Bulls

Montrezl Harrell brings talent, high energy to the NBA

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Montrezl Harrell brings talent, high energy to the NBA

It's not difficult to locate Montrezl Harrell.

It's not his chiseled 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame that makes him look more like an NFL tight end than Louisville power forward. It's not his unmistakable dreadlocks, either. Rather, the 21-year-old is easy to find as the one winning every 50-50 ball. He's the one fighting for offensive rebounds with multiple efforts. He's the one above the rim finishing an alley-oop with a dunk topped only in ferocity by his boisterous reaction.

The terms "high energy" and "never-ending motor" are usually reserved for fringe prospects who lack in talent and are hoping to find an NBA home based on their effort.

For Harrell, a first-round prospect, it's what he hopes he's ultimately defined as at the next level.

"You can come in and play with high energy and high passion every night (and) it will take you a long way," he said at last week's NBA Draft Combine. "And that’s just what I bring to the table every night. Every time I step on the court, no matter if it’s workouts, no matter if it’s games or practice, I go 110 percent every time because that’s just the way I play."

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile - Louisville F Montrezl Harrell]

Harrell also brought production to the Cardinals. In his junior season, a year after winning a national championship, he averaged 15.7 points on 56 percent shooting, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 35.1 minutes per game. He took over the leadership reins left behind by Russ Smith and helped the Cardinals to 27 wins - including 12 in the program's first year in the highly competitive ACC - and an Elite Eight appearance.

It was both another step in role and production for the talented forward. As a freshman he came off the bench behind the talented duo of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan. As a sophomore he entered the starting lineup and played a critical role in the championship season, though he deferred to Smith as the de-facto team leader. But with Smith graduated as Behanan kicked off the team, 2015 was Harrell's chance to shine.

And playing in a conference that touted the eventual national champion in Duke as well as three other teams who finished the season ranked in the top-20, it was Harrell who led the way. He showed off an improved mid-range game in his final two seasons, was a monster on the offensive glass and, more importantly, set the tone for his teammates with his high-energy attitude.

"He brings high energy," said Louisville guard Terry Rozier. "You love that about him. There were a lot of games this year where you just felt down, but his high energy impacts the whole game and makes you play harder."

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It's why he'll hear his name called as early as the lottery on June 25 - Rotoworld's Ed Issacson currently has Harrell slated to go No. 19 to Washington. Though he may not tout the same upside as those younger players slotted in the mid teens like a Kevon Looney or a Myles Turner, his floor is considerably higher.

His undersized height - he's a bit of a tweener at 6-foot-8 who will need to play in the post - there's no substitute for his rebounding instincts and high energy. At worst he's a second unit spark plug; at best he becomes Kenneth Faried, a comparison he both respects and called "a great compliment."

The Bulls could entertain the idea of selecting Harrell if there isn't a player they feel best suits their immediate needs, notably point guard and center on the second unit. Gar Forman will look to replace Nazr Mohammed, while the near futures of both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah leave some mystery. Though they have assumed foundations in Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson, adding a piece like Harrell to help with a team that struggled mightily on the defensive glass this past season would be beneficial.

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Whether it's the Bulls or another team looking to shore up its frontline, Harrell's message for NBA organizations is a simple one.

"They’re never going to have to worry about thinking I’m not coming to work every day, because I am," Harrell said. "I’m coming in from Day 1 to put not only myself in the best situation, but put our team in the best situation to be successful."

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.