Bulls

Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

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Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

BROOKLYN -- Being a brainless player can be a compliment or put-down depending on its context, considering it keeps some players glued to the bench when coaches can’t trust their instincts.

For Nikola Mirotic, he’s being urged to turn the brain off and just play, receiving some extra prodding from the man who’ll likely benefit from his mere presence on the floor, Derrick Rose.

“I hate when he hesitates. Hate when he hesitates,” Rose repeated for emphasis after the Bulls’ blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, where they clinched homecourt advantage for the first-round series that starts this weekend.

Mirotic found himself open on a few occasions and didn’t feel comfortable letting loose early. Perhaps the thought of being unselfish was in his head but when the decision was made to flip the switch to “off”, that’s when
Mirotic got off and earned the admiration of a 50-50 crowd at Barclays Center Monday night.

“In the first half, they (teammates) were telling me, ‘Niko, don’t think, just shoot the ball. You’re wide open. Don’t pump fake’,” Mirotic said.

[MORE: Sharing is caring as the Bulls dismantle Nets in Brooklyn]

He was. The Nets defense couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement and while trying to keep a handle on the Bulls’ guard penetration, left a gaping hole on the perimeter in the form of Mirotic.

“Gotta shoot. Gotta shoot,” Rose said. “That’s the way the offense is, If you’re open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we’re not gonna get mad. Shoot the ball.”

The game dictated that shots were given to Mirotic and finally, he accepted the challenge in the third quarter, hitting three straight to finish the period—only missing a corner triple at the buzzer.

“They’re right. I just need to shoot because when I think, I miss the shot,” Mirotic said. “So when I don’t think, I make the shot. I made the first one, the second one and there you go, keep shooting.”

Mirotic led the Bulls with 26 on the evening, hitting six of his eight field goals from long range. Considering he came from overseas with such a well-earned reputation as a shooter, hitting 31 percent from three seems a little puzzling on its face.

But he had the ability to create more overseas, and now he’s just getting used to recognizing when he’s open on the catch, and just letting it fly. Chances are, he’s heard you yelling at your screen when he hesitates in such matters.

“The shots were more handoffs, and like catch and shoot,” Mirotic said. “The movement sometimes being gone, so they’re not easy shots. But when you start making shots I’m making, they start learning me, start to play better defense on me. It’s not easy.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Nikola Mirotic jersey here]

After having the freedom to create when Rose was out with injury, he’ll have fewer of those opportunities en masse—but with Rose on the floor, they open things up for each other. Rose found driving lanes that hadn’t been available in the past two games, which he’s attributed to playing more with Mirotic.

“I want to play with him a little bit more,” Rose said. “But the people I’ve been playng with, Taj (Gibson) Pau (Gasol), (Joakim Noah), I think we’ve done a great job. With Niko on the floor it’s another dimension, the way he spaces the floor. “

And now as the league has started to zero in on what Mirotic likes to do, he’ll have to ramp up the intensity for the upcoming postseason—while turning down the volume in his head.

“It’s normal, a really big adjustment. A lot of ups and downs,” said Mirotic of his fluctuating confidence. “I’m working hard the last part of the season. I’m working hard to prepare myself for the playoffs. Sometimes I play more, sometimes I play less. The chance is here so you have to play your part.”

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.