Bulls

In matchup against King James with President Obama on hand, Hoiberg avoids pressure

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In matchup against King James with President Obama on hand, Hoiberg avoids pressure

Nearly five years ago, Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career in Ames, Iowa, with a 78-64 victory over Northern Arizona in his first regular season game as Iowa State’s head basketball coach. A shade under 13,000 fans were in attendance at the Hilton Coliseum, which held 14,356 at the time, to see the Cyclones knock off a Lumberjacks team that eventually won 19 games and lost in the opening round of the CIT, college basketball’s lowest postseason tournament.

Half a decade later, the scene couldn’t be more different for Hoiberg. He’ll begin his NBA head coaching career Tuesday night inside a sold out United Center against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And as if the NBA’s first nationally televised game against the league’s best player wasn't enough, President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in attendance to cheer on his hometown Bulls.

Hoiberg admitted five years ago he was “very calm” in his debut with Iowa State, and despite the pressure-packed atmosphere awaiting him against the Cavaliers with the Commander-in-Chief on hand, he said at shootaround Tuesday afternoon that he's more opportunistic than anything.

“Very anxious, very excited,” Hoiberg said. “The opportunity to play a team that’s favored to win an NBA championship this year. To go out, it’ll be a great barometer for our guys to see where we are after this opening night, and then we get to do it all over again tomorrow with a back-to-back. Tonight, it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time. I know our players will be ready.”

When asked specifically about a President, a King (James' nickname) and a Mayor (Hoiberg's nickname) being in attendance, the Bulls head coach admitted with a laugh, "I'm probably the lowest on the totem pole on that one."

[MORE: President Obama expected in attendance for Bulls-Cavaliers]

The storyline heading into the season opener for the Bulls is once again dealing with James, whose teams have knocked Chicago out of the postseason in four of the last six seasons – twice with Cleveland in 2010 and 2015, and twice with Miami in 2011 and 2013. With a nearly identical group returning from a year ago, when the injury-riddled Cavaliers knocked them out in the East semifinals, the Bulls’ hope is that a new philosophy under Hoiberg, specifically one tailored to the offensive end, will allow the Bulls to succeed where Tom Thibodeau-led groups failed.

And yet, for the hoopla surrounding Tuesday night’s affair, Hoiberg and the Bulls have maintained a level-headed approach, understanding that the outcome is simply one of 82 games that will define the season as two teams on a collision course to meet again in the postseason get their collective feet under them.

"We're definitely all in. We're focused and know its going to take time. We're working hard every day to make it the best possible, and its a good vibe over here," Joakim Noah said. "We know we have a lot of work to do. It's Game 1, and I'm excited to see how we compete tonight."

Neither team will be at the full-strength they hope to be come postseason, part of the reason Hoiberg isn't feeling as much pressure and is taking a long-term approach heading into the opener. James missed the final four preseason games after receiving an injection to deal with back pain, both Kyrie Irving (knee) and Iman Shumpert (wrist) will miss Tuesday’s game with injuries, and Anderson Varejao returns to the floor for the first time since tearing his Achilles 10 months ago.

For the Bulls, Derrick Rose will have his minutes monitored as he battles back from an orbital fracture that limited him to three practices and one 10-minute appearance in the preseason. Mike Dunleavy remains out after offseason back surgery. Tuesday's outcome will have little bearing on whether the Bulls can or will dethrone James in seven months, meaning Game 1 is just that.

“Obviously throughout the course of the season, a lot of things will transpire by the time the playoffs roll around, so I don’t think you look at that from Day 1," Hoiberg. "You know as the pressure of you have to get by this team. Because there’s so many variables that can happen over the course of the season.

“But they are the team if you want to make it to the finals and have a chance, they’re the favorites. You just try to prepare the guys as best you can.”

