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.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago


Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.

Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.

But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 

Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.


For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 

Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker


Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.

Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 

LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.

LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.

Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.