Bulls

East's top seed doesn't change Thibodeau's mentality

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East's top seed doesn't change Thibodeau's mentality

INDIANAPOLISIn typical Tom Thibodeau fashion, the Bulls head coach expressed no visible sense of enjoyment about the Bulls clinching the Eastern Conferences top seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Well, its the next step along the way. As Ive said before, you try to put as many things in your favor as possible, said Thibodeau, in his first public comments since Tuesday nights Heat loss to the Celtics, locking Miami into the Easts second seed. Its not the end-all, it also doesnt guarantee anything, but I think it gives you your best chance.

It might seem, that by calling off Wednesday mornings Bulls shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Thibodeau was reacting to garnering the top spot in the conference. However, he explained that not was that not the case, but he didnt intend on switching things up as the regular season winds down.

Obviously you try to put as many things in your favor as you can, but I dont think you change your approach. I want our guys to be consistent with that, how we get ready for each game, and if youre doing the right things along the way, the results take care of themselves. You dont have to worry about seeding and all that, so whoever is in there, youve got a job to do. Youve got to get that job done and thats the way I want them to look at it, said Thibodeau, growing exasperated by the medias line of questioning. I dont want them looking at, we need the first seed or, we need the best record. No, all we need to do is concentrate on Indiana. When that ones over, then we concentrate on the next one. When that ones over, then we concentrate on the playoffs. I dont want us jumping around, skipping steps, thinking about this, thinking about that. Once you start doing that, thats when you have your missteps. Just stay focused on the task at hand.

By seeding and all that, the coach was referring to the fact that the Bulls entered Wednesday tied with San Antonioagainst whom they own a tiebreaker, having beaten the Spurs in the teams lone matchup this seasonin the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. But while the ultra-competitive Thibodeau wants to win every game, he believes in his squads foundation.

Youre tested every year, but I think you begin the season and you always keep the end in mind. You try to build the right habits as you go. You want to develop a consistency and I think our guys have done that, he explained. Our preparation doesnt change each game. We want to try to accomplish the same things and try to just prepare ourselves the best we can.

I dont want us to change and for us, its the defense, its the rebounding, its the low turnovers, inside-out, share the ball, he continued. That shouldnt change. How you prepare shouldnt change and if we do that, were going to be fine.

Still, in the Bulls second-to-last regular-season outing, Thibodeau plans to play his regulars, though not for extended minutes. It helps that the game will be a test against a formidable division opponent, one who also plans to play its starters, possibly with the exception of Danny Granger, who has a sore knee.

Well see how it goes. I still think we need to find some rhythm with guys, but were going to keep doing the things that we have been doing, said Thibodeau. There are certain things I want to get a look at. Our starters have only played in 14 games, so they need some time together. Were not going to overextend their minutes. Well see how the game unfolds. I also want to get a look at some guys on the bench and some different groups together, too.

I dont know any other way to have them play together than to play together. The only way you can do that is put them out on the floor and let them go. Now, were not going to extend their minutes, where its overly taxing, but at this point in the season, youve either built the right habits or you havent, he continued. If youre waiting to change when the playoffs get here, its too late. Its what youve done all season long that gives you your best chance and all it does, with home court and all that stuff, all youre doing is giving yourself your best chance and thats all you can ask for.

With veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton finding his stride as of late, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose is the one starter who could probably use more work.

Were going to see that, said Thibodeau. He said hes feeling great, so thats a good sign. Were going to see how that unfolds.

Thibodeau could use the game to get a look at different lineups, such as Rose being paired with backup point guard C.J. Watson in the backcourt. He emphasized the squads depth being a strength heading into the playoffs, despite most NBA coaches typically shrinking their rotation in the postseason.

Our bench is our bench. We did the same thing last year. The starters played a few more minutes, but for the most part, its going to be basically the same. Then, we have great flexibility. We have a small forward who can go to power forward. We have C.J., whos comfortable going to the two. We have great flexibility with our roster and thats by design, said Thibodeau. Each game is different, particularly down the stretch here because you dont know who theyre going to sit and whos hurt. Obviously Pacers reserve guards Leandro Barbosa and Darren Collison together, that would be a grouping that you could get a look at that type of lineup. It depends on what your matchups are, depends on the circumstances in the game, but we feel good about where we are right now, in terms of overall health and rest.

