Bulls

Noah progressing, aims for return after break

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Noah progressing, aims for return after break

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
3:28 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEW ORLEANSHeading into the fifth and final game of their current road trip, the Bulls are obviously focused on finishing the five-game swing on a positive notenot only would put them above .500 on the trip, its the teams last contest away from home before All-Star weekendbut even with their tremendous collective focus, its hard not to look toward the future. Specifically, after the aforementioned annual midseason break, when sidelined center Joakim Noah is slated to return to the lineup.

Im very excited. Just working out, got some tape on my hand instead of a cast, can shoot a little bit and get back on the court as soon as I can, said Noah, who can be observed after Bulls practices going up against veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine as he adjusts to taking contact following December surgery on his right thumb, prior to the teams Saturday morning shootaround at New Orleans Arena. Its been good., just getting used to contact again. Obviously Im still not where I want to be, but Im just working hard on it every day.

Noah, who confirmed he expects to come back by the teams first game after the All-Star Game (Feb. 23 at Toronto), says that his conditioning is improving and hes starting to regain his shooting touch.

Its not great, but Ive been working hard at it every day, so I think Ill be ready to get back on the court, said Noah, who often works out on the court before games under the watchful eye of Bulls assistant coach Rick Brunson, prompting All-Star point guard Derrick Rose to say the coaches are working him like a horse.

The Tornado his unique shooting form is coming back in full effect.

Still, he isnt completely sure what his immediate impact will be, although his high energy level, hustle, defensive prowess and knack for rebounding should ensure he benefits the team, even if his offensive game is slow to return.

Ive never been out that long, but Im working as hard as I can and when Im out there, Im going to give 150 percent. Well see how it goes, said Noah, who has had the chance to observe the team from a sideline vantage point during his absence. I feel like were a pretty good team and well get better. Well definitely get better. We have a lot of things to improve on and well see where it takes us.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been pleased with the centers progress.

Hes doing great. Yesterday, he went through virtually the entire practice. Hes pain-free, still working on his timing, which is to be expectedgetting bumped a little bit; its body-on-body nowso thats the next phase of his rehab. Hes shooting the ball well from 15, 17 feet, going through all his post-up moves. Hes coming along very well, explained the coach Saturday morning. He hasnt done live scrimmaging yet, but theres parts of practice that are somewhat more halfcourt, where youre structuring body-on-body, pick-and-roll defense, different defensive coverages and things like that. So, hes been cleared to do that, but he hasnt been cleared yet to do the scrimmaging part, which would probably be the next step for him.

Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi has laid out is a plan for progression, so he cleared him for some contact and the next phase will be the total live contact, he continued. Hes been very engaged. Hes done a lot of conditioning, hes come early to stay with the offense and sort of walk through things there, so hes been working on that and then hes done a lot of post work with his left hand and things of that nature.

Hes done a good job with that and then of course, the past few weeks, hes a little bit more. I think the big thing is, once he starts playing, how long will he be able to sustain a high level of play? I think thatll come quickly. I think what he has done is hes done a great job of his conditioning, so hes done as much as he could possibly do.

Thibodeau added that he doesnt expect the teams game plan to be drastically altered with Noahs return, although his presence would certainly help.

Its not going to change a lot. I think itll change from an energy standpoint. I think extra possessions, great offensive rebounding and playmaking ability. I think when teams are trying to get the ball out of Derricks hands, he has the ability to make good decisions with the ball.

Rose, however, believes that the charismatic center will aid the Bulls in getting back to playing more in transition, as he is more fleet of foot than 38-year-old big man Kurt Thomas, Noahs replacement.

Its going to be more of an up-tempo type of game. With Kurt, youve got to slow things down a little bit. You cant keep running up and down with him, but hes been doing a great job for us, said Rose. Joakim, when he comes back, I think well be getting more easy points and fast-break points.

At the same time, Rose is keeping hisand the teamspriorities in check with only three games to go before time off (if not for him, then the rest of the squad) and the second half of the season.

If we finish everything right, well have a lot of confidence before the All-Star break. Everybodys getting ready for that, but weve just got to stay focused, knowing that weve got three games left and weve got to keep balling until that time comes.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.