Bulls

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.

 

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.

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

The best player in basketball left the Eastern Conference two weeks ago when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Now another top-10 player in the league is on the move, as the Spurs dealt All-Pro Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors, in essence, are going for it. General manager Masai Ujiri made a calculated decision that his current core - or more accurately, his top combination of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan - couldn't get over the hump. They've bowed out to LeBron James and the Cavs each of the last three years (including two sweeps) and, despite James moving to the West, now face legitimate tests in Boston and Philadelphia.

That's why Ujiri was willing to move DeRozan, the face of the franchise who had been with the team since he was drafted there in 2009, for a shot to get over the hump in the East. As talented as the four-time All-Star DeRozan is, he can't match what Leonard brings to the table on both sides of the ball. They also added wing Danny Green in the trade, making them a better team in the short-term.

That's where the Bulls come in.

Both Leonard and Green have one year remaining on their contracts. It's been well-documented that Leonard wants to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, meaning there's a better-than-not chance he plays just one season with the Raptors. Of course we saw what happened with Paul George and the Thunder, so never say never. It just appears likely at this point. Also, Green was more a function of making the dollars and cents work out in the deal; the 31-year-old probably isn't part of Toronto's long-term plans.

In other words, this could be Toronto's last shot. DeRozan had three years left on his contract, and Jakob Poeltl (also part of the deal) is entering the third year of his rookie contract. If the Raptors don't win in 2018 and Leonard bolts for the Lakers or Clippers, Toronto is looking at tearing it all down and entering, more or less, a rebuild phase. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will be on the final years of their contracts, and the team might be willing to build around young role players in Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

That's certainly a team the Bulls could move past in the following two seasons. With a young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Jabari Parker - plus next year's first-round pick - the Bulls will be trending upward as the Raptors attempt to pick up the pieces on a potentially failed dice roll on Leonard. Had the Raptors run it back with DeRozan they'd at least have their core in tact through 2020 (and DeRozan has a player option for 2021).

So while the Raptors were going to be ahead of the Bulls in the standings regardless this year, their window to compete in the long-term closed by swapping DeRozan for Leonard. That's good news for the Bulls in the coming years.