Bulls

'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

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'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
Posted: 12:03 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
As the old saying goes, "It's not where you're from, it's where you're at." Or is the opposite true?

Either way, C.J. Watson has the good fortune of both interpretations applying to him. The Las Vegas native has been in his hometown this summer, spending time with his family and working out with noted basketball trainer Joe Abunassar and the numerous NBA players who flock to "Sin City" in the offseason.

Watson and first-round draft pick Jimmy Butler -- who wasn't able to play in NBA summer-league competition because of the ongoing lockout -- are the two Bulls committed to playing in the Competitive Training Series, reportedly the brainchild of Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley. Starting Sept. 12, Abunassar's Las Vegas-based Impact Basketball will host a two-week session featuring training and games for NBA players.

"It's NBA players coming out and playing on teams to stay shape because of the lockout," Watson explained to CSNChicago.com in a recent phone interview from Las Vegas. "A lot of players just come to Vegas, so it's good."

According to a Thursday press release from Impact Basketball, over 70 NBA players, including longtime Abunassar client Chauncey Billups of the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards star John Wall, will participate. While optimism can be derived from recent reports during negotiations between the league and the union in New York this week -- perhaps putting on hold tentative plans to have Competitive Training Series sessions in subsequent months -- the benefits of playing in a structured environment with training, referees, NBA rules and competition (games will be open to the public) during the work stoppage are clear.

Never before in the offseason have so many great players come together to train and play. I am thrilled to be able to provide our world-class training environment and system to so many great players," Abunassar said Thursday in a statement released by Impact Basketball. "This will be an experience of a lifetime for our Impact Academy students. Everything we do at Impact is built from our experiences of training great pros and all-stars over the past 15 years. This will certainly enhance our entire program for all of our athletes."

Added Billups: "This will be an amazing two weeks for all of us NBA players who have been working and training hard all summer to get together and have a chance to really get after it on the court against some of the best players in the league. I have trained with Joe for 14 years and Impact continues to be the worlds elite place to train and improve your game. This will be a great two weeks for everyone."

Meanwhile, Watson, who had foot surgery earlier this summer leading him to miss out on the rash of exhibition games, summer leagues and pro-am events, is sticking to his usual offseason regimen.

"It's been good. I've been getting back into, getting back in shape and playing basketball, really," said the University of Tennessee product. "Actually, my days are just like any other summer. I wake up in the morning, go work out, come back home, then I go to the gym at night to shoot," he continued. "I'm just working on my shooting, passing, getting to the basket, everything. Not just one aspect. I'm trying to do it all."

Watson wasn't definitive about whether more of the Bulls would join him. Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson all spend time training in Southern California, a hop, skip and a jump from Vegas, in the offseason. Watson did note that he's kept in touch with his teammates during the offseason. Although he's soft-spoken, he is popular on the close-knit squad. In his first season in Chicago, he gradually found his groove as time progressed, beginning with a 39-point November outburst in Denver as a starter in Rose's lone absence of the 62-win regular season.

"I love Chicago. The only bad part for me is the traffic," quipped Watson. "Last year was great. It was an adjustment for me at first to have new players, a new coach, the style of play that he wants to play. After a while, I just started to be more comfortable with the players and the coaches and the style of play.

"It's a great feeling to know that my teammates are doing well. I hope they stay healthy and continue to get better and keep improving," he continued, referring to the performances by Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Omer Asik in the ongoing EuroBasket tournament in Lithuania.

"We've just got to come out, make sure everybody's healthy first off, but come out with more focus and more drive. We know what it takes to get to where we got, but that's not what we want, so hopefully we can go a little further and do better than last year."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

The Bulls welcome the Raptors, currently on a three-game losing streak, to the United Center on Monday. It is the second game in as many nights for each team. The matchup tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago; unitl then, here's what to watch for:

Raptors last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 8 — L at 76ers: 110-104

  • Dec. 5 — L vs. Rockets: 119-109

  • Dec. 3 — L vs. Heat: 121-110 (OT)

  • Dec. 1 — W vs. Jazz: 130-110

  • Nov. 29 — W at Magic: 90-83

Storyline(s) for each team

Both of these teams enter tonight on the back-end of back-to-backs — the Raptors got essentially trounced by the 76ers (they didn’t pull to within single digits until the game’s final two minutes) in Philadelphia Sunday night, and are riding a three-game losing streak into Chicago, overall. It’s a slight reality check for a team that began its first post-Kawhi Leonard campaign 15-4, but all three defeats came against good-to-great teams. There’s no real reason to believe that, tonight, Toronto can’t put forth a performance similar to the 108-84 drubbing they handed the Bulls at the United Center on Oct. 26 (a game in which the Bulls’ leading scorer was Wendell Carter Jr. with 12 points). 

The Bulls are coming off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Heat that left some reasons for optimism, but ultimately stung as much as the defeats that preceded it (perhaps even more so). Neither Otto Porter Jr. nor Chandler Hutchison appear any closer to returning, and the team’s best players remain hot-and-cold on a night-to-night basis. The Bulls have demonstrated an ability to compete with teams of this quality, but a win tonight remains a tough proposition.

