Equal Opportunity Bulls offense revealing versatility


Equal Opportunity Bulls offense revealing versatility

Twenty-four minutes into a game where an early 16-point Bulls’ lead was cut to three against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls’ big-name, top-dollar backcourt hadn’t missed a shot.

Yet in total, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler only took six shots between them, a low number considering their efficiency. And what’s more telling, it wasn’t an oversight from the coaching or play calling.

Keep in mind, Rose was going against a less than formidable point guard duo of Shane Larkin and Markel Brown, but wasn’t about to overexert himself to exploit the mismatch.

“Pau (Gasol) had it going too,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We were playing through Pau a lot in that first half, he was hitting shots for us. We had mismatch opportunities for us where we tried to get Taj (Gibson) the ball on the block.”

It’s part of this ball-movement heavy Bulls offense, which for lack of a better word can be described as “equal opportunity.” In playoff basketball, if it’s not Butler or Rose creating for themselves, it’s a painful watch.

Here, new habits are being formed, at least in the interim.

“When those guys get it going, it’s not just for themselves,” Hoiberg said. “They find other players. It was good.”

[MORE: While his body recovers, Derrick Rose's mind stays intact]

In the Bulls’ 115-100 win Wednesday night, the four top shot-takers were Nets players, as no Bull took more than 11 shots with Rose, Butler and Gasol each taking that amount.

The only player who could’ve qualified as playing a bit thirsty for his shots was backup point guard Aaron Brooks taking nine shots in 16 minutes, but he plays aggressively no matter the occasion.

Besides that, the balance in shot attempts and approach has been notable. Five players scored in double figures in the opener, followed by six players the next night in Brooklyn.

E’Twaun Moore, a player many believed would be squeezed out of playing time, has stepped in at crucial points, quickly earning Hoiberg’s trust, averaging 10 points on 70 percent shooting in 15.5 minutes per game.

Hoiberg hasn’t minded the aggressiveness of his players, rarely cringing on the sidelines when a quick shot is taken. He will, however, remark about the ball sticking if one holds onto it too long.

In other words, do something with the ball or swing it, but don’t stop moving, and the very, very small sample size results is reason for optimism.

The balance has been impressive when one considers the choppiness the offense has shown. Shooting 54 percent and 50 from 3-point land was offset by the 20 turnovers, preventing the Bulls from having a true offensive flow.

“We’re good offensively,” Butler said. “We try to thread the needle, hence the turnovers. But we’re taking shots with confidence. I think we’re a really unselfish team to a fault sometimes.”

[MORE: Bulls stay perfect, knock off Nets with strong shooting performance]

It was more like big explosions, instances where the talent overwhelms a defense as opposed to a relentless, consistent stream. But Nikola Mirotic, the one scorer many would’ve forecast as the most likely to be inconsistent, has been the quiet tone-setter of the new and improved offense.

He’s a matchup problem at the power forward and is essentially the glue to this offense. His mere presence allows Gasol to take more time before getting double-teamed and makes defenders think twice before running to help on Rose and Butler driving to the basket.

“Niko’s out there hooping,” said a wide-eyed Butler after Wednesday’s game. “He’s guarding, getting guys to foul him, and getting us to the bonus early. He’ll be big for us down the stretch.”

And to boot, taking 11 and 10 shots to score 19 and 18 points, respectively, means a strong recognition of where his opportunities are coming from has occurred very early in this offensive system.

Perhaps he’s either grasped it the best or is best-suited for success in the system and if everyone else is to follow suit, he won’t be the only one playing with such efficiency.

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done


Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."