.

No time to complain, half-step or even smile at yourself in disbelief as the Suns have one advantage, especially at home.

Run you out of the building.

Wade and Jimmy Butler's return was necessary but it wasn't fruitful as the Bulls dropped one to the Western Conference basement-dwelling Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 115-97 Friday night.

"Awful, awful," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They out-competed us in every category tonight: rebounding, loose balls, transition. Tells you all you need to know."

Butler returned from a three-game absence due to a right heel contusion and scored 20 in 30 minutes. Wade getting back from that illness that made its way through the league and the team last month served him well as he played with fresh legs and scored 18.

But both came away with injuries as Wade had his wrist wrapped up after a hard second half spill and Butler took a shot to the knee from Bledsoe in the fourth quarter.

He tried to stay in but a few minutes later the game was out of hand as the Bulls couldn't cut into a double-digit deficit in the fourth, perhaps their worst end to end effort in quite awhile.

"I'm just hoping this pain goes away. Sometimes the game goes, you gotta use that foot," Butler said. "Nothing major (knee). It's all good. I'll be fine."

But when asked would he play Sunday, Butler seemed to put his availability into question, saying, "That's a good question. That's a very good question."

Having Butler back aided in terms of shot creation, as he had little trouble getting his own despite clearly looking less than his usual self. He started the second half just one of six and finished going six of 16 from the field, with the Bulls unable to get any offensive traction with just 43 percent from the field and hitting five of 19 triples.

Even though the offense was a big enough problem for Hoiberg to harp on, the defense was inexcusable as they didn't get back — the first tenet of defense.

[PREVIEW: A day in the life of the Windy City Bulls]

"That's all we talked about and we said don't be surprised," Hoiberg said.

Apparently, they looked shocked the Suns came out and ran.

"It didn't get better," Butler said. "We didn't get back. They got a lot of easy ones and it's tough when you gotta take the ball out of the net every time. They get their confidence, they get rolling."

Notably, it was the Suns' backcourt that gave the Bulls the flu, as the Bulls had to know containing Bledsoe and Devin Booker was the biggest key to picking up their third win in five games on the West Coast swing.

Bledsoe lived in the paint all night on his way to 23 and the sharpshooting Booker scored 27 easy points. The Suns shot nearly 50 percent and turned it over just eight times.

Facing the best team at getting out for quick scores gave them a nice primer on the Suns' attack — although the Suns are nowhere near as sophisticated or good as the Warriors.

But they ran the Bulls up and down in the second quarter to take a 13-point lead. They had trouble tracking the dangerous Booker and too many times the Bulls blew defensive assignments inside to allow easy baskets.

"If you don't know what you do well how do you win consistently? In a game like today when you look at it statistically, everything we gave up is how we lose games," Wade said. "We turned the ball over a lot, gave them a lot of transition points and didn't have a lot of ball movement. Those things and losing the rebounding war, those are the things that give you a chance to win most nights."

But it wasn't just Bledsoe breaking the Bulls down but also Brandon Knight off the bench and bruiser Alan Williams bumping and knocking bodies around for a double-double off the bench after former Bull Tyson Chandler went out in the second quarter with an injury.

This was supposed to be a game the Bulls could pick up as the topsy-turvy East isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Instead, they laid an egg — just the momentum they want to carry into Minneapolis Sunday afternoon.

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

USA Today

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Kris Dunn.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky

2019-20 Stats

7.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 SPG | 44.4% FG, 25.9% 3P, 74.1% FT | 14.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 26

July 2016: Dunn signed a 4-year, $17,488,287 rookie-scale contract with Minnesota Timberwolves

2020-21: RFA (QO: $7,091,457)

(via Spotrac)


Seeing the ball, attacking the ball and stealing the ball. At 6-foot-3 with a 6-9 wingspan, Dunn doesn’t discriminate when it comes to ripping opponents — he owns the length and physicality to swallow up guards and hang with wings of all shapes and sizes. In 2019-20, amplified by defensive schemes that demanded aggressive blitzing in pick-and-roll scenarios, Dunn currently sits tied for second in the NBA in steals per game, seventh in steal rate (34.1%) and fourth in deflections per game (3.7)… All in spite of logging only 24.9 minutes per contest across 50 games.

