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NBA Draft: Looney's rebounding could prove useful to Bulls

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NBA Draft: Looney's rebounding could prove useful to Bulls

Of the 24 five-star recruits in the Rivals' Class of 2014, 10 were power forwards or centers. Two of those players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, are expected to be the first two names Adam Silver calls on June 25 at the NBA Draft. Two others, Trey Lyles and Myles Turner, should be gone by the end of the lottery.

And yet, perhaps the best one-and-done rebounder from that class may be UCLA's Kevon Looney.

The 6-foot-9 forward's 15 double-doubles were most in the country among freshmen - the next closest was Duke's Jahlil Okafor, who tallied 11 - and fourth most among all players in power conferences. He led all freshman in rebounding (9.2 per game) and complemented his prowess on the glass with stellar defensive work, averaging 1.3 steals and nearly a block per game.

His defensive rating (97.0) and Defensive Win Shares (2.0) were team-bests and ranked top-15 in the Pac-12. Looney certainly has a knack for finding missed shots, though he's also helped greatly by his 7-foot-4 wingspan, which measured fourth longest at last month's combine.

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It was a trait he believed he'd excel in, averaging nearly 13 rebounds per game in his final high school season in Milwaukee. A five-star McDonald's All-American, Looney was ranked No. 10 in the Rivals class and arrived in Los Angeles with high expectations that he by in-large met, thanks to his rebounding and defensive acumen.

"I rebounded really good," Looney said of his lone season at UCLA. "Coming out of high school I played against guys that were smaller so it was like, ‘Can he do that against bigger guys?’ And I did that, so I proved I can do that and can take it to another level."

Now he'll be tasked with doing it at the final level. He's undersized at 210 pounds with a broad-shouldered frame that certainly can - and will - put on weight. The Bruins' roster necessitated Looney playing inside, though he's shown tendencies and natural ability to play on the perimeter. What he lacks for in sheer quickness for a player his size he makes up for with his length and basketball IQ. His offensive numbers - 11.6 points on 47 percent shooting - were helped by his 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, and adding to his offensive arsenal in a more free-flowing NBA offense should help him greatly.

All Looney's traits and potential upside fit with what the Bulls will be looking for this offseason. For all the offensive imperfections that surfaced late in the year, one of Chicago's most critical shortcomings came on the defensive glass. Their fifth-best rebound differential (+2.3) was a bit misleading, as they ranked 19th in defensive rebound percentage in the regular season - Thibodeau's worst mark in five seasons with the Bulls - and were worst among playoff teams that advanced past the first round.

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Pau Gasol led the NBA in double-doubles, Nikola Mirotic's defensive rebounding rate was solid for a player of his skill set, and Taj Gibson was still a plus-defender despite battling through various ankle injuries. But Joakim Noah's status with the Bulls past next year could leave an open spot in the frontcourt, and the Bulls' current wings - specifically Tony Snell and Doug McDermott - are more offensive, perimeter-oriented threats that don't offer much defensive worth, and even less value on the glass.

Looney could be an option for the Bulls at No. 22 if he's still available - Rotoworld's most recent mock draft had Looney going No. 17 to Milwaukee, while Draft Express has him pegged at No. 20 to the Raptors  - despite Fred Hoiberg having more glaring offseason needs, notably backup point guard and center.

Considering the vast differences in skill sets currently in the Bulls' frontcourt, Looney would have three solid veterans to learn from and guide him, as he's still a project offensively and will need to add weight before logging serious minutes in the paint. Still, in Hoiberg's expected up-tempo offense having a player such as Looney who can, at times, handle the ball, pass well (1.4 assists per game) and run the floor would make him a solid fit in Chicago.

Above all, his rebounding can't be overlooked. 

"I have a knack for getting the ball. It comes naturally to me so that’s something I take pride in," he said. "I think I’ll be able to do it on the next level. I don’t know if I’ll do it at the same level I did at UCLA right away, but I think over time I’ll definitely be one of the best rebounders."

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

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USA Today

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

The significance of his first opening night as head coach? Jim Boylen wasn’t biting.

Opening with four of five games against teams that didn’t make last season’s playoffs, including Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C.? Boylen steered clear of that.

Addressing the goal stated on media day to make the playoffs? Lauri Markkanen added a qualifier.

“No promises,” he said. “But that’s the goal, for sure.”

The Bulls officially closed training camp Tuesday with a one-game-at-a-time and bunker mentality that would make any fan of clichés proud. They’re focused on the Hornets---and nothing of greater significance for now.

“We don’t talk about playoff team, non-playoff team. We’re talking about Charlotte,” Boylen said. “We’re going to play as hard as we can against Charlotte. That’s what we can control. And then we’ll move on.”

Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are scheduled to start. Chandler Hutchison, who increased his on-court work but has yet to practice because of a hamstring issue, is the only injured player. Boylen said he’d announce his other inactive player besides Hutchison Wednesday.

“I just want to help the team,” Boylen said, elaborating on the significance of his first opening night as head coach. “As a head coach, sometimes you help them and sometimes you let them help themselves. I want to be there for them, support them. Hopefully we honor our principles. We do our basics better, the best we can, and see what happens.”

Boylen wouldn’t touch the subject. But even with all four games against last season’s non-playoff teams coming on the road, getting off to a fast start is essential.

Beyond the fact it will continue the good vibes that began with a widely praised offseason and through voluntary September workouts, the Bulls are relatively healthy. And the close to their schedule offers some brutal tests, so building a cushion early would bolster playoff talk.

“That’s what we’re trying to do---start off strong,” Markkanen said. “That sets the pace for the rest of the year. We’re going one game at a time, but it’s really important for us to get these.”

The Bulls visit Memphis to face a rebuilding Grizzlies team and No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant on Friday. They will navigate the two-game trip following a preseason in which they played at a faster pace than last season and averaged 39.4 3-pointers per game. That ranked ninth in the league after finishing 27th with just 25.9 attempts last season.

“I think we get a ton of open looks,” Markkanen said. “I’ve had good looks and my teammates have as well. We’re playing unselfish basketball, sharing the ball, making the extra pass. I think it’s going to help us.”

Despite all the optimism and addition of 12-year veteran Thad Young, the Bulls remain young, the league’s second-youngest team behind the Suns. Questions about depth and defensive efficiency are legitimate.

The tests start for real Wednesday.

“I’ve seen a group of guys that want to do the right things,” Boylen said. “It’s a high character group. It’s a willing group. Our care factor is high and I expect for us to care for each other, play for each other, sacrifice for each other. I think we’ll do that well.” 

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Bulls sign guard Max Strus to a two-way contract

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USA Today

Bulls sign guard Max Strus to a two-way contract

The Bulls announced today they have signed guard Max Strus to a two-way contract. Strus went undrafted during the 2019 NBA Draft before being signed by the Boston Celtics during preseason. He played in four preseason games for the Celtics, averaging 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists.

The Celtics waived Strus to make way with athletic wing Javonte Green on the final roster.

Max Strus is a Chicagoland native, growing in Hickory Hills and attending Amos Alonzo Stagg High School. Strus played college basketball at Lewis University in Romeoville before playing for the DePaul Blue Demons.

Standing at six-foot-five and 215 pounds, Strus was named to the All Big-East Second Team after averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 35 games during his senior 2018-19 season. As a senior he played 29-straight games with double-figure scoring and set DePaul season records with 113 3-pointers and 311 3-point attempts. His career scoring average of 18.6 points per game with the fourth best in DePaul history.

We’re excited to have Strus back in Chicago and ready to see what he brings to the Bulls when their season starts tomorrow against Charlotte.

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