Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

OKLAHOMA CITY—Dwyane Wade twisted and spun and turned poor Anthony Morrow into a confusing, dizzying sap, unleashing a soft baseline fadeaway that danced around the rim while he faded near the Bulls’ bench.

As it nestled into the rim, Wade turned to a seated Rajon Rondo and slapped him in the chest, apparently so impressed with himself that even Wade could show Rondo some love to start the Bulls’ critical road trip.

There was plenty of love in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and plenty of energy—both from the Chicago Bulls as they put together their most comprehensive effort in quite awhile, pounding the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100 on Wednesday night.

For all the talk about the road presenting an opportunity for the Bulls to bond more and heal some wounds that were opened or at least revealed to the public in the last week or so, a good old-fashioned butt-kicking has a way of making people seem to like each other a little more.

“It was one of our better games from start to finish,” Wade said. “It was a good way to start this trip off.”

The Bulls started their first long western swing with a big win over Portland and that confidence carried through as the Bulls went 4-2 in November, creating a sense of optimism they’ve been unable to fulfill in the time since.

Wednesday harkened back to the days where the Bulls were thought to be good, and interesting. Now, at least they’re interesting and on this night, they were very good, jumping out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter.

Next to a short stint between the end of the first and start of the second where the Thunder took a slim lead while the Bulls struggled to score, they quickly gathered themselves to dominate throughout—a rarity in recent time.

“I thought we did a great job of following the game plan and getting back and loading in transition,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

And with the Oklahoma City Thunder having very little snap to their punches—unless you count Russell Westbrook punching a Jimmy Butler breakaway layup into the third row—the Bulls had a pretty easy and efficient time against the Thunder.

Shooting 60 percent through three quarters and 61 percent overall, the Bulls didn’t even need to hit triples but played with the desired pace and unselfishness Hoiberg dreams about.

“From the second quarter on I thought we were really good as far as our pace,” Hoiberg said. “We had 28 fast break points, getting the ball up the court and sharing it again.”

Wade had seven assists to go along with his seven rebounds and 18 points in 24 minutes while Rondo had six assists in 16 minutes. Butler, who could barely move in their first meeting as he was in the early stages of an illness, made up for it with 28 points in 30 minutes, hitting 11 of 17 shots and adding five assists with four rebounds.

Jerian Grant was off to a good start, scoring nine and hitting his first four shots from the field, taking turns with other perimeter defenders in guarding the unguardable Westbrook.

“I don’t ever think Westbrook is going to be tired. That guy, he’s not human,” Hoiberg said. “It doesn’t even look like he sweats when he’s out there on the floor. He’s a machine.”

Butler took the bulk of the assignment, and Westbrook shot 10 of 23 for 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes but didn’t make a truly impactful play when it counted.

“You have to challenge every shot he puts up,” Butler said. “He can go downhill at the basket, he can make the outside shot. You just have to try your best to make everything tougher.”

The Thunder were held to 36 percent shooting and kept bricking triples, shooting 8-for-35. Although the Thunder seemed to be teetering well into the first two quarters, on the second night of a back to back, the Bulls only held an eight-point lead going into halftime.

Then Wade took over in the third with scoring and playing, with some nice look-away passes for assists while he couldn’t get it going early, then once he did, carried the Bulls offense. 

They stretched their lead to 21 at 76-55 midway through and cruised through the rest of the night.

He allowed Butler to rest a little on offense while Westbrook, the high-usage counterpart, was burning oil trying to keep the Thunder in the game. He had 27 by the end of the third but his team was awful shooting-wise and couldn’t get anything going.

It was just what the Bulls needed at just the right time.

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Wendell Carter Jr. was on his way to becoming the second consecutive Bulls player to make an All-Rookie Team, but a thumb injury that required surgery in January ultimately proved to be the deciding factor in his omission.

The All-Rookie Teams were announced on Tuesday afternoon and, as expected, Carter was not on either. The seventh overall pick had a promising rookie campaign in which he averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Those marks ranked 10th, 4th and 2nd, respectively, among first-year players.

But Carter's thumb injury limited him to just 44 games. Of the 10 players who made the first and second teams, Memphis' Jaren Jackson Jr. played the fewest games (58) while the group averaged 72.8 games played.

Carter's thumb injury was initially diagnosed as a jam, but further testing revealed that surgery was the best course of action for the then-19-year-old (he turned 20 in April). The Bulls opted not to rush Carter back at the end of the season - a wise decision on multiple levels - and Carter, when he spoke with media members for the first time after undergoing surgery, said his goals had moved to the long-term.

“So many people have had this injury and they don’t get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily,” Carter said. “I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn’t come back out, then I’d have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way.

"It's all good. I'm just looking at the long-term now."

He was one of the league's youngest rookies but hardly played like it. He moved into the starting lineup for good just a few days into the preseason and wore multiple hats for the Bulls. Injuries to Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine thrust Carter into a significant scoring role for the Bulls, sometimes acting as the No. 2 option behind Zach LaVine early in the season.

