Bulls

Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Jimmy Butler before season starts

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Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Jimmy Butler before season starts

All of the early talk from training camp about Jimmy Butler being far and away the Bulls’ best performer hasn’t been met by preseason validation, but after all, it’s only preseason.

So with the days quickly winding down to the start of the regular season, things should become more and more real to everyone involved, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Butler’s performances look more regular-season like in the coming week.

He looked like a dominant figure in the preseason opener against the Milwaukee Bucks but perhaps knowing what his workload will be come the regular season, put it on cruise control for the subsequent games.

It’s certainly not cause for alarm, but given he’s in a new system and will get his opportunities in different places than his breakout 2014-15 campaign, the goal should be to have at least one Jimmy Butler-like performance before he sees LeBron James staring at him on opening night.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg believes Butler’s trying to facilitate more but anticipates a more aggressive player in the three games this week — if the three practice days after their last preseason game against Detroit were any harbinger.

“He was really aggressive. We scrimmaged some yesterday. We had a great practice,” Hoiberg said. “Just getting that rhythm going again. He hit a couple shots in our last game against Detroit. It’s getting that aggressiveness. But I think what he’s trying to do is get other guys involved and have that playmaker role. I think you’ll see a more aggressive Jimmy, similar to how he played that first game, the rest of the preseason.”

[MORE BULLS: Fred Hoiberg likes Doug McDermott coming off the Bulls' bench]

Depending on how Derrick Rose starts the season on the offensive end, Butler could take a playmaking role to supplement his scoring, one of his stated goals coming into this season.

But his ability to score in a variety of ways is what makes him a dangerous two-way player, and if he’s aggressive, it’ll open things up for the likes of Joakim Noah and Tony Snell and, when they’re on the floor together, present Doug McDermott with catch-and-shoot opportunities.

That said, Hoiberg is trying to put Butler in situations that call for him to look for his own shot. It must be said, this is a relationship in its embryonic stage.

“I’m trying to get him in a lot of live ball screen situations where he comes off a cut and gets the ball where he and Pau (Gasol) or he and Jo get a two-man game going,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, he was great at that in our first game against Milwaukee. He made a lot of plays. Early in that game, he got so many guys wide-open shots that we didn’t knock down. He got himself to the line. There’s a lot of good actions. We haven’t shown all we’re going to do, like all teams at this time of year.”

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Butler was 4-for-10 shooting against the Pistons last Wednesday, which was a marked improvement from the previous three games where he combined to shoot just 5-for-28 against New Orlenas, Minnesota and Denver.

“There’s some things where if he gets it going a little bit we can get him the ball at certain spots on the floor and we could take advantage of a matchup,” Hoiberg said.

Hornets swingman Michael-Kidd Gilchrist would’ve been a great test for Butler, as he’s no slouch on the defensive end, but the young swingman underwent shoulder surgery and will miss a few months.

However, new addition Nic Batum and veteran Damien Wilkins aren’t walks in the park either, so Butler will have his hands full trying to get off in one of the last few dress rehearsals before things really get real.

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

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USA TODAY

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

The Bulls faced a steep test opening their 2018-19 campaign against the Philadelphia 76ers.

That task won't become any easier with Kris Dunn missing the game for personal reasons, head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters at shootaround on Thursday.

Dunn's exlusion opens up an opportunity for Cameron Payne, who will enter the starting lineup. Payne started 14 games for the Bulls last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.6 assists in 26.5 minutes.

It also moves up Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis, both of whom will be active, in the rotation. Expect both to see at least some playing time, especially with Denzel Valentine also out while recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in training camp.

It could mean an even bigger evening for Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. The reigning Rookie of the Year posted 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in Philly's season-opening loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.