Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Thomas, Celtics make a statement

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NBA Power Rankings: Thomas, Celtics make a statement

The race for the No. 3 seed in the East is heating up.

The Celtics took a significant step forward in that department by knocking off the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday night. Isaiah Thomas had a career night, going toe-to-toe with Steph Curry in scoring 22 points and handing out six assists. Jared Sullinger added 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Evan Turner added 21 points in the crucial victory.

With Jae Crowder back in the lineup, they've got a good chance to move past the Hawks and hold off the Heat for the third seed, which would both give them homecourt advantage in the first round and avoid the Cavaliers in the East semifinals.

See how each of the 30 teams stacked up in this week's edition of the NBA Power Rankings:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) 69-8 The chase for 73 wins is still intact if they can finish the season 4-1. It will be interesting to see how Gregg Popovich plays his cards in the two remaining Spurs-Warriors games to end the year.
(2) 64-12 Now owners of the league's longest home winning streak, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge each went for 30+ points in a win over the Raptors. Yep, they're ready for the postseason.
(3) 55-22 LeBron James continued his tear this past week, and the Cavs picked up impressive victories against the Hawks and Hornets. Seems like they're righting the ship.
4 (4) 53-24 There isn't a better 1-2 combo in the league than KD and Russ, Steph and Klay included. But a league-lead 13 blown fourth quarter leads does not bode well in the playoffs. They need to close better.
5 (5) 51-25 They're entrenched in the No. 2 seed in the East, but they can make statements about their postseason potential against the Hornets and Hawks this week. 
6 (7) 45-32 There isn't a bigger statement to make than knocking off a healthy Warriors team at Oracle. But that's what Brad Stevens' group did, and they're now tied with the Hawks for third in the East.
7 (8) 48-28 Blake Griffin is finally back. They're basically locked in the No. 4 seed, but getting Griffin up to speed before the postseason will be their biggest hurdle to close out the regular season.
8 (6) 45-32 They failed both big tests this week against the Raptors and Cavaliers. Still, they're playing well enough that they could wind up with the No. 3 seed. Saturday's tilt against Boston could decide it.
9 (10) 44-32 Winners in five of seven has them in contention for the No. 3 seed. Sunday's wire-to-wire loss in Cleveland was a bit of a reality check in terms of where they are. Still, that offense is dangerous.
10 (9) 44-32 A trip out west resulted in a 1-2 record, including a head-scratching loss to the Lakers. Still, they're very much in the running for the coveted No. 3 seed. That means avoiding the Cavs in Round 2.
11 (12) 41-37 Winners in four of five, combined with Memphis' free fall, has the Blazers one-half game behind the Grizzlies for the fifth seed. That means avoiding the Thunder and instead getting the Clippers.
12 (15) 41-36 Detroit's magic number for a playoff berth is three. And despite a difficult stretch to end the year, they should be in after Saturday's road win over the Bulls.
13 (11) 41-36 Wins are wins, that much is true. But the Pacers needed late-game surges to beat the Sixers and Knicks. They should get in, but they're hardly playing good basketball down the stretch.
14 (16) 39-38 Winners in six of eight, with their only losses to Golden State and Oklahoma City, the Jazz appear primed to grab one of the final two playoff spots.
15 (14) 38-39 They're still a game behind Dallas and Utah for a playoff spot in the West, but Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Thunder could give them the boost they need down the stretch.
16 (19) 39-38 Four straight wins over sub-.500 teams was exactly what they needed to get back into the playoff race. As expected, Wednesday's tilt against the Rockets could be the decider.
17 (18) 39-38 Saturday's home loss to the Pistons may have burst their playoff bubble, but Jimmy Butler isn't going down without a fight. He was magnificent during the Bulls' five-game week.
18 (17) 37-40 Nothing says you've bowed out of the playoff picture than a nine-point loss to the Kings. They're four games back with five to play. In other words, ready the ping pong balls.
19 (13) 41-36 Uh oh. The Grizzlies have lost six straight and could fall as far as seventh or eighth in the West. That, of course, means a first round exit at the hands of the Warriors or Spurs.
20 (20) 31-46 It's time to start scoreboard watching for the Kings, who are just two games ahead of the Nuggets for the 11th best record. The Bulls get Sacramento's pick if it falls outside the top 10. 
21 (24) 33-44 They knocked off Chicago and Indiana to end March, and can affect the Eastern Conference standings with games against Detroit, Miami (twice) and Charlotte to end the year.
22 (25) 32-45 Point Giannis is no longer a temporary deal, and he was magnificent in Sunday's loss to the Bulls, going for a career-high 34 points and nine assists.
23 (26) 29-47 Tim Frazier is playing himself into a solid role next season for the Pelicans. He went for 19 points and 13 assists in Sunday's win over the Nets.
24 (22) 31-47 In yet another lost season, the Knicks were able to salvage a season series split with the Nets with a 14-point win. That's the extent of the Knicks' positives right now.
25 (21) 32-46 The schedule makers did the Nuggets no favors to end the season. Denver finishes with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah and Portland.
26 (23) 25-52 It came in a losing effort, but Karl-Anthony Towns added another chapter to his historic rookie year on Sunday: 11 points, 21 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and a block against the Mavs. Wow.
27 (29) 16-60 For a team 46 games below .500 there are signs of optimism. The latest came on Julius Randle's game-winner in a home victory over the Heat. And they've got the No. 2 lottery spot locked up.
28 (27) 21-56 Shutting down Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young would make a lot more sense if the Nets had rights to their first round pick this year. They're a game up on Phoenix for the third worst record.
29 (28) 20-57 This week they passed the Sixers for worst in the NBA in points allowed per game (107.6). A healthy Eric Bledsoe will help next year, but this season can't end quickly enough.
30 (30) 9-68 They've wrapped up the league's worst record by losing 25 of their last 26 games. Even by #TheProcess's standards that's pretty brutal. Ben Simmons might not even be able to fix this mess.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.