Bulls

Judged every game, Derrick Rose turns in his best of the season

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Judged every game, Derrick Rose turns in his best of the season

The clock wasn’t done ticking the final few seconds away, but Derrick Rose was greeted by Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant with “congratulations” and “good luck” as the buzzer sounded on the Bulls’ 104-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center, where Rose turned in his best game of this short season and quieted some doubters.

For now.

It’s only a temporary reprieve for a player who weathers one mini-controversy after another, be it derived from bad luck, subpar play or media speculation centered around his past, present and future.

Three straight games without scoring in double figures earned Rose a trip through the spin cycle, especially when it was capped off by a 25-point embarrassing loss two nights prior — along with mixed messages from Rose and his coach that could be more a matter of interpretation than locker-room consternation.

“(Bleep) it,” said his teammate and arguably biggest defender, Joakim Noah. “To me it’s part of our job, and when you play with somebody like Derrick Rose … I know he doesn’t care at all, but for me it bothers me, especially for him. I know people don’t realize how hard it is to go out there and play, especially when you’re going through things he’s gone through, injuries and stuff.

“Sometimes he says crazy (bleep) that gets him in trouble, but I know what type of competitor he is."

[MORE BULLS: Derrick Rose's fourth-quarter takeover leads Bulls past Thunder]

Rose being oblivious to all that swirls around him is nearly poetic, considering the man sees double every time he steps on the floor, playing when it would be easier to sit and wait until his vision returns to normal — but since nothing else about Rose’s journey is normal, the vision is a mere microcosm of everything else.

Because unfortunately, every game is a referendum as if he has no sweat equity built with this base — and one can imagine how heavy he would play if he actually paid any mind to such nonsense.

His 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 37 tough minutes showed he’s still capable of dominating against the best, on the biggest stage. But he’s taking a prudent approach to all this, not wanting to bask in the success, which given the shots he’s taken, would be well within his rights.

“I know it's a process. It's going to be ups and downs,” Rose said. “Just because it's a high right now, it's not no relief. I still have to get the most out of every day.”

Unfortunately, he’s entered the full “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” stage of his tenure in Chicago, no matter how it turns out. When he started off missing seven of his first eight shots, the knee-jerk fan base was putting the scarlet “R” on his forehead, as if to mark “return to sender”.

“The last couple of games I only shot seven or eight shots. You couldn't tell which way the game was going to go,” Rose said. “But with my eye like this, I don't want to affect the game in a way where I'm messing up the game. I want to do something positive and getting my teammates in the right position, and by that time the game was over. So tonight, I was just trying to be aggressive. I'm still getting my rhythm, and it's slowly coming to me.”

[MORE BULLS: Hoiberg: Win over Thunder 'really shows the guys care']

The missed layups were frustrating early but encouraging the way he was able to get those attempts. Then, like a flash it seemed to click.

Blow-by Westbrook for a layup.

Then another one.

All of a sudden, his fortunes began to turn, the game began to come to him as opposed to allowing him to play facilitator and he embraced the simple fact that as an attacker, he’s far more valuable in this role than any other.

“We're trying to figure everything out,” Rose said. “In the past, I can't say the team wasn't as talented as it is now, but in the past I had to take the shots that I was taking. I think this time around, every game it might be something different.”

But this game the night belonged to him because it had to.

Because Jimmy Butler spent so much energy chasing around the baddest man on the planet this side of LeBron James, and because Rose was getting the better of Westbrook, the player many prop up as the antithesis of everything they believe Rose to be.

“For him to have a game like this I know is a huge confidence booster,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys are very happy for him because they know how hard he worked in the offseason and how much time he has put in to get back after the injuries.”

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When Rose looks at Westbrook’s blinding speed, power and force, he doesn’t see a facsimile of what he used to be. Similarities, maybe, but that’s it. Westbrook’s critics want him to play more under control while Rose’s want him to play as reckless as his counterpart.

Funny how that works, eh?

“Russ is a great player,” Rose said. “The year that he had last year, I'm happy for him. I'm real close with him and his family. We're kind of similar, but Russ is Russ. I love his game.”

The fourth quarter was a vintage performance in Rose’s way, scoring 10 in a row to close things out and reading the defense well enough to set up Pau Gasol for a layup on a switch he shot on four straight times, an indication of basketball IQ.

His bank-shot jumpers? A new wrinkle he seemed to add during last spring’s playoff run, but he was asked if he’d been watching tape of Tim Duncan.

Again, he preached perspective.

“I know I work extremely hard, I know I dedicate my whole life to this sport,” Rose said. “It's going to pay off one day. I can't get all high because of this game. I'm going to have more ups and downs, and I'll find my way around them.”

Rose, the man who can’t see straight, seems to have the most clairvoyant view of all considering the hot takes and long-term views off short samples. But as he noted, it’s only one game.

And come Saturday night, everyone will have hit the reset button, good or bad.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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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

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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.