Bulls

Jimmy Butler caps off monster night with buzzer-beater to give Bulls win over Nets

Jimmy Butler caps off monster night with buzzer-beater to give Bulls win over Nets

Apparently it wasn’t too much for the Bulls to put everything on Jimmy Butler’s shoulders.

Walking down Bojan Bogdanovic, he got to the spot he wanted, took the shot he wanted and got the result he desired at the buzzer, hitting a jumper to give the Bulls a 101-99 win over the woeful Brooklyn Nets.

It took 40 points from Butler, 27 in the second half when the game was slipping away from the Bulls against a team they had no business trailing to, including the game-winner to get the Bulls back to .500.

Being mobbed by his teammates as the United Center went into delirium, Butler released emotion that seemed more out of frustration that it took so much to beat a team that isn’t on par with the Bulls talent-wise.

“I think we desperately need every win, not just this one,” said Butler, who added 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals in 38 minutes. “But the way the game was going, I guess I had the hot hand, and coach and players said, ‘Hey, make something happen.’ At the end, I did just that.”

He nailed a go-ahead jumper with 33.7 seconds left, but Brook Lopez dunked it over his brother to tie the game again, setting the stage for Butler to work his magic one more time.

“I said, ‘Get the hell out of his way and let him go to work,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, in a statement Butler wouldn’t mind being framed for future references—as in every game.

A Butler takeover didn’t look likely for most of the night, especially after turning his right ankle on a jumper that caused him to writhe in pain on his way to the bench before returning moments later.

As the Bulls trailed 97-90 with three minutes left, Butler put on his Superman cape and went to work, hitting a triple and then two free throws to make it a manageable deficit with 1:50 left.

Michael Carter-Williams forced a turnover and scored on a layup to tie the game at 97 with 1:22 left, mostly due to the defensive attention paid to Butler

“Be aggressive. Take the shots that the defense gives to you and continue to be you,” Butler said. “When you can’t shoot it, you pass it to the open guy. I pride myself on that too. We learn from it, and we’ll be better.”

With no Dwyane Wade (16 points in 22 minutes) after early in the second half due to migraines, it was solely on Butler to make most of the plays down the stretch, and the Nets kept the Bulls on their heels for nearly the entire night, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, leading to groans all across the United Center.

“They came out and were the aggressors. They took it right to us,” Hoiberg said. “Give them credit, they came out of the gate with fire. It was disappointing to come out in our own building like that.

“We dug ourselves a hole and found some fire and passion in the last four or five minutes. That’s the message, we have to play like that from the opening tip.”

The Nets are, if nothing else, a team that plays hard and will launch threes mercilessly as they have nothing to lose and no expectations on a nightly basis, stripping down their entire operation to start over, figure out what works with what players under a new coach and general manager.

The Bulls have familiar players and a second-year coach in Hoiberg, but still appear no more closer to finding out who they are or what works on a nightly basis—hence the up and down performances.

Brook Lopez dominated the matchup with his brother, scoring 33 with four assists and three rebounds, hitting five 3-pointers that compromised the Bulls’ defense all night.

The Nets made 13 of them, launching from all angles and forced 18 turnovers from the Bulls. Sean Kilpatrick, starting in place of the injured Jeremy Lin, took advantage of increased minutes, scoring 18 with six assists and Randy Foye scored 11 off the bench.

The Bulls could find no such resourcefulness before Butler saved them. Excluding Butler’s 14 for 29 showing, the Bulls shot 35.5 percent and 39.8 overall.

“We can’t go through the motions and expect another team to lay down,” Hoiberg said. “They’re coming out, they’re fighting, they’re coming off a huge win against Charlotte. They had Golden State down 18.”

During one third-quarter stretch, the Bulls had four traveling violations in five possessions—which was followed by the Nets taking a 73-66 lead on a Justin Hamilton triple with four minutes to go in the third quarter.

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The Bulls put together a few decent minutes, forcing some turnovers with pressure from Michael Carter-Williams, 14 straight points from Butler and tied the game at 76 before Foye’s layup gave the Nets a two-point lead to start the fourth.

The Bulls’ first half rivaled their 48-minute showing against the Pacers two nights ago for ugliest showing, as they couldn’t hit a shot and space was impossible to find.

It made life almost miserable for Butler as 15 of his shots came in the first half and he only converted on five of them before the half.

Add to the tough luck misses the Bulls had inside in addition to their customary struggles from the outside, the Nets gained more confidence as the first half went on.

But confidence can only take you so far, as you need a frontline player to take you home. Luckily for the Bulls, they had the frontline player and frontline play, just in the nick of time.

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

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