Bulls

Mirotic starts, Noah sits in Bulls' preseason win over Pacers

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Mirotic starts, Noah sits in Bulls' preseason win over Pacers

With the regular season seven days away, it appears Fred Hoiberg is beginning to give a glimpse into the decisions he’ll make before the Bulls host Cleveland for the NBA’s season opener.

He started playing his starters heavier minutes against the Indiana Pacers and strategically made substitutions that displayed who he likes on the floor together—like Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic on the frontline—which put veteran center Joakim Noah on the bench.

Whether its more tinkering or his true feelings—or even out of respect for what Noah has meant to this franchise since being drafted in 2007—there certainly appears to be the possibility of a paradigm shift at the position.

Noah played 15 minutes, some due to foul trouble and also because Hoiberg didn’t play the duo together, subbing each other in every quarter in the Bulls’ 103-94 win at the United Center Tuesday night.

“I may keep them together. I thought Noah played great tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I was thinking either Jo or Niko to finish things off. Since Niko didn’t get the minutes last night, we wanted him in there for the last five.”

Hoiberg bemoaned the lack of pace offensively in their loss to the Charlotte Hornets 24 hours prior, so while the players provided the quick pace, Hoiberg’s frontcourt of Gasol and Nikola Mirotic gave the Bulls enough space to operate.

[NBA GM SURVEY: Bulls squarely behind Cavs in the East]

Mirotic hit four triples, including three in the first quarter when he played off Gasol and Jimmy Butler for easy looks, illustrating the new dimension of this offense.

The first was off a double-team from Gasol where he fed the post, leaving defenses to wonder to leave Gasol alone for single coverage or double down as a perfect pick-your-poison option.

The next was off a baseline drive from Butler where he drew multiple defenders and Mirotic just floated to an open spot where Butler could spot him.

Mirotic didn’t play the crunch-time defensive minutes as Hoiberg, as Taj Gibson played those minutes after seeing plenty of time off the bench playing with Noah, playing past his target minute mark of 15 for the second straight night.

“I thought they played very well together,” said Hoiberg of Gibson and Noah together. “I thought Jo gave him some high-low passes. That’s the good thing about this roster, we have the versatility to play a lot of different ways. Hopefully we find the rotation or at least the five to help us finish games.”

The Bulls’ defense improved in the second quarter, holding the Pacers to 11 points and looking quite reminiscent of a different era, while both sets of bigs were on the floor due to deft substitutions which gave them plenty of time in each quarter.

Holding the Pacers, a team that wants to get out to early offense just the same as the Bulls, to under 40 percent shooting is no minor feat.

They had to survive the Paul George early onslaught, where the All-Star who’s a little over a year away from a gruesome injury in Las Vegas decided to show up in regular season form.

He scored 15 of his game-high 26 in the first quarter while grabbing 13 rebounds in 35 minutes, outplaying his counterpart Butler.

[RELATED: Hoiberg likes McDermott coming off bench for Bulls]

Butler scored 12 with six assists and five rebounds while the bench guards, Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore, two players who want to stay in the rotation when Derrick Rose makes his return, made his own case.

“I thought they were better after that first stretch where we dug ourselves a hole,” said Hoiberg of the bench. “Our bench really got it turned around for us and got us going.”

Brooks hit four 3-pointers on his way to 22 points, six assists and five rebounds while Moore hit 5 of 7 from the field for 13 points and seven rebounds. He guarded George for a stretch in the fourth and did more than held his own.

But whether its experimenting or a sign of things to come, another layer of this Bulls season was revealed, with more questions yet to be answered.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

Kelly Crull, Mark Strotman and Will Perdue react to the news that Kris Dunn will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: 

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.