Player to watch: Pascal Siakam

Even in limiting Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting on Sunday, his game-high 21 free throw attempts and the gravity he attracted down the stretch (which freed up Tyler Herro to get going) were a reminder that the Bulls still sorely miss their big wings in Porter and Hutchison.

Want another reminder? Enter: Pascal Siakam. In the absence of Leonard, Siakam is currently making the leap of all leaps, averaging 24.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 46/36.5/81.6 shooting splits. He’s bumped his volume substantially (20.1 field goal and 6.2 3-point attempts per game) and taken on an increased number of pull-ups and drives, at the expense of catch-and-shoots (i.e. he’s creating his own offense).

 

Though he’s slightly cooled off over the Raptors’ aforementioned losing streak (38.9% shooting in his last three games), a trip to Chicago could represent a get-right game for the Raptors’ best player. The forward combination of him and OG Anunoby also presents difficult defensive matchups for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, given that the Bulls will probably continue to roll with a three-guard starting lineup.

Matchup to watch: Transition (and everything that comes with it)

The Raptors are a high-octane group that plays with breakneck pace. They shoot the second-highest percentage on 3-pointers in the NBA (38.7%) on the seventh-most attempts per game (36.5), rank eighth in the NBA in steals per game (Bulls are first) and relish the opportunity to get out on the break.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Raptors convert live rebounds into transition opportunities at the second-highest clip in the NBA (36%, trailing only the Bucks). The Bulls (32.4%) are sixth in that category, though the Raptors score on said possessions with greater efficiency. The Raptors (sixth) and Bulls (seventh) also rank among the league’s best in percentage of steals converted into transition possessions. We know this will be an up-and-down affair — what remains to be seen is which team can win the rebounding and turnover battles, and thus afford themselves more opportunities to get out, run and dictate the flow of the game.

The Raptors wore the Bulls down in most of these areas the last time these two matched up, out-rebounding the Bulls 65-56 and winning the transition points battle 25-7 (each team had nine steals) on Oct. 26. Even potentially without Fred VanVleet (who left Toronto’s Sunday night game with a knee injury), Toronto has the personnel to win this matchup again, between elite ball-pusher and outlet-passer Kyle Lowry, the fast, rangy and physical Siakam/Anunoby duo and ancillary sparkplugs like Normal Powell and Terence Davis. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka won’t make the Bulls’ lives easy on the glass, either.

Trends to watch

  • It’s only a four-game sample size, but Lauri Markkanen is averaging 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 50.9% shooting (13.3 attempts) and 43.2% from three (9.2 attempts) in the month of December. Even that stretch has had its ups and downs, but it’s worth monitoring if he’s able to continue his generally positive upward trend against a big, physical and talented Raptors frontcourt.

  • Coby White played all but eight seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime in Miami on Sunday, closing over Tomas Satoransky. He shot 2-for-5 (both makes on 3-pointers) in those minutes, dishing out three assists and also committing two turnovers. Still, he looked like he belonged out there. Boylen has gone back-and-forth on rolling with the starters versus the ‘hot-hand’ down the stretch, but White certainly benefits from a developmental perspective from that type of increased responsibility. 

  • Kyle Lowry returned from a thumb injury that cost him about a month on Dec. 3, and in the three games since his return, he’s played 41, 42 and 38 minutes, respectively. So much for easing back in. With VanVleet likely out, his workload probably won’t lighten in this one, except in the event of a blowout (certainly plausible). Lowry’s a great player, but he’s shooting 35% since returning, including a 2-for-18 shooting night in his first game back.

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NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14-game win streak

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USA Today

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14-game win streak

With the NBA season hitting the quarter pole, it’s a good time to check in on how the MVP race is shaping up.

After blowing a two games to none lead against Toronto in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to come back better than ever this season, and he’s done exactly that, improving his averages in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

The one knock on Antetokounmpo had been his lack of a consistent outside shot, and while he’s still only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc, he’s made at least three shots from long distance in three of his last seven games.

The Bucks are currently riding a 14 game winning streak after blowing out a very good Clippers’ team at Fiserv Forum last Friday. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers even joked about the result, saying, “It was Giannis’ 25th birthday, and we searched all over the city to find a gift, and we couldn’t find one, so we gave him this one. That’s all I can come up with because we were awful.”

Antetokounmpo still has to prove he can get the Bucks to the Finals, but through the first 23 games, he’s clearly the favorite to win his 2nd straight MVP award.

LeBron James’ Lakers are actually a half game ahead of the Bucks for the NBA’s best record at the start of the new week. James leads the NBA in assists, something that hasn’t been done by a player who doesn’t play the guard position since Wilt Chamberlain. James would rank 2nd on my MVP rankings at the quarter pole.

I wrote about Luka Doncic in last week’s power rankings, and after averaging a triple double in November and leading the Mavericks to an unexpected strong start in the West, Luka would be number three, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

Now on to this week’s rankings. Check them out here.