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And even in an underwhelming team-wide season, Dunn’s contributions were impactful. The Bulls were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively in 2019-20 with Dunn on the floor than off, and played their best basketball after he was inserted into the small forward slot of the starting lineup on Nov. 29 with injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, going 7-7 in December and bumping their defensive rating to as high as second in the NBA. He was an anchor for a squad that turned opponents over — and scored off said turnovers — at a higher rate than any team in the league by a wide margin.

Most importantly for Dunn, he found his niche, despite coming off an offseason littered with trade rumors. He’s a ball hawk and a bonafide perimeter stopper at a level few in the NBA can boast. A legitimate All-Defense candidate. Just ask Trae Young, Paul George or anyone else that had the misfortune of happening across his path this season.

Areas to Improve

Dunn is a serviceable playmaker in spurts, and actually improved his finishing drastically this season on cut-back volume. But for him to ascend from defensive specialist to truly valuable role player on a winning team, he’s got to find a jump shot.

It’s not just that in 2019-20, he regressed from a 32.3% career mark from 3-point range to 25.9% (24.1% on NBA.com-defined “wide open” long-balls). It’s that other teams stopped treating him as an even marginal threat from outside, opting instead to sag off, hone in on other creators (read: Zach LaVine), and muck up driving and passing lanes. It’s a testament to just how great Dunn’s defense is that he’s still an impactful NBA player at his position despite that deficiency. But no matter how stingy a defender Dunn is, it’s hard to survive in the modern NBA with more than one non-shooter on the floor.

Ceiling Projection

Exiting his rookie contract, Dunn is 26 and coming off a sprained MCL sustained Jan. 31. He'll be a restricted free agent when the offseason begins, but due to his mixed bag of attributes and the Bulls' uncertain position, the market for his services is unclear

As for his individual ceiling: Any point guard of the future premonitions have passed in Chicago. And that’s OK. If he can pull off a Marcus Smart-ian turn as a long-range shooter to at or close to league average, it doesn’t feel outlandish that Dunn could compete for All-Defense consideration as a reserve on a good-to-great team through his prime.


Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

In his first public comments on the Bulls' new front office, coach Jim Boylen believes he's forming a strong initial relationship with executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley.

"The relationship has gone really well," Boylen told Jack Doles of WOOD-TV, an NBC affiliate in the coach's hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., with a question and local angle given to Doles by sister station WGN-Ch. 9 in Chicago. "We communicate every day. I think they understand where we were, what we're trying to get to. They've been very supportive and collaborative. It's a process to build this team into what it can be. I just like the fact that we have a relationship already. It's never perfect. Nothing's perfect. You just work at it. Tell the truth. You get your guys to play hard. That's what we're trying to do."


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Boylen spoke after giving a speech at a Unity in the Community event in Grand Rapids in which he continued to show support for social justice and addressing racial inequity. Last month, Boylen participated with Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls staffers in a Juneteenth march in Grant Park. And Karnisovas said on a conference call with reporters that Boylen has been vocal in team Zoom discussions on the issues.

"I just think we have to tell the truth. We can't cover things up. We've made mistakes. We've got to own up to those mistakes," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "It's a difficult time. It's raw right now and it should be. I'm just hoping we can use this moment to be better, all of us."

As for Boylen's future, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen for now, although plenty of speculation about his long-term fit exists. Karnisovas has asked for Boylen's input on player development strategies and potential hires in that department. The front office and coaching staff also have had multiple meetings about the current roster as well as draft and free agency discussions.

Publicly, Karnisovas has made it clear he wants to get to know Boylen and his staff and also watch him in action before making a decison on his future. The NBA and NBPA are discussing possible holding a second so-called "bubble" for the eight teams, including the Bulls, not invited to the NBA's restart in Orlando, Fla. That bubble almost certainly would take place in Chicago and would give Boylen and his staff an opportunity to work in a developmental phase with players for Karnisovas and Eversley to view.

Boylen and his staff are operating as if they'll return for the 2020-21 season, which is how coaches are wired. Boylen has two years remaining on his deal and has a strong relationship with ownership.

"We have a young team," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "We were 23 1/2 years old. We had an injury-laden season. We need to play. We need to compete. We played very hard. We were a hard-playing team, but we want to keep that edge going into next year. It's hard to do that without the competition part of it. We're hoping we can have some of that."