He took on more of a traditional post-up role - with solid footwork making him a serviceable roll man - when those players returned and Jim Boylen took over, slowing down the offense. He shot a respectable 48.5% from the field and his 79.5% mark from the foul line showed a nice touch. But he also went 6 of 32 from beyond the arc in his rookie season. He'll need to find some more versatility on the offensive end, though there will be more floor spacing in his sophomore season after the Bulls added Otto Porter Jr. at the trade deadline.

He is one of five rookies over the last seven seasons to average at least 7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, joining Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid in that category. That's not to suggest that Carter will have the same career arc as those All-Stars plus Noel - he's got plenty to do on the defensive end - but in Carter the Bulls have found a defensive anchor and someone to complement Lauri Markkanen on that end of the floor.

He's a raw talent who showed promise as a rookie. And while it didn't result in an All-Rookie bid, the future is bright in the middle for the Bulls. Like many of his teammates, expectations will increase for Carter as they enter Year 3 of their rebuild.

Check out the All-Rookie Teams below.

So you want the Bulls to trade up in the NBA Draft? Here's what it costs


So you want the Bulls to trade up in the NBA Draft? Here's what it costs

NBA Draft capital is incredibly expensive these days.

It's never been cheap, but the price of moving up continues to cost teams a pretty penny without a surefire promise of return on their investment. This proves to be incredibly risky when considering trading in the top 5.

One year ago the Dallas Mavericks, who were picking fifth, wanted Slovenian point guard Luka Doncic. Knowing the Atlanta Hawks were eyeing a point guard, they put together a package that included the No. 5 pick and a top-5 protected first round pick the following season in order to move up two spots. It was a steep price, as the Mavericks wound up with the No. 10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft that will convey to Atlanta.

Consider two seasons ago, when the Philadelphia 76ers traded the No. 3 pick and the Kings' 2019 first-round pick to move up to No. 1. That Sacramento pick wound up being the No. 14 selection thanks to the Kings' surprise season out West, but at the time it was an incredibly valuable asset that many thought would yield a top-10 pick. The Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz while the Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum. Two years later, Tatum looks like a budding star while the Sixers traded Fultz and his bag of issues to the Magic in February.

In 2009, the Timberwolves traded two key rotation pieces to the Wizards for the No. 5 pick. In hindsight, trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller for a top-5 selection doesn't seem like a lot. But consider that Foye was a 25-year-old coming off a 16.3-point season, while Miller was a 28-year-old with a career mark of 40.1% from beyond the arc and averages of 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists to his name. The price to move up to No. 5 and draft Ricky Rubio - which they did a day later - was steep.

In 2005, the Utah Jazz held the sixth pick in the draft but desperately wanted to move up to get Illinois point guard Deron Williams. On draft night, they sent the No. 6 pick, the No. 27 pick and a future first round pick (Detroit's in 2006, which wound up being No. 30) to move up three spots to No. 3. They were able to grab Williams, and the rest is history.

So if we take out the 2009 trade that didn't include any picks, here's the history of trades involving top 5 picks:

Get: No. 3 overall
Give: No. 5 overall, No. 10 overall the following season

Get: No. 1 overall
Give: No. 3 overall, No. 14 overall the following season

Get: No. 3 overall
Give: No. 6 overall, No. 27 overall, No. 30 the following season

It's not cheap. And as we can see, the cost to move up is getting pricier. The 2019 NBA Draft won't be any different. We know that picks Nos. 1 and 2 are off the table. The New Orleans Pelicans will select Duke's Zion Williamson and the Memphis Grizzlies will follow a few minutes later by taking Murray State point guard Ja Morant. It's also pretty safe to say that the New York Knicks will draft Duke's R.J. Barrett with the third pick.

It gets pretty fuzzy after that. Picks 4-14 are all pretty much in the same tier, to the point that including assets to move up in a class that will be a major dice roll would be tough to justify. Then again, maybe the price to move up to No. 4 or 5 isn't as substantial because there isn't a sure fire player the other team would be giving up by moving back in the first round. In 2005, it was obvious the Jazz were going hard after Williams or Wake Forest's Chris Paul. The Sixers wanted to move up to No. 1 to get Markelle Fultz, who as funny as it seems now, was the consensus top pick. And the Mavericks were clearly eyeing Luka Doncic after the Kings passed on him for Duke's Marvin Bagley.

This time around? It's tough to say. The Bulls need a point guard in the worst way and Vanderbilt's Darius Garland will likely be gone before the Bulls pick at No. 7. It'd behoove the Bulls to jump in front of Phoenix at No. 6; the Suns have similar needs to the Bulls and are in similar situations as far as their respective rebuild goes. But the Bulls aren't once piece away from contending, and none of the players they would go target at No. 4 or 5 would really move the needle next season. That's critical, because they'd almost certainly be including next year's first-round pick in any deal (let's be real and say Kris Dunn's trade value is essentially zilch). If the Bulls were to attach even a heavily protected first round pick, they'd need to be certain they were going to have on-court improvement in the coming years. This is still a team that won 22 games a season ago.

It's too early in the pre-draft process to consider which teams may move back, and who teams trying to move up would want to target. That will happen in the coming weeks. For now, just realize that moving up in the draft costs a whole lot, and you'd better hit on the pick if you're going to give up assets during a rebuild.