Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks


Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks

In a game that was tailor-made for the fast-breaking era of the 80’s, the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks reacquainted themselves for the first time since last spring’s physical, hotly-contested six-game playoff series.

But while that series was at times a defensive struggle, Tuesday’s contest was not as both put on an offensive show in a game where the first team to put together any semblance of defensive stops would likely win.

The Bulls played enough defense in the fourth, although the offense carried the day to a 117-106 win at the United Center, their fifth straight victory as they held the Bucks to 15 points in the fourth. They spoiled hometown kid Jabari Parker’s first official game at the United Center, as he scored 11 with seven rebounds.

It was Fred Hoiberg’s offense on paper come to life, in all forms.

They tallied 27 assists, shot 55 percent from the field and made all 20 of their free-throws.

[MORE: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance]

Proof positive that his system can work when adjustments are made and an elite-level point guard is running the show.

“We’re playing unselfish basketball. The ball is going side to side which is very important,” Hoiberg said.

Jimmy Butler, coming off his record-breaking 40-point second half, did it all on the offensive end with 32 points and a career-high 10 assists, matching wits with Khris Middleton, who hit five triples to keep the Bucks in it, scoring 26 points with seven assists and four rebounds.

“Jimmy has been playing with a lot of patience,” Derrick Rose said.

The Bulls didn’t trail through three quarters, even jumping out to a 10-0 lead behind Taj Gibson feasting inside against a toothless interior defense. Rose made his return after a three-game absence and found life easier than expected as his first step was more than enough to find himself in open real estate.

If there was any evidence of rust, it could only be found in his 3-point shooting because everything else was at an elite level, Bucks defense notwithstanding. He attacked at every opening, as his next-level speed opened things up across the board, even when he didn’t get the assist credit on the stat sheet.

He finished with 16 points and six assists but his affect was greater than can be measured statistically.

“When he gives us that initial push, we run with it,” Hoiberg said. “At times he can be a one-man fast break. And the big thing is he needs to continue to attack the basket.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler traded pretty reverse layups, as the lane was open without much resistance for most of the evening.

Butler added 20 in the first half to his 40 in the second half at Toronto, and his teammates joined him this go-round. Everyone who participated got good looks and the Bulls shot 55 percent, scoring over 100 for their eighth straight time.

“I was a little disappointed with Jimmy coming out the gate and only going for 20,” said Hoiberg, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s making the right decisions out there and playing the right way.”

Pau Gasol even hit a couple triples on his way to 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. All five starters scored in double figures, including Nikola Mirotic’s 14 with six rebounds.

If there was any downside to such an exciting win, giving up in excess of 100 points for another game shows some slippage that must be corralled. Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams scored 20 with 12 assists and center Greg Monroe scored a quick eight to start the second quarter to bring the Bucks within striking distance, a place they stayed until midway through the fourth when the Bulls finally pulled away.

But those gripes are minor compared to other serious questions that have been asked over the last few weeks, as the start of the New Year has birthed some sincere optimism about this team getting itself right.

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

In this edition of the Windy City roundup we look at JaKarr Sampson, who has been playing well in an intriguing role with the Windy City Bulls.

Sampson, a two-year player at St. John’s University, averaged 13 PPG and 6 RPG on 46 percent in his college career. However, the most impressive part of his college resume were the hustle stats. Over his two seasons in college, Sampson averaged just over two offensive rebounds per game and racked up 125 combined steals/blocks.

That mentality has followed him to the pros, where he has been great at getting to the rim, drawing fouls and blocking shots.

But Sampson hasn’t been spectacular with his finishing in the NBA. And on top of that, the lack of (any) noticeable progress with his shooting stroke makes it hard to find a spot for him, even in the increasingly position-less NBA.

But the Windy City Bulls and head coach Charlie Henry have been using Sampson as a small-ball center, with intriguing results.

Through 6 games in the 2018-19 NBA G League season, Sampson is averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field.

He is one of the tallest players on the team as, Windy City has no players taller than 6-foot 8 on the roster. Despite starting a 6-foot 8 player at center, Windy City has the 2nd best defensive rating in the league (100.6) over the last five games.

