Justin Anderson looks to bring Virginia's defense to the NBA


Justin Anderson looks to bring Virginia's defense to the NBA

Defense. Defense. Defense.

There's been just one word associated with the Virginia Cavaliers in recent seasons. And that word is defense.

Virginia has won 30 games in each of the past two seasons, reaching the top three in the AP poll and earning a No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Now it's looking to send another one of its own to the NBA.

Justin Anderson is planning on carrying the traditions that have transformed Virginia into an ACC power to the professional level. And whether that's playing hard-nosed defense, doing everything on the basketball court or just plain knowing how to win, Anderson's going to bring it with hopes of getting his name called by the commissioner.

“I have a track record of being a part of a program that has great tradition, and I’m all about winning," Anderson said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "At every level I’ve won a championship. I want to try to bring that team aspect. I want to be able to be that guy that does it all. There’s a new wave of players we’re seeing that’s doing it at a high level: Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kawhai Leonard. I like to compare myself to Danny Green. It’s a new wave of those guys who can guard multiple positions but also knock down open jumpers and get better at the offensive game as their years go on in the NBA.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Virginia F Justin Anderson]

Anderson's numbers don't leap off the page at you. He only played in 26 games last season due to an injury. He only averaged 12.2 points per game, just four rebounds a game. But he was part of a team that routinely shut opponents down night after night. The Cavaliers allowed an average of just 51.5 points per game, the best mark in the country. They were regularly made fun of for their lack of offense — their 65.3 points per game ranked 225th in the land — but make no mistake, even with low scoring outputs they were dominating the competition. Virginia lost just four times all season, twice to Final Four bound teams in Duke and Michigan State. The other two defeats came against top-20 opponents Louisville and North Carolina.

Defense is the star of the show for Tony Bennett's Virginia team. And he's drilled it into his players. That's surely one thing that Anderson will bring with him to the professional level.

“If I had the time I could probably get you all the details," Anderson said when asked what makes a great defense. "Simply put, it’d just be discipline and help, unselfish play. Unselfish in a sense of, ‘Are you going to be unselfish enough to work hard for your teammates to try to make the defense efficient, special, different?’ That makes it hard for teams on a daily basis. It’s tough to explain the principles in a short amount of time.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Kentucky's Devin Booker could be hidden gem]

And Anderson was right in the thick of that. In an NBA that's always been dominated by the superstar, there's something to be said for the teams. The Spurs turned team basketball into a dynasty, something that at least to some was cool again. No wonder, then, Anderson mentioned Leonard and Green, a pair of Spurs, on his list of players he admires.

Sixty wins in two seasons? Surely an NBA team will find something to like about that.

“I think first and foremost it’s about being a great teammate. To me it’s no coincidence that the same teams are playing at the same time of year every single season," Anderson said. "I think it goes more than talent. This league is full of talent, and I think it’s the little fine details that I think that I can bring. I’ve got the discipline from Montrose Christian (High School). I understood better the discipline under coach Tony Bennett and discipline under coach Boo Williams in AAU. I had three great coaches, and hopefully I can bring that aspect.”

Being a team guy and defensively oriented doesn't mean, though, that Anderson has no skills. He's projected to be a first-round pick. He was talked about as one of the top players in the ACC last season. He can shoot the ball well, and he touted his improved 3-point shooting at the Combine, too.

But defense, as they say, wins championships. And an NBA team looking to win is likely going to be adding Anderson because of it.

“I’m both a 2 and a 3, but I think defensively is where my value will come when it comes to position because I think I can guard the point guard through the 4 guy," he said. "I can use my strength in the low post maybe, or I could also use my length, my quickness, my athleticism on a smaller guard. I think defensively, that’s my position.”

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

USA Today

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.