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

Bleacher Report named Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season. The list included five players whose expectations have exceeded what author Grant Hughes, felt is realistic for this upcoming season. It is not entirely shocking for LaVine to make this list, and his defense was the main reason he was included. But the potential for his offensive output to get even better was somewhat overlooked. 

Per Hughes:

In 2016-17, he ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus metric. Last year, he was 490th out of 521. According to Basketball Reference, he's never posted a defensive box plus-minus in positive territory. He topped out at minus-2.0 in his abbreviated 2017-18 season.....It's hard to justify rotation minutes for a player like that, let alone $78 million.

Hughes’ critique is harsh, but based off of statistics that are hard to argue with. LaVine has indeed been one of the worst defenders in the league for the entirety of his NBA career, and his netting of the $78 million falls hand-in-hand with Jabari Parker’s comments on players not being paid to play defense. But for the Bulls to take the leap from lottery-to-playoff contender, at least a league-average D will have to be cobbled together. But that responsibility will not fall solely on his shoulders, and that is why I am skeptical on the idea of LaVine being “overhyped”. 

The post goes on to elaborate that even if LaVine was to recapture the magic of his solid 2016-17 season, he still would be a player who gives up more points on defense than he gets his team on offense. That is a strong possibility, but with the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. as another rim protector, capable of at least providing a hard hedge (if not an outright switch), there is a possibility that LaVine becomes a more aggressive defender out on the perimeter. But that is unlikely, and a much more realistic outcome is LaVine’s offensive value surpassing what is expected.

LaVine’s strength last season was his ability to get to the free throw line. Despite coming off a major ACL injury, he was able to get 4.5 free throw attempts per game, a mark that would’ve had him sandwiched between players like Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo had he qualified (LaVine only played in 24 games). It was the highest free throw attempt rate of his career, and assuming he expands on that in a year where he should be completely healthy, he will be one of the best in the league at getting to the line. 

His efficiency will be helped by players like Parker and Lauri Markkanen, who will draw attention off of him. LaVine’s 3-point percentage last season was 34 percent, a number that was more of a reflection of that fact that he was still working his way back into game shape. That 3-point percentage will soon trend more towards the 38 percent mark he shot the previous two seasons. And his 3-point attempts were also down, another mark that is sure to trend upwards, especially with Parker’s inclusion as a scorer who does most of his half-court work in the mid-post area. 

The way the 2018-19 Bulls are built, there is little behind Kris Dunn in the way of a reliable backup point guard, though there is belief internally that Cam Payne can develop into that player. But there is a strong possibility that LaVine will be used as a backup point guard to free up minutes for one of Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine or Chandler Hutchison. And in his rookie year, playing point guard, LaVine had an assist rate of 24 percent, but also an incredibly high turnover percentage. Since making the full-time switch to shooting guard, he has not posted a turnover rate above 10 percent. So, if he can adjust to the fact that there are other players capable of scoring 20 points on the floor—like he did in Minnesota—it is entirely possible for LaVine to be a player capable of getting you 20 points and five assists per game while scoring efficiently and avoiding turnovers. Even if his defense continues to be dreadful, a player who can keep the offense running well from either guard spot is definitely valuable in today’s league. 

In his last season with Minnesota, LaVine had a usage rate of 21.7 percent, a number much lower than his extremely high 29.5 usage rate last season with the Bulls. And while many think of LaVine as a high-volume shooter, his usage rate last year was likely a result of him forcing the issue to try to prove he was worth a significant investment. With his shiny, new contract in tow, LaVine should be focused on making the team better, and get one step closer to his Timberwolves self. On that squad, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each scored 20+ points per game, while LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game. And the team finished in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive rating.

It is not crazy to think the Bulls could have their own high-scoring trio in LaVine, Markkanen and Parker. And if that is the case, then the expectation is for LaVine to be a efficient scorer who can occasionally spot the open man. Hyped? Yes. But overhyped? No one is banking on him being an All-Star, though it remains in the realm of possibility. The idea that he is overhyped is based on the fact his new contract is $78 million and he is poor at defense, but this is overlooking the fact that LaVine has proven he is a player capable of having a large role on a top-10 offense. September 30 can’t get here fast enough.  

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.