Bulls

Mirotic and Portis' energy starts Bulls' 2016 off on the right foot

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Mirotic and Portis' energy starts Bulls' 2016 off on the right foot

There was one, then before you knew it Nikola Mirotic made a series of game-changing plays for the Bulls, and the surprising part was just one came on the offensive end.

A shocking 35-foot 3-pointer he took almost out of resignation when Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony dared him to do something with it from that far out, as the momentum was careening away from the Knicks midway through the fourth quarter.

Challenge accepted.

“Yeah, literally. You look at my face and I said, ‘oh s***,’” said Jimmy Butler when asked if he was surprised when Mirotic launched the long triple with 10 seconds on the shot clock. “Not even joking I was like damn. He was feeling it, I like that Niko.”

Mirotic’s slump-busting four triples certainly got the Bulls off to a hot start to 2016, as well as Doug McDermott’s consecutive triples that sent the United Center into a frenzy but it was Mirotic’s defense during the decisive 19-4 run that sealed the Bulls’ 108-81 win over the Knicks Friday night.

Mirotic blocked an Anthony layup from behind, snatching a rebound and got his hands on some steals that got the Bulls off and running, playing a huge part in an energetic win that vaults the Bulls to 19-12.

[SHOP: Buy a Bobby Portis jersey]

Surprisingly, the Bulls held the Knicks to just eight points in the fourth quarter, outscoring them by 23 when the Knicks looked to be stalking the Bulls in the middle two quarters.

McDermott himself outscored the Knicks in the fourth with 11, while Mirotic, the second-year struggling forward scored 17 with seven assists and five rebounds.

“He’s had a few like this lately. He had a very efficient night,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, referring to Mirotic’s eight shot attempts and wryly joking about the long triple attempt.  “He rebounded the heck out of the ball. It wasn’t just offense for Niko tonight, I thought he played a complete game.”

Mirotic’s energy was the surprise while Bobby Portis’ was the constant, as he cemented his case for not just a spot in the rotation but consistent minutes when Joakim Noah returns from his shoulder injury.

Portis outdueled fellow rookie Kristaps Porzingis, with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. Porzingis scored nine with nine rebounds in 28 minutes but missed 10 of his 14 shot attempts.

“Absolutely. We’re gonna continue to find minutes for Bobby, no doubt about it,” Hoiberg said. “He’s playing too well. He plays with a toughness and a swagger. He’s not gonna back down from anyone.”

[WATCH: Portis says coming to Bulls is 'best thing to ever happen to him]

The energy that had been lacking through the early part of the season was found on the bench with Portis, which actually overshadows his adeptness at picking up pro concepts and mastering the offense while being aggressive with his shot opportunities.

“You gotta stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Portis said. “It’s something my coaches told me growing up. Every day I came to work and worked as hard as I can. It started paying off. Everything is in God’s hands. It wasn’t my time. I had to work my way up.”

Now Portis has made Hoiberg’s job even more difficult because of the time he’s earned and the admiration he’s garnered from his teammates.

“Every basketball game hypes me up. I love the game of basketball,” he said simply.

Butler led the Bulls with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes, helping hold Anthony to 20 off eight of 18 shooting, as Derrick Rose sat out his second straight game with right hamstring soreness, a cautious measure by the Bulls that at one point seemed to lead to old bad habits.

The inconsistencies reappeared shortly after the Bulls took a rousing 11-0 lead, holding the Knicks to misses on their first nine shots. It ballooned to 17 before the Bulls began letting up with their energy and crispness offensively, translating to the defensive end.

[MORE: Butler battling through thigh injury]

“In the first half our second group struggled a bit, but then we got off to a good lead in the 2nd half,” Hoiberg said.

After all, a team can survive off solid helpings from Mirotic and his outside shooting but for so long, as he played his best stretch of basketball in a long while, seemingly in the first seven minutes.

Mirotic was definitive, aggressive and anything but bashful, abandoning the annoying pump-fake and hitting three triples in the first few minutes as the absence of Rose was barely felt.

It didn’t last long as the Knicks methodically worked themselves back into the contest. Anthony scored 11 in the first half and while he was the only Knick in double-figures, the wealth was spread.

Jose Calderon was effective getting into the paint and hit a pair of triples to make it a manageable six-point game at the half.

But despite the Knicks making their runs in the second and third, the Bulls made it a laugher in the final period, putting some distance between themselves and Knicks—as well as themselves and controversy.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.