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A more aggressive Derrick Rose benefiting Bulls

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A more aggressive Derrick Rose benefiting Bulls

 

Derrick Rose had his best outside shooting performance of the season in Thursday's win over the Thunder, connecting on five of his 11 attempts taken outside the painted area. Four of those makes came in the decisive fourth quarter, including three makes during his 10-point stretch in the game's final minutes as the Bulls pulled away for a 104-96 victory.

Rose has admitted that the double vision he's playing with has made it increasingly more difficult to take outside shots, which could be a blessing in disguise for the Bulls; Rose has yet to make a 3-pointer in nine tries, but those nine attempts in six games are noteworthy considering he hoisted nine triples by the end of the Bulls' second game a year ago.

Instead, Rose is attacking. Whether it's the double vision keeping him from shooting jumpers or him having more confidence in his knees after his first healthy offseason in four years, early in the year the Bulls point guard is finding his way to the paint, and it's paying off.

Thursday night Rose drove to the basket a season-high 14 times, per NBA.com's SportVU data. On those drives to the basket he went 6-for-9 and made three trips to the free throw line. He also made one pass on those 14 drives, finding Jimmy Butler for a dunk midway through the second quarter.

[GOODWILL: Judged every game, Rose turns in his best of the season]

Rose's aggressiveness toward the basket was a sight for sore eyes, as his drive attempts had decreased in each game since opening night, when he logged 11 drives in a win over the Cavaliers. But it's that style of play that wasn't seen as often a year ago that leaves plenty of room for optimism that Rose, while it may not be in MVP form, is getting back to his old ways.

As of Friday morning, Rose ranked fourth in the NBA with 5.5 field goal attempts coming off drives. On those field goal attempts - and subsequent free throw opportunities - he has averaged 7.7 points per game, accounting for nearly 58 percent of his 13.3 points per game. Those points per game rank fifth in the NBA, and his 51.5 field goal percentage on those attempts is 11th in the NBA. For reference, he's sandwiched between LeBron James (52.5%) and Russell Westbrook (51.4%) in that category. Not bad company.

And while six games makes for an incredibly small sample size, Rose's Rose's 9.3 drives per game - 12th most in the NBA - are two more than the 7.3 drives he took last season. While he's yet to make a 3-pointer he's also attempting just 1.5 triples per game, far fewer than the career-high 5.3 he averaged a season ago.

[MORE: Win over Thunder shows 'the guys really care']

It's also worth noting that Rose has averaged 58.2 passes per game, up from the 53.8 he averaged a year ago. Five or so extra passes may not seem like a lot, but combined with the two fewer field goal attempts per game he's averaging has made for a more efficient Rose, even while his field goal percentage stands below 40 percent.

All the kinks haven't been worked out less than two weeks into the season, as Rose is still dealing with the aforementioned double vision while figuring out how to play within Fred Hoiberg's offensive system. But the early returns have Rose playing more aggressively than he did a year ago, finding better looks and looking to attack rather than settle for outside jumpers. His mid-range game brought home a victory Thursday night, but it's Rose's increased drives to the basket that have freed up the offense and allowed him to find better looks.

The narrative has been that Rose's vision problems while shooting the ball has forced him to become a facilitator, and his assists are up from a year ago. However, those vision problems have also turned him loose as an attacker, more like the "vintage" Rose of old.

 

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

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USA TODAY

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

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