Jimmy Butler finally gets buckets in Team USA win

Jimmy Butler finally gets buckets in Team USA win

Bulls fans know Jimmy Butler is legit after watching his transformation from a role-playing defensive specialist to a 20 PPG scorer and two-time All-Star. But casual fans tuning in to watch the Olympic competition got a chance to witness all the qualities Butler brings to the table in Team USA’s 113-69 rout of Venezuela on Monday.

Like most of the NBA stars on the roster, Butler has the ability to drive by an initial defender almost any time he wants. But during Team USA’s exhibition schedule, and in the Olympic opener against China, Butler had been content to simply drive into the lane and kick the ball back out to an open 3 point shooter. He’s been the poster child for the type of unselfish play advocated by Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.

In Monday’s win over Venezuela, Butler finally took advantage of some of his scoring chances, knocking down a 3-pointer when the game was still close in the first half, and converting a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays to help Team USA break the game wide open after intermission. Butler finished with 17 points, second only to Paul George’s 20 for the U.S. side, and his defensive play continues to be outstanding.

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With former Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau directing the defensive efforts, Team USA has been an active, swarming force, able to keep the opposition from getting good shots with pressure on ballhandlers, and excellent rim protection from big men DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins. Butler has teamed with aggressive wing players like Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green to cut off passing lanes and come up with steals to ignite a lethal fastbreak attack.

It’s been kind of funny hearing the familiar sound of Thibodeau’s voice barking out defensive instructions, even with Team USA in total control. After a year away from the court, Thibs is still a perfectionist, and his defense-first philosophy is more important than ever in these Olympics. Without some of the elite NBA scorers like Steph Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on the roster, this version of the “Dream Team” model is keyed by its work on the defensive end, and Butler fits right in with that approach.

Krzyzewski commented early in training camp that he didn’t know Butler was such a complete player and raved about the work Butler put in to become a star. As the games have gone on, Butler has become a critical part of Team USA’s second unit, with his defensive ability and unselfishness complementing the skills of DeRozan, George and Kyle Lowry.

The Americans will get their toughest test on Wednesday against a rugged Australia squad, led by NBA big men Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes, along with feisty point guard Matthew Dellavedova and 3-point specialist Patty Mills. The Aussies have already blown out France and Serbia, and they won’t be overpowered inside by Team USA. Former Bulls champion Luc Longley is an assistant coach for Australia, and said his players will get a true measure of just how good they are defensively against a team loaded with NBA All-Stars.

As for the Aussies chances of upsetting the heavily favored Americans, Longley said simply, “It’s always possible, mate. There are no impossibilities in basketball.”

Back to Butler, he’s not all that concerned about how many points he scores during the Olympic tournament, he just wants to come home with a gold medal draped around his neck. Butler’s role with the Bulls will most certainly change in the upcoming season with the addition of 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo. The 6-7 swingman will be moving back to his original NBA position at small forward and he’ll be asked to knock down more catch and shoot jumpers than he has in the past.

Butler is only a 33 percent 3-point shooter over his first five seasons in the NBA, but after watching him improve every year he’s been in the league, don’t bet against him becoming a consistent threat from beyond the arc. Right now, it sounds like most of the national experts are dismissing the chances of the Bulls being more than a seventh or eighth seed in the East. But as you watch Jimmy Butler fit in with some of the game’s biggest stars during these Olympics, it’s exciting to think what he’ll be able to do teaming up with Wade, Rondo and some emerging young players next season.

Bulls sign local product Tyler Ulis to two-way deal

Bulls sign local product Tyler Ulis to two-way deal

The NBA preseason has finished and teams are finalizing their rosters before the beginning of the regular season.

For the Bulls, that meant claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers and signing him to a two-way contract.

The Athletic's Shams Charania first reported the move.

Ulis, a product of Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, was waived by the Warriors on Friday. He spent two years at Kentucky before getting drafted in the second round by the Phoenix Suns in 2016.

In two years with the Suns, Ulis made 58 starts and played in 132 games. He averaged just over 7 points per game in both seasons. Last season, Ulis also averaged 4.4 assists per game against 1.8 turnovers in 23.4 minutes per game.

The Suns waived Ulis after the season and the Warriors signed him for the preseason. He averaged 3 points and 1.5 assists per game in four preseason games with the Warriors.

The two-way contract means Ulis could be spending more time with the Windy City Bulls than at the United Center on game days, but backup point guard is a question mark for the Bulls. Cam Payne looks like he will get first crack at the role behind Kris Dunn with Denzel Valentine injured. Ryan Arcidiacono just made the team and could also figure into point guard minutes.

Ryan Arcidiacono's persistence pays off with roster spot inclusion

Ryan Arcidiacono's persistence pays off with roster spot inclusion

Cuts during the NBA preseason aren’t exactly as gut-wrenching and tension-filled as they are in the NFL. NBA teams cut from somewhere in the late teens down to 15, and the potential for two-way contracts exist for those players who don’t make the roster. But for Ryan Arcidiacono, Saturday was filled with angst as he waited for a call. It never came.

“I was thinking about it. It’s like Hard Knocks when you’re watching. You don’t want to get that phone call,” Arcidiacono said Sunday before practice. “I was just thinking to myself after the game (Friday), nobody said anything to me. I was talking to (assistant) Pete (Myers) and he said, ‘Just get outta here, man. I’ll see you at practice on Sunday.’ I was still a little nervous on Friday night. Saturday morning I felt better after I talked to my agent and everything became more official.”

It’s quite the journey for Arcidiacono, who spent time both with the Bulls and their G-League affiliate in Hoffman Estates last season. In 37 starts with the Windy City Bulls, Arcidiacono averaged 13.9 points and 8.5 assists in 39.6 minutes. His two longest stints in Chicago came in late January and at the end of the year, and that 24-game audition was enough for the Bulls to re-sign him in July.

Arcidiacono found more comfort this summer in Year 2 with the Bulls. Though his playing time in the preseason was limited he showed enough in camp to warrant a spot on the roster. It also helped that the Bulls find themselves thin at the point guard position behind Kris Dunn, with Cameron Payne struggling and Denzel Valentine on the mend with an ankle injury.

“I think last year really helped me with the two-way, getting acclimated with what Fred wants to do,” he said. “I think getting up and down with the G League. (Head coach) Charlie (Henry) really helped me a lot. Knowing our point guard situation, I just tried to be the hardest playing guy on the floor anytime I step on and the rest will take care of itself.”

It’s unknown whether Arcidiacono’s stint in Chicago will last. His contract will be guaranteed on January 10. He’s an important body for now with Lauri Markkanen out for the foreseeable future and Valentine still recovering from his own injury. But he’ll also have the opportunity to push Payne for that back-up role. Payne struggled much of the preseason, averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 assists on just 25 percent shooting.

“Arci has done a lot of really good things,” Hoiberg said. “I liked the way he looked in the game the other night off the ball. Defensively, made some really good solid plays and again, when there’s an open man on the court Arci’s gonna find him.”

He won’t move the needle on the Bulls’ season, and his minutes will likely be minimal once the season begins. But for now it’s a great story of persistence that gives the Bulls another hard-working body in practice.”

“Whatever our team needs, that’s what they’ll get from me,” he said. “Whether that’s being a backup or the third point guard spot, I’m just here to compete and make our team better and hopefully get us some victories.”