Bulls

E'Twaun Moore's calm demeanor serving him well with opportunity

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E'Twaun Moore's calm demeanor serving him well with opportunity

He speaks in a calm voice, with a measured tone that sounds like a soul singer from the 70’s addressing a crowd at an old-school concert.

No, there isn’t much that rattles E’Twaun Moore. Not the East Chicago, Indiana projects, or the fourth-quarter of a critical early game for his team.

Not even some kid prodigy named Derrick Rose as a middle-schooler, whom he played against in AAU ball back in the day.

“He told you about that? We played each other in middle school,” said a surprised Moore after playing a big part in the Bulls’ 102-97 win over the Charlotte Hornets Friday night.  “So we’re real familiar with one another. It was fun. We always had tough battles.”

Rose had high praise for his former childhood rival after Moore scored 11 points in 23 minutes on 5 of 6 shooting, including two straight baskets to start the fourth quarter after the Bulls were reeling on both ends, in danger of losing their second straight to the tough Hornets.

“He could be the point, I could be the 2. It’s funny, we used to play against each other when we were younger,” Rose said. “Now it’s weird, we used to have a lot of battles going against each other. I know his competitive spirit, I know why he’s here and he deserves every minute, every second he’s out there.”

[MORE: Bulls show some character in victory over Hornets]

Moore is the kind of player one would think Tom Thibodeau would’ve used in a variety of ways, but was often glued to the bench for more experienced players. Moore had one shining moment last season, when playing in Rose’s stead against Oklahoma City on national TV, hit a corner 3-pointer with seconds remaining that gave the Bulls an improbable win, introducing himself as someone with big-game calm and moxie.

After playing 12 pressure-packed fourth-quarter minutes, he was asked how did he manage to play so calm, given his relative lack of experiences at this level.

“That calm? Ummm, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s just me, my demeanor. I never get rattled. Even though I didn’t have those crazy experiences in the NBA, I had them in high school and college.”

A second-round pick for the Celtics in 2011, he was traded to Orlando after his rookie year and spent two years there, playing around 20 minutes a night and becoming a favorite of a couple executives who loved his toughness and versatility.

After signing as a free agent before last season, he found himself behind Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks on the bench hierarchy.

“It was tough, I didn’t know I wouldn’t play as much as I didn’t,” he said. “But I just kept coming in, working hard and staying focused.”

That focus turned into a summer of working out with the thought of being given a real chance to play, resulting in consistent playing time now and having his coach say it was critical to have him out there Friday.

“He gave us great minutes,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had to have him out there because he was hitting his shots. At the end we wanted a little more size (defensively).”

Chasing around Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker during the entire fourth quarter, he cemented himself as a legit option in such instances—long after earning the trust of his teammates.

“Surprising? No, I didn’t even think of it,” Moore said. “I just go out there and play and I guess coach feels confident in me to keep me out there. I gotta keep doing what I do and finish the game strong.”

Rose and Jimmy Butler liked having him out there late, as both a floor spacer, defender and shot creator.

“Three aggressive guards, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “(We) knock down shots, get to the rim. Guys who play hard and guard. Down the stretch you need that. It came up big for us tonight.”

[BULLS: Dunleavy on the mend as he nears return to lineup]

And as for those old AAU battles with the now-teammate whose locker only separated by rookie Bobby Portis, there’s a slight glint in both players’ eyes, from equal parts amazement of getting to this level and reminiscing on the competition.

“How’d I play against him? Good,” said Moore, the one time his voice raised above a mild level. “We used to battle. I used to get him sometimes, he might have got me a couple times. We never knew we’d play here together.”

Said Rose: “He’s in the right place. He knows the game, a great teammate, a great dude. I’m just glad he has the opportunity he has now.”

And with more chances of playing, Moore is earning more than just the trust of his teammates.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.