And while he has helped the Bulls have a great NBA G League defense, his offensive value also offers upside. Sampson has been able to use his quickness to beat lumbering bigs off the dribble. He has also gotten slightly better at timing his rolls to the basket to receive dump off passes from his guards.

For pretty much the first time in Sampson’s basketball career (even dating back to high school) he is starting to make an earnest attempt to stretch his range out to the 3-point line. He is taking just over two 3-point attempts per game. While he is shooting a poor 28 percent from deep, those couple 3-point attempts per night help Windy City’s offense by dragging opposing bigs out of the paint to contest shots.

Sampson’s aggressiveness is at an all-time high with the Bulls. He has a gargantuan usage rate that is north of 30 percent, impressive considering that he hasn’t had to shoulder a heavy load on offense in quite some time. He is turning the ball over a considerable amount and that is perhaps the one thing knocking down his offensive value.

He has an impressive assist rate from the center spot, so the skill is there and simply needs to be raised a level. That obviously becomes much easier when you play with better teammates.

If Sampson was to play with the Chicago Bulls, he obviously would be a low-usage player. This in turn could make his solid passing ability a huge plus, since the Bulls have some interesting offensive pieces with Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen all returning to join Zach LaVine in the rotation.

And with Sampson showing that he can be effective against centers who are non-scoring threats, he would be a nice player to give spot minutes to when Wendell Carter Jr. is in foul trouble (especially early in games).

Succeeding at the highest levels in today’s NBA is all about the 3-point shot, lineup versatility and a commitment to the defensive side of the ball. And Sampson checks off two of the three boxes with certainty, making him a solid bet to be one of the next Windy City Bulls players to receive a call up.

Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs


Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs

The Bulls have struggled to close out games in the 2018-19 season and a big part of that was the absence of point guard Kris Dunn. Despite being a limited shooter throughout his young NBA career, he was actually a pivotal offensive player for the Bulls in clutch situations last season. Dunn (again) showed off just how valuable he can be in late-game situations on Saturday night.

In a game where the Spurs held a 21-point lead, the Bulls rode the offense of Lauri Markkanen and Dunn to a comeback victory. Dunn and Markkanen combined for 47 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists in the win.

Guard play was the key in this win though, as Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono were the few players determined to take smart shots while also getting to the ball to Markkanen when he had a mismatch. Everyone on the roster needs to work more on post-entry passes to Markkanen, as we have seen how awesome the results can be for an offense short on shot-makers.

But Dunn can become one of those shot-makers. We all know that to reach his absolute ceiling, his 3-point jump shot will need to develop. However, if he focuses heavily on getting to his “sweet spots” on the floor, he will ultimately mitigate any concerns about his shot.

Against the Spurs Dunn was 0-2 from the 3-point line but finished 4-7 on shots inside the paint, which contributed to the Bulls outscoring San Antonio 42-32 on points in the paint.

The Bulls are still struggling to score inside and were mostly helped by playing a Spurs team that is similarly awful at the 3-point shot, and not great at generating free throws. But a road win over the Spurs is impressive considering the turmoil surrounding this Bulls team.

Chicago was burned by a 3-point flurry from Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Patty Mills in the second quarter. But the Bulls settled down and really locked-in defensively in the 2nd half. The Bulls collected 12 steals and 8 blocks in San Antonio, including a big-time double swat from the frontcourt of the future.

The team seems to be adjusting (relatively) well to the hyper-active coaching style of Boylen.

Since Boylen’s 1st game as Bulls’ head coach on December 4, the Bulls have ranked 15th in the league in defensive rating and have had noticeably better rotations on defense. But the offense has posted a historically terrible 95.1 points per 100 possessions in that same timeframe under Boylen.

But wins like Saturday night’s show that the Bulls can play with some mental toughness down the stretch of close games.

Bulls fans finally got to see a glimpse of the Dunn-Markkanen combination thriving at the same time. If they can consistently play with that same type of aggressiveness when LaVine returns to the lineup, Boylen and the Bulls can truly put what was a tough week behind them and focus on building a positive team-first culture.