Bulls

Dwyane Wade vents after Bulls blown out by Celtics

Dwyane Wade vents after Bulls blown out by Celtics

BOSTON — Of all the metrics that could be described to best illustrate yet another disappointing effort for the Bulls in their 100-80 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, one snapshot stands out as they simply submitted from the opening tip.

On consecutive possessions after turnovers and misses, only one Bull crossed halfcourt as the Celtics increased their lead to 29 with uncontested layups in the third quarter.

It prompts the question, given the five-game losing streak and the manner in which it’s happened recently, of whether the Bulls have given up on the season — despite being in playoff contention.

"No, I don’t think we're giving up," Jimmy Butler said. "We're just not playing any type of good basketball as a whole. We gotta get back to winning basics before we can try to do anything else. Getting back in transition. Guarding the way we’re supposed to be. Taking the right shots. I'm sure we're gonna talk about that for awhile before we play Charlotte.

"But we're not giving up, I can tell you that."

Not much changed from Friday night's showing or strategy against the Houston Rockets. Fred Hoiberg played 11 players in the first half, with only Michael Carter-Williams being the change.

"It's tough," Dwyane Wade said. "Especially when you're playing teams that's ready for the playoffs, besides Orlando. It's all been playoff teams and they're ready. They know what they gotta do. We're still… experimenting."

Whether it actually played a part in the Bulls' worst first quarter and first half showing is up for speculation, but shooting three for 22 in the first quarter against a Celtics team that wasn't playing swarming defense.

"I don't think it was a lack of competing but a lack of shot making," Hoiberg said. "Missed some really good looks and turned it over four times in that span. But to answer your question, the vets are staying positive and that's the only way I can judge it right now."

They missed their first 12 shots from the field before Wade bailed them out with a jumper and the Celtics jumped out to a 20-4 lead as the Bulls mustered just nine points in the quarter.

Wade, who finished a career-low minus-37 on the plus-minus scale, offered some level of shelter for Hoiberg, as the Bulls coach and players have been put in an impossible position since the trade deadline.

"It does, it does. A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach but I will defend him on this: this is a tough situation he's been put in," Wade said. "I'm glad I'm on this side, glad I got a jersey and I don't have to make certain decisions because it is tough. No one is going care too much, Fred gets a nice paycheck, I got a nice paycheck, Jimmy gets a nice paycheck. This 2016-17, we all go down together no matter what the story is. And it's on us."

Watching his words given how calling his teammates out went several weeks ago, Wade was asked if it was fair of him to answer questions about a situation no one in the locker room created.

"I don't know. I wish upper management could be answering the questions because I'm tired of answering them every game," Wade said. "I don't know. I wish I had the answer. I don't wanna say too much, I don't wanna say the wrong thing. I just wanna get out there, try to play and lead. Figure out a way me and Jimmy can be better. Right now they're just watching us on pick and rolls, we gotta find a way to be better, so we can help everybody else be better."

Wade might've washed out his defense of Hoiberg when Wade suggested he and Butler are too easy to guard, saying "pick and rolls, that ain't it." Wade said he and Butler would have to get with the coaching staff before Monday's game in Charlotte to try to figure out new strategies to get them easier looks — because at this stage, opponents have figured the Bulls out and the word is spreading to trap Wade and Butler, then wait on the house of cards to fall from there.

The nine was the season-low for any quarter this season — which was one short of the players Hoiberg used in the first as Nikola Mirotic was further embarrassed by being listed as inactive in place of Isaiah Canaan.

Butler's post-All Star slump continued as he shot just two for 11, but it wasn't as bad as Bobby Portis' nightmare.

Airballs, turnovers, you name it, Portis probably did it as he struggled as much as he has at any point during this stretch since the trade of Taj Gibson.

The problem is, he wasn't the only one as the Celtics didn't break a sweat. Wade shot four for 11. Joffrey Lauvergne was one for seven. Rajon Rondo was one for five.

Overall, the Bulls shot 36 percent as Denzel Valentine made a dent in the scoring column with 13 but all came when the game was out of reach — and the playoffs look not too far behind.

Once the Celtics' lead reached double figures at 10-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter, the Bulls never got it under 10.

There was no need for an Isaiah Thomas explosion, although he and Avery Bradley had a field day against the Bulls' guards. Thomas scored 22 and Bradley 17, with each playing under 30 minutes.

Rookie Jaylen Brown showed some signs why he'll be a big piece in any trade discussions this summer, with a couple highlight plays in his 21 minutes.

But the Celtics didn't blow out the Bulls with red-hot shooting or otherworldly efficiency, although they corralled plenty of loose balls and hit 14 triples.

They simply didn't need to bring their best game because their opponent forgot to bring any game to TD Garden.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.