Bulls

Noah on track to play vs Hornets, future return as starter possible

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Noah on track to play vs Hornets, future return as starter possible

Joakim Noah went through a full practice Thursday after missing Monday’s game in Philadelphia, putting him on track to being available Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

Noah was a last-second scratch when his surgically repaired left knee prevented him from making his first start of the season. It should be noted the surprise start wasn’t announced until right before gametime.

“He was a little bit sore at the beginning, but he was able to get himself loose and make it through the whole practice,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Barring any kind of setback, hopefully we’ll have him in the lineup tomorrow.’’

After the mini-controversy surrounding the longtime starter going to the bench, Monday represented a possible change in his philosophy, at least giving the chance of a Noah-Pau Gasol frontcourt partnership to work.

“Yeah, we would’ve considered it long-term,” Hoiberg said. “And obviously we’ve changed a couple things early in the season with Doug (McDermott) not starting and bringing Tony (Snell) off the bench. I think both guys have done very well with those new roles. If we do end up going to that at some time, we’ll see how it goes for the guys who have their roles changed.”

[MORE: Dunleavy on the mend, could return in two weeks]

That evaluation now appears to be on hold, at least momentarily, because of Noah’s knee and the long-term look Hoiberg and the staff is going to take, not dissimilar from the minutes’ restrictions he had placed on him last season by the medical staff, much to the chagrin of then-coach Tom Thibodeau.

“You have to be cognizant. That’s the first I guess setback he’s had,” Hoiberg said. “He had the, you know, kind of scary fall in a preseason game in Boulder, sat a few preseason games from that, but didn’t have any types of issues.

“The other day against Philly was the first time that he’s had any real pain where he has come to us, come to the trainers and talked about it. So hopefully it’s a one-time deal, it’s over with. Do you have to be careful with minutes? Yeah, you probably do throughout the early part of this season and see how everything works out, but he said he’s feeling 100 percent better than he was in Philly.”

With center Al Jefferson being the hub of the Hornets offense, Noah in theory would’ve been the perfect elixir to his low-post game—or at least the most-equipped defender on the roster.

With Marvin Williams starting at power forward for the Hornets, and swingman Paul George at least beginning games that way for the Indiana Pacers, one wouldn’t expect the Bulls to put Gasol against those unconventional lineups, meaning Nikola Mirotic will remain as the starting power forward—although it wouldn’t be surprising for Hoiberg to switch up the lineup against the Pacers because they play so small.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In any event, Mirotic’s 20-point, 10-rebound game was needed in the worst way Monday against the 76ers. Who knows how much Noah’s play factored into Hoiberg’s decision as opposed to Mirotic’s struggles before Monday’s game. Mirotic totaled 11 points and 12 rebounds in the three previous games before breaking out.

“Well, I’ll say this: It was great to see Niko go out and play with that kind of confidence,” Hoiberg said. “In the second half especially, I thought he was very aggressive in going out and looking for his shot. Missed a few early on, and he’s a couple very good practices since then. The way (Charlotte) starts, they start Marvin Williams at the four, we’ll most likely go with Niko at the start of the game and then we’ll evaluate things after.”

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.