Bulls

Indy exhibition game gives fans their money's worth

Indy exhibition game gives fans their money's worth

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 9:30 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
INDIANAPOLIS--The lineup wasn't as star-studded as Sunday's "Battle of I-95" in Philadelphia--especially with no-shows that included NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, Chicago native Will Bynum, hometown product George Hill, Caron Butler and others--but the Washington, D.C.-based Goodman League and the Indy Pro-Am squad (consisting solely of locally-bred talent; Indy Pro-Am participants from this summer, local college heroes and even Pacers hailing from out of town played for the guests) put on a show Saturday night for fans at the University of Indianapolis, who were also treated to an extended postgame autograph session.

Instead of engaging in the absurdity of breaking down a glorified pickup game sans defense--by the way, the visitors held on for a 170-167 win--here's a look at how the NBA participants (no disrespect to the trio of Goodman League replacement players) fared in the contest:

John Wall (Goodman), Washington Wizards, 41 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds: Wall continued his strong summer with a triple-double, playing every minute of the contest, maintaining competitiveness and intensity throughout, while giving the audience its money's worth with his aesthetically-pleasing combination of aerial acrobatics and blazing speed.

Eric Gordon (Indy), Los Angeles Clippers, 40 points, nine assists: One of the marquee names for the hometown squad, the rising star was his usual dominant self in terms of scoring, showcased some point-guard ability and overall versatility but couldn't quite complete the comeback down the stretch for the hosts.

Jeff Green (Goodman), Boston Celtics, 35 points, 12 rebounds: Somewhat of a forgotten man after being traded from Oklahoma City last season, the native Washingtonian did a little bit of everything for the squad from his hometown, as the versatile forward displayed smooth ballhandling, touch on deep jumpers and finished strong above the rim.

DeMarcus Cousins (Goodman), Sacramento Kings, 33 points, 15 rebounds: Coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign, the big man with a mean streak showed signs of his infamous attitude on occasion, but mostly displayed his undeniable talent, providing a low-post presence and flashing uncanny perimeter skills for a player of his size.
Mike Conley (Indy), Memphis Grizzlies, 25 points, five assists: Noticeably stronger following a campaign in which he led his team to a surprise postseason run (after harsh criticism for receiving a lucrative contract extension), the young floor general looked polished and his perimeter jumper, formerly a weakness, was crisp.

JaJuan Johnson (Indy), Boston Celtics, 25 points, five rebounds: The Purdue University product was one of the best players in the college game a year ago and is expected to eventually provide some relief for Kevin Garnett, but while doubts about whether his slender frame can withstand the pounding of the pro level remain, his skilled post-up game looks to be ready for the NBA.

Paul George (Goodman), Indiana Pacers, 24 points, 11 rebounds: The swingman earned a reputation as a strong defender in his rookie campaign--particularly against league MVP Derrick Rose in the first round of the playoffs--but displayed his fantastic athletic ability in this contest, soaring to make high degree of difficulty dunks seem routine, as well as showing some offensive polish.

Zach Randolph (Indy), Memphis Grizzlies, 21 points, 10 rebounds: The game's elder statesman isn't exactly built for a speed game, but held his own--and occasionally held opponents, such as Cousins; good-naturedly, of course--after a late arrival, although he mostly deferred to his younger, less vertically-challenged teammates, as he seemed mostly happy to participate.

Gordon Hayward (Indy), Utah Jazz, 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists: Arguably the people's choice among the local fans, the former local college hero--he led Butler to the 2010 NCAA national championship game--probably functions better in a more structured environment, but his efficiency, subtle contributions and versatily ultimately led to solid production.
Lance Stephenson (Goodman), Indiana Pacers, 16 points: Defense and on-court maturity (he earned the game's only technical foul) are still issues, but the New York City product's playground background served him well and his blend of natural scoring instincts, size for either backcourt position and yo-yo handle--perhaps more impressive than even Wall's--were perfect for this setting.

Shelvin Mack (Goodman), Washington Wizards, 15 points: Like his former college teammate Hayward, the second-round draft pick's businesslike game wasn't the most eye-catching, but his pro-ready frame, understanding of the game and solid all-around skills should translate to a long, if not spectacular NBA career.

Jeff Teague (Indy), Atlanta Hawks, 13 points, eight assists: After his breakout second-round playoff performance against the Bulls, the young floor general showed his postseason flashes of talent was no fluke, engaging in a mini-duel with Wall, demonstrating some skillful dribble moves, showing off deep range and skying for impressive dunks and blocked shots.

D.J. White (Indy), Charlotte Bobcats, 12 points, six rebounds: A role player on the pro level, the former Indiana Hoosier was relegated to the same status with high level of talent on the floor, but managed to make the most of his limited opportunities.
Josh McRoberts (Indy), Indiana Pacers, 11 points, eight rebounds: The up-and-down, guard-oriented setting wasn't ideal for a post player, but the homegrown big man--a Pacer, born and raised in Indiana--showed off his athleticism with a handful of high-flying dunks and even some surprising ballhandling ability, exciting a crowd supportive of his efforts.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

wendell_carter_media_day_usa_today.png
USA TODAY

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

In talking with Bulls' fans over the summer and reading posts on social media, it seems like expectations for the 2018-19 season are all over the board.

