Entering Year 15, Bulls' Pau Gasol conscience of his minutes


Entering Year 15, Bulls' Pau Gasol conscience of his minutes

 By Jeff Hamilton

WINNIPEG - Pau Gasol has learned a thing or two over his 14 years of service in the NBA.

And now, as he gets ready to play his 15th season as a pivotal member of the new-look Bulls lineup, he understands the time he spends on the court is just as important as the time he’s left off it.

“I’m focused (on that),” said the seven-foot Gasol following a 114-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday in a rare preseason game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man. “(Monitoring my time) is important, I just want to try and prevent things from occurring as far as fatigue levels and potential injuries.

“It’s my fifteenth year of my career and as much as I played in the summer I just need to be conscientious; to play 30-40 minutes (a game) it’s not wise to do that.”

[MORE: Bulls improve to 2-1 with preseason win over Timberwolves]

Gasol didn’t hit 40 on Saturday — he didn’t even come close to 30 minutes. Sitting out the first two preseason games earlier in the week in order to protect — you guessed it — his body, Gasol played just 15:34 in the winning effort.

But when he was on, he was his usual threat. His 2-for-5 from the field won’t exactly jump off the stats page but his mere presence was enough to dictate the play; often he was double-teamed, freeing up his teammates for open shots.

“It felt good to play some minutes and get up and down the court,” said Gasol, who averaged more than 34 minutes per game last year. “Just to get in to my rhythm, get up my conditioning and get a feel with what we’re doing now with a new system and new coaching staff. So just enough so I don’t get burned out during the year and I stay as fresh as possible.”

Gasol’s ability to stay fresh won’t just land on his shoulders, but also from head coach Fred Hoiberg, who in his first year as bench boss for the Bulls will already have his hands full this season trying to fight off questions about the give-a-care meter from star point-guard Derrick Rose and whether Gasol and Joakim Noah can play together and still cause fits for opposing defenses.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Ask Hoiberg, however, and out comes a pretty easy solution.

“The big thing is we’ve got a lot of guys we can throw in there,” said Hoiberg. “Bobby Portis, for a rookie, has been terrific so far; Cameron Bairstow gave us great minutes I thought as well. Obviously when Joakim (Noah) and Taj (Gibson) get healthy; we can play Doug (McDermott) in some 4 (position), and Nikola (Mirotic).

“We got a lot of bodies so the big thing I want from Pau is to feel good and be fresh at the end of the year, hopefully when you’re playing your best basketball.”

And the Bulls best basketball is when Gasol is on the court.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago


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


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.