Bulls

Nikola Mirotic apologizes for missing walkthrough, is confused about benching

Nikola Mirotic apologizes for missing walkthrough, is confused about benching

Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic missed the team’s afternoon walkthrough Friday before their game against the Milwaukee Bucks, telling team officials he forgot about the walkthough.

“I came late for our meeting here, I apologized to the teammates and coaches,” Mirotic said.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Mirotic, who did not play Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t excused.

“Niko was in early this morning. He was the first guy in the gym getting in extra work,” Hoiberg said. “I had a good meeting with him. Obviously we don't know the circumstances yet [of missing walkthrough], but I'll talk to him as soon as I'm done with this (media) session here.”

Being that it was the first “DNP- Coach’s Decision” of Mirotic’s career, and followed by him missing the walkthrough, the question of it being an act of defiance is natural.

Mirotic said the initial benching was surprising, the first bold move Hoiberg has made this season.

“No, I’m not that kind of guy,” Mirotic said after the Bulls’ 95-69 loss to the Bucks, as he was the only healthy Bull who didn’t play. “Even if things are not how I’d like them to be, I’m a professional. It’s not my first year here. Those guys respect me, I respect them, I wouldn’t do anything like that. I just forgot. Just (stuff) happens.”

Mirotic has been known as a team guy even through his struggles, so one can write off the incident as bad timing after what was sure to be a frustrating night.

Mirotic was replaced by Bobby Portis in the rotation in Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, and only scored in double figures one time in seven December games.

On the heels of shooting 34 percent this month and 22 percent from 3, the optics of a struggling player missing a team workout certainly makes it look worse.

“It’s been difficult,” Mirotic said. “First time in my career this is happening but it’s the coach’s decision and I gotta respect that. There’s not too much I can say about that.”

Hoiberg said it was a fineable offense, and after the two talked Friday morning at the Advocate Center, Hoiberg felt Mirotic was in a good place — relatively.

“He was as good as he can be in a situation like that,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, any competitor isn't going to be happy when you get taken out of a lineup. But talking to him about keeping himself ready ... It was good to see him in there this morning getting in extra work and getting up extra shots, keeping himself prepared when his name was called, and that's what we talked about.

“Obviously he's going to get another chance this year. He's got to keep working, keep himself ready, and when opportunity comes, go out and play well.”

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

In this edition of the Windy City roundup we look at JaKarr Sampson, who has been playing well in an intriguing role with the Windy City Bulls.

Sampson, a two-year player at St. John’s University, averaged 13 PPG and 6 RPG on 46 percent in his college career. However, the most impressive part of his college resume were the hustle stats. Over his two seasons in college, Sampson averaged just over two offensive rebounds per game and racked up 125 combined steals/blocks.

That mentality has followed him to the pros, where he has been great at getting to the rim, drawing fouls and blocking shots.

But Sampson hasn’t been spectacular with his finishing in the NBA. And on top of that, the lack of (any) noticeable progress with his shooting stroke makes it hard to find a spot for him, even in the increasingly position-less NBA.

But the Windy City Bulls and head coach Charlie Henry have been using Sampson as a small-ball center, with intriguing results.


Through 6 games in the 2018-19 NBA G League season, Sampson is averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field.

He is one of the tallest players on the team as, Windy City has no players taller than 6-foot 8 on the roster. Despite starting a 6-foot 8 player at center, Windy City has the 2nd best defensive rating in the league (100.6) over the last five games.

And while he has helped the Bulls have a great NBA G League defense, his offensive value also offers upside. Sampson has been able to use his quickness to beat lumbering bigs off the dribble. He has also gotten slightly better at timing his rolls to the basket to receive dump off passes from his guards.

For pretty much the first time in Sampson’s basketball career (even dating back to high school) he is starting to make an earnest attempt to stretch his range out to the 3-point line. He is taking just over two 3-point attempts per game. While he is shooting a poor 28 percent from deep, those couple 3-point attempts per night help Windy City’s offense by dragging opposing bigs out of the paint to contest shots.

Sampson’s aggressiveness is at an all-time high with the Bulls. He has a gargantuan usage rate that is north of 30 percent, impressive considering that he hasn’t had to shoulder a heavy load on offense in quite some time. He is turning the ball over a considerable amount and that is perhaps the one thing knocking down his offensive value.

He has an impressive assist rate from the center spot, so the skill is there and simply needs to be raised a level. That obviously becomes much easier when you play with better teammates.

If Sampson was to play with the Chicago Bulls, he obviously would be a low-usage player. This in turn could make his solid passing ability a huge plus, since the Bulls have some interesting offensive pieces with Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen all returning to join Zach LaVine in the rotation.

And with Sampson showing that he can be effective against centers who are non-scoring threats, he would be a nice player to give spot minutes to when Wendell Carter Jr. is in foul trouble (especially early in games).

Succeeding at the highest levels in today’s NBA is all about the 3-point shot, lineup versatility and a commitment to the defensive side of the ball. And Sampson checks off two of the three boxes with certainty, making him a solid bet to be one of the next Windy City Bulls players to receive a call up.

Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs

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USA TODAY

Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs

The Bulls have struggled to close out games in the 2018-19 season and a big part of that was the absence of point guard Kris Dunn. Despite being a limited shooter throughout his young NBA career, he was actually a pivotal offensive player for the Bulls in clutch situations last season. Dunn (again) showed off just how valuable he can be in late-game situations on Saturday night.

In a game where the Spurs held a 21-point lead, the Bulls rode the offense of Lauri Markkanen and Dunn to a comeback victory. Dunn and Markkanen combined for 47 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists in the win.

Guard play was the key in this win though, as Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono were the few players determined to take smart shots while also getting to the ball to Markkanen when he had a mismatch. Everyone on the roster needs to work more on post-entry passes to Markkanen, as we have seen how awesome the results can be for an offense short on shot-makers.

But Dunn can become one of those shot-makers. We all know that to reach his absolute ceiling, his 3-point jump shot will need to develop. However, if he focuses heavily on getting to his “sweet spots” on the floor, he will ultimately mitigate any concerns about his shot.

Against the Spurs Dunn was 0-2 from the 3-point line but finished 4-7 on shots inside the paint, which contributed to the Bulls outscoring San Antonio 42-32 on points in the paint.

The Bulls are still struggling to score inside and were mostly helped by playing a Spurs team that is similarly awful at the 3-point shot, and not great at generating free throws. But a road win over the Spurs is impressive considering the turmoil surrounding this Bulls team.

Chicago was burned by a 3-point flurry from Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Patty Mills in the second quarter. But the Bulls settled down and really locked-in defensively in the 2nd half. The Bulls collected 12 steals and 8 blocks in San Antonio, including a big-time double swat from the frontcourt of the future.


The team seems to be adjusting (relatively) well to the hyper-active coaching style of Boylen.


Since Boylen’s 1st game as Bulls’ head coach on December 4, the Bulls have ranked 15th in the league in defensive rating and have had noticeably better rotations on defense. But the offense has posted a historically terrible 95.1 points per 100 possessions in that same timeframe under Boylen.

But wins like Saturday night’s show that the Bulls can play with some mental toughness down the stretch of close games.

Bulls fans finally got to see a glimpse of the Dunn-Markkanen combination thriving at the same time. If they can consistently play with that same type of aggressiveness when LaVine returns to the lineup, Boylen and the Bulls can truly put what was a tough week behind them and focus on building a positive team-first culture.