Some fans think the Bulls will finish at or slightly above the .500 mark and contend for a playoff spot, others are looking for more modest improvement with a win total in the low to mid 30's, while others believe Fred Hoiberg's team will be among the worst in the league.

Reality probably lies in the middle ground. Bulls' General Manager Gar Forman told us on media day the goals will be to win as many games as possible while still focusing on individual player development. The Bulls will again be among the NBA's youngest teams with 9 of their top 11 players under the age of 25. 

Bulls' Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear at the end of last year's 27-55 campaign that he couldn't endure another season of manipulating the roster and player rotations to improve draft lottery chances, while Hoiberg enters the 4th season of his 5 year contract needing to show improvement to keep his position as head coach. 

Clearly, no one in the front office or coaching staff is talking about tanking with the hopes of landing a top 3 pick in the 2019 draft. The Bulls will play to win this season, but they’ll also have to ride out the normal highs and lows of competing with such a young roster.

So, as a Bulls' fan, what should you be watching for this season to judge how much the team has improved? Here's what I'll be looking for:

1. Will Lauri Markkanen take the next step towards All-Star status?

Losing your best player on the 3rd day of training camp isn't the ideal way to start a season, but the good news is Markkanen should return from his elbow injury around Thanksgiving with plenty of time to re-establish himself as one of the league's rising stars. The 1st team All-Rookie selection put on needed bulk and muscle in the off-season to improve his low post game and he's ready to punish smaller defenders who switch on to him in pick and roll situations. Markkanen has all the tools to become a top 30 player in the league. The question is, how much closer will he come to reaching that status this season?

2. Is Zach LaVine all the way back?

Judging by what we saw during the preseason, LaVine appears to be ready to pick up where he left off during his 3rd year in Minnesota when he was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting nearly 39% from 3 point range before an ACL injury set him back. LaVine should average 20 points a game or more this season, but how much he improves in other areas of his game (particularly on the defensive end), will be the key to whether the Bulls made the right decision in matching that 4 year, 78 million dollar offer sheet LaVine signed with the Sacramento Kings back in July. If LaVine reclaims his status as one of the league’s most promising wing players, the Bulls will have at least two foundation pieces in place. 

3. Can the backcourt pairing of LaVine and Kris Dunn succeed long term?

The Bulls' young guards didn't get a chance to play many minutes together last season because of LaVine's ACL rehab and Dunn's scary fall after making a breakaway dunk against Golden State. Both players are most comfortable with the ball in their hands, and both showed the ability to make big shots at the end of games. Dunn will need to sacrifice some of his offensive game to get the ball into the hands of the team's best shooters, but he's already one of the better defensive point guards in the league and looks like a potential leader on future Bulls' playoff squads. Developing better chemistry with LaVine is critical in year 2 of the rebuild.

4. Is Wendell Carter Jr. the answer at center?

The Bulls used the 7th pick in last June's draft to grab the 6'10" big man, who played in the considerable shadow of Marvin Bagley during their one season together at Duke. Carter Jr. showed enough during Summer League play and pre-season games to move into the starting line-up ahead of 10 year veteran Robin Lopez, but whether he's ready to stay there is another question. Carter Jr. is an excellent rim protector and also has the lateral quickness to switch out on to smaller perimeter players, but right now he's a reluctant shooter. Given the fact Carter Jr. is only 19, it will be fascinating to track how much he improves throughout his rookie season. Did the Bulls strike gold again with the #7 pick?

5. How does Jabari Parker fit?

More than a few eyebrows were raised around the league when the Bulls decided to sign the Chicago native to a 2 year, 40 million dollar free agent contract. Parker was expecting to move to the small forward spot, but returned to power forward when Markkanen was injured, and then moved to the bench when the coaching staff wasn't happy with how the starting line-up was playing early in the pre-season. Parker could be a valuable weapon as a big-time scorer and facilitator with the 2nd unit, but if he's unhappy with his role or playing time, this season could turn out to be an unhappy homecoming. How Parker adapts to the challenges of establishing his role will determine whether the Bulls exercise the team option on the 2nd year of his contract. 

6. Which other players will be part of the roster when the Bulls are a playoff team again?

Questions remain about a number of the team's young players. Bobby Portis has established himself as a legitimate NBA scorer and team leader; his improved 3 point shooting will be critical to the team's success, whether he starts or comes off the bench. But after failing to reach agreement on a contract extension by the Monday deadline, will Portis be chasing stats as he looks ahead to restricted free agency next summer? Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and rookie Chandler Hutchison will all have to make the most of limited minutes, with each player needing to prove to the coaching staff and front office they deserve to be in the rotation long term.

So, don't get caught up in the Bulls chasing some arbitrary win total number. Even though the Eastern Conference is weaker overall than the West, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Miami and Detroit all appear to be likely playoff teams, barring an injury to a key player. 

Hoiberg's offense will continue to emphasize pace, floor spacing and 3 point shooting which should bring out the best in a young and developing roster. 

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

nba_power_rankings.jpg
USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.