[MORE: Derrick Rose set to start against LeBron, Cavaliers]

Hoiberg's preparation has, in the early going, yielded mixed results as the team familiarizes itself with a new up-tempo offensive scheme. The Bulls averaged 28.8 3-point attempts in the preseason, fifth most in the NBA and 6.5 more than they took a year ago under Thibodeau (22.3). There will be bumps along the way, and question marks about the team's defense will linger, but Noah is confident the Bulls' hard-work mentality which defined them the last five seasons will remain, regardless.

"We're all learning from each other and tonight I think it's going to be interesting just to see how we compete." Noah said. "There's going to be mistakes out there, were all learning different philosophies out there. But for me it's just about the energy we're going to bring to the game."

Noah, who will come off the bench for the first time since his second NBA season, shared the same approach as his head coach. Though he thinks it "awesome" that Obama will be in attendance, and knows better than anyone the task of eventually going head-to-head with James in the postseason, Tuesday night is about beginning the season on the right foot and coming away with a victory.

“Obviously there's a great level of respect for him as a player," Noah said of James, the two-time NBA champion. "You've got to respect everything that he does on the court. He's a great player. (But) we just want to beat the Cavs."

Our first look at the full NBA 2K20 roster models for the 2019-20 Bulls

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USA TODAY

Our first look at the full NBA 2K20 roster models for the 2019-20 Bulls

The release date of NBA 2K20 is near and as the September 6 release date gets closer, Bulls fans are finally getting a look at the full roster in video game form. 

Among the things that stand out in the video from Sports & Gaming Journalist Brian Mazique, the things that stood out the most was the new Zenni patch on the Bulls uniforms, which now has a light blue background to make the patch stand out a bit more. 

We had already seen how 2019 rookies Coby White and Daniel Gafford look but Thursday represented our first look at players like new Bulls Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky and the longest-tenured Bull, Brazilian big man Cristiano Felicio.

Young currently sports a short-haircut after having more an afro in the 2019 season, so only time will tell if 2K will update his look before the season kicks off on October 22. 

Also fully visible in the video are the overall 2K ratings of all players on the team including Satoransky (75), Young (79), Wendell Carter Jr. (78), Otto Porter (80), Lauri Markkanen (83) and Zach LaVine (85).

Based off of what we see in the video, NBA fans can expect to see the Bulls simulate pretty well in NBA 2K20 as the roster's veteran talent will provide some balance as the young core develops, much like what the Bulls front office is hoping for in real life. 

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Lauri Markkanen makes the top 35 NBCsport's 50 best players in 5 years

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen makes the top 35 NBCsport's 50 best players in 5 years

Over the summer the NBA team over at NBC Sports undertook a fun project in which they ranked the top 50 talents in the NBA in 2024. 

NBCSports.com's 50 best players in 5 years list is an interesting snapshot into the future of the league. Writers included Dan FeldmanTom HaberstrohRob DausterTommy BeerSteve Alexander, and Kurt Helin

While it is was fun to see where aging versions of Steph Curry (36 in 2024) and Klay Thomspon (34 in 2024) rank, the most interesting names on the list were the young talents who are projected to stars in the near future. Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen made the top 35, coming in at No. 34 on the list.

In the 2024 season, Markkanen will be 27 years old and theoretically, smack dab in the middle of his prime.

Coming into the 2019-20 season, 'The Finnisher' is on quite a roll. In his age-21 season, he averaged 20.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes and posted a career-best 55.3 true shooting percentage. 

The Bulls will need to Markkanen to step up his effort in terms of defense and rebounding, with the absence of Robin Lopez putting more stress on the frontcourt to pick up the slack in that department. Kurt Hellin acknowledged that if he can focus on consistency and commitment to D, the sky is truly the limit for Markkanen. 

The question is, can he [Markkanen] reach that ceiling consistently? He’s only 22, but he has yet to come anywhere near that.....If Markkanen can become a more consistent offensive force and better on the defensive end — he’s not a bad defender, he’s okay, but with his length and athleticism he should be a better rim protector — he can take over the role as the alpha on the Bulls

See the rest of NBCSports.com's 50 best players in 5 years list below:

Players 50-46

Players 45-41

Players 40-36

Players 35-31