Bulls

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Embiid-less 76ers tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Embiid-less 76ers tonight on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch

1. United or divided? Off the court drama continues to dominate the headlines for the Bulls and after Friday's ugly loss to Miami, which was playing without its best player in Hassan Whiteside, that's justified. The Bulls were flat in that game. Saturday after a practice the players and coach Fred Hoiberg were saying things that made it sound like the team may finally be on the other end of the drama, but the team has to prove it on the court. The Bulls will be playing at home against another sub-.500 team without its best player. Will this game be any better than Friday?

2. No Process. Speaking of the 76ers' best player, Joel Embiid will not travel to Chicago for the game. The 76ers have been cautious with Embiid's workload this season and this is another example of that. Embiid has emerged as a favorite for Rookie of the Year and is averaging just over 20 points per game in only 25.4 minutes per game. Embiid not being active should help the Bulls, but it's not all that different from Whiteside sitting out for Miami.

3. 76ers on a roll. Another similarity between Friday's matchup against Miami is that, like the Heat, Philadelphia is playing its best ball of the season. The young 76ers started the year 0-7 and 7-24, but have gone 10-4 in the last 14 games. A lot of that has been due to Embiid's emergence, but the 76ers are 2-2 during this stretch without him, which isn't awful considering.

4. Getting Butler back on track. Jimmy Butler had one of the worst games of his career in Friday's loss. He came off the bench and shot just 1-13 from the field for 3 points in 33 minutes on the floor. It goes without saying that the Bulls need Jimmy Butler playing like the All-Star he is to succeed. Whether it was simply a bad game or related to the off the court issues within the team, Butler needs to do better.

5. Just like in Philly. The Bulls already have a win against Philadelphia this season, the only meeting between the two so far this season. It came on Nov. 25 in Philadelphia and Embiid sat out that game as well. The Bulls won 105-89 in a game the Bulls led by 26 points entering the fourth quarter. Butler and Dwyane Wade both scored 26 points in that win.

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Bulls reportedly request to have Asik's contract removed from team salary

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USA TODAY

Bulls reportedly request to have Asik's contract removed from team salary

According to a report from Shams Charania, the Bulls have appealed to have center Omer Asik’s contract removed from the team’s books via the career ending injury or illness provision.

He has been away from the court for some time now, as he has been receiving ongoing medical treatment for inflammatory arthritis. Asik was waived by the Bulls in late October

Asik’s last game was April 11 during the 2017-18 regular season. He played for the Bulls during his first two seasons in the NBA and eventually made his way back to the Bulls as a part of the Nikola Mirotic trade.

If the league approves the Bulls’ request, it would provide Chicago with an additional $3 million is salary cap space. That $3 million would go a decent ways towards helping the Bulls add depth and veteran help to their roster, something John Paxson outlined as a major point of emphasis in his end of season address.

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NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would gibe the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 28-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery.