Bulls

Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons

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Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons

The Bulls’ abundance of bigs prompted Fred Hoiberg testing his team’s versatility against Detroit, where they went to a jumbo set.

Well, being a step slow defensively with a frontline of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic caused Hoiberg to abandon that lineup after halftime, as he went with a more conventional group.

But as much as it appeared to help early in the second half, the Pistons made a decisive push early in the fourth to pull away, winning 114-91 at the United Center.

The Pistons went on a 15-0 run, literally. They got out on the break against the Bulls reserves, taking advantage of their disjointed offense as Pistons reserve Reggie Bullock made transition triple after transition triple to close things out.

“Disappointed in not getting back, is the big thing,” said Hoiberg of the 38-point Pistons fourth quarter. “We had a couple turnovers that were home runs on the other end. Just went right down for layups. Then consistently beat us down the floor in the fourth quarter. You can’t do that, especially in your home building.”

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By then, though, Hoiberg likely saw everything he needed to see from his regular rotation players, starting with the jumbo lineup, a unit he didn’t start in the second half, bringing Noah off the bench. They had trouble keeping the mammoth Andre Drummond away from the offensive glass, and couldn’t contain versatile forward Marcus Morris, who made his first five shots from the field.

“They were more energetic from the gate and jumped to a 10-point lead on us,” Hoiberg said.

There aren’t many rebounders or athletes in the mold of Drummond (14 points, 10 rebounds), but the Bulls can’t afford to be this complacent on the glass. And their defense clearly leaves plenty to be desired from their head coach, who gave a short, yet succinct, answer when asked if he was satisfied with the defense at this stage of training camp.

“No,” the usually elaborative Hoiberg said, then looked away in disgust at the thought of where the defense is.

Later, though, he opened up, telling everyone what they’d already seen from the first five games of the preseason.

“Pick and roll defense, especially in the middle of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We’re giving too many blow by’s, where there’s nothing you can do for it. We gotta guard the ball better.”

Not guarding up top opens things up for Drummond, who’s a load even when the perimeter is contained. He tallied 10 and six against the big frontline, manhandling Gasol and Noah, as Noah made his return from missing the last preseason game as a precautionary measure after bumping knees with Denver’s Kenneth Faried.

“We had good stretches and terrible stretches,” Gasol said.

The good stretches came courtesy of Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks offensively in the second quarter, as they slowly chipped at an early Pistons lead, with Portis matching the athleticism of the Pistons’ frontline and Brooks scoring in bunches, as he usually does.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Noah actually didn’t look bad, scoring eight points with nine rebounds, with Taj Gibson making his preseason debut after offseason ankle surgery, scoring four points in 10 minutes.

“Taj was good his first time out,” Hoiberg said.

E’Twaun Moore led the Bulls with 16 points and four assists on 8-of-15 shooting, starting at point guard as Hoiberg continues to juggle lineups and evaluate personnel.

Reggie Jackson led the Pistons with 20 points and Bullock, battling for a spot on Stan Van Gundy’s team, made seven of eight shots to score 17. He led late blitz that made the competitive game look like a laugher in the end.

“The thing we were doing, the guards who were supposed to get back were crashing (the boards),” Hoiberg said. “You can’t do that. It just can’t happen.”

Doug McDermott scored in double figures again, with 12 points in 34 minutes, along with Portis’ 11 and Brooks’ 13.

But scoring wasn’t the problem, as the Bulls allowed the Pistons to shoot 54 percent and sent them to the foul line 21 times, giving Hoiberg something to harp on with a handful of days before their next preseason game, Monday in Charlotte.

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.