Bulls

Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

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Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
8:30 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Ive had the chance to attend a lot of these events over the last 20 years, and invariably, the coaches and players talk about how excited they are for the upcoming season. But for the first time since 2007, the Bulls enter the new season with hopes of being a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference and having a realistic shot at advancing beyond the opening round of the playoffs.

What are your goals for this Bulls team? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses? Can they win 50 or more games? Please post your comments in the section below.

The optimistic view on this years team centers on an improved defense and a share-the-wealth offensive system introduced by new head coach Tom Thibodeau. If youve been watching the pre-season games, youve seen Derrick Rose pushing the ball at every opportunity with a free-flowing half-court offense that will bring out the skills of players like Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

Deng, in particular, looks like a new man. Under Vinny Del Negros system, Deng was often asked to go to the weak-side corner and wait for passes off the high screen-and-roll the Bulls ran so often in half-court situations. Now, hes moving off the ball, coming off screens and driving hard to the basket. He looks like the player NBA general managers were calling a future All-Star back in 2006 and 2007. Deng has even added a three point shot to his game and hes connecting at a better than 50 percent clip during the preseason.

Korver should be a big factor in the Bulls offense, once he recovers from a cyst on his ankle thats limited his mobility. Kyle told me after the luncheon his ankle is feeling a lot better after receiving a cortisone injection and hes hoping to play in the final preseason game against Indiana Friday night. He said if this was the regular season, he probably would have played through the pain. But once hes 100 percent healthy again, Korver will give the Bulls half-court offense the long range shooter theyve desperately needed. His quick release allows him to get shots off quickly coming around screens and we all know he set an NBA record for 3-point accuracy last season.

The Bulls are deep at the guard position with Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson battling for playing time opposite Rose. And, once Carlos Boozer returns from his hand injury, theyll have more depth up front than weve seen in a long time with the addition of 7-foot center Omer Asik and veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine.

The biggest concern right now is injuries. Korver is feeling better, and Brewer is making progress from a strained hamstring, but now Bogans is having problems with a stiff back and Joakim Noah is out with flu-like symptoms. Lets hope the worst is behind the Bulls and theyll be able to get through a tough opening month without Boozer. The schedule is loaded with home games in December, with should give the coaches a chance to work Boozer into the offense and find a consistent rotation.

AROUND THE NBA
With opening night less than a week away, its looking like Boston and Orlando will provide a stiff challenge to Pat Rileys traveling all-stars down in Miami. The Magic have won an incredible 21 straight preseason games over the last three years and Vince Carter is playing like he discovered the Fountain of Youth. Orlando is deeper than ever with the addition of solid veterans Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon and theyre determined to show the rest of the league they still have the best team in the state of Florida.

Boston went 7-1 in the exhibition season and it looks like Shaquille ONeal is planning to catch Kobe Bryant with five championship rings. Shaq is starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins and once Perkins returns, the Celtics will be able to call on Shaq, Jermaine ONeal and Big Baby Davis for size off the bench with wing players like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Delonte West also available in reserve. Boston came within minutes of beating the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals back in June and they look better than ever this season. Reports out of Boston say Kevin Garnett has his explosiveness back after a long rehab from knee surgery and thats bad news for the rest of the league.

As for the Heat, theyve been dealing with a variety of injuries in the pre-season. Dwyane Wade has missed almost all of the exhibition games because of a hamstring pull and its no secret his body is starting to break down after carrying a mediocre Heat squad over the last couple seasons. Miami added veteran Mike Miller to provide a three point shooting threat for the Big 3, but now Miller is hurt again and could miss several weeks of action after injuring his thumb in practice on Wednesday. Even the King himself, LeBron James, strained a hamstring in a preseason game, but he recovered quickly. Miami will win a lot of regular season games, but dont be surprised if they come up short against either the Celtics or Magic come playoff time.

Out West, it still looks like the Lakers and everyone else, but L.A. is also dealing with injury concerns. Kobe Bryant is playing limited minutes while continuing to rehab a knee and center Andrew Bynum again will miss extended time because of his continuing knee problems. Ron Artest switched numbers again, going back to the 15 he wore as a rookie with the Bulls and from what Ive seen in the preseason, hes dropped a lot of weight and is playing a lot more fluidly than he did the last couple seasons.

The Lakers should prevail in the West, but dont count out teams like Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland. Denver could tumble this season, especially if they decide to trade Carmelo Anthony, and it will be interesting to see if Jerry Sloan can work his magic with the talented--but underachieving--big man Al Jefferson in Utah.

The regular season is almost here and if youre like me, it cant come soon enough. Well have a one hour preseason special before the Bulls home opener on October 30th, live on the United Center concourse at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. If youre going to the game, stop by to say hello.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t come to the NBA Draft Combine with the boastful statements made by his peers, refusing to declare himself the best player in a loaded draft.

But it doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.

Carter Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects in next month’s draft, even though he doesn’t come with the heavy fanfare of what many expect to be the top three picks.

One of those top three players was Carter Jr’s teammate at Duke, Marvin Bagley III, relegating Carter Jr. to a supporting role of sorts in his lone collegiate season. He couldn’t turn college basketball upside down as a freshman; He didn’t have the opportunity to, still averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 29.1 minutes last season.

“Bagley's a phenomenal player. He came into college basketball, did what he was supposed to do,” Carter Jr. said. “My role changed a little bit but like I said, I'm a winner and I'll do what it takes to win.”

Like he said, considering it was the fifth time he patted himself on the back, describing his positive attributes. It didn’t come across as obnoxious, but more an affirmation, a reminder that his willingness to sacrifice personal glory shouldn’t overshadow his ability.

“I'm pretty versatile as a player,” Carter Jr. said. “I'd just find a way to fit into the team, buy into the system. I'm a winner. Do whatever it takes to win.”

When asked about his strengths, he didn’t hesitate to say he’s “exceptional” at rebounding and defending, certainly things teams would love to see come to fruition if he’s in their uniform next season.

Playing next to Bagley and not being the first option—or even the second when one considers Grayson Allen being on the perimeter—forced him to mature more in the little things.

“It was (an adjustment) at first,” Carter Jr. said. “I knew what I could do without scoring the ball. I did those things. I did them very exceptional. I found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”

“I think it did do wonders for me. It definitely helped me out, allowed me to show I can play with great players but still maintain my own.”

If he’s around at the seventh slot, the Bulls will likely take a hard look at how he could potentially fit next to Lauri Markkanen and in the Bulls’ meeting with Carter Jr., the subject was broached.

“Great process. I was just thinking, me and him together playing on the court together would be a killer,” he said with a smile.

“I know they wanna get up and down the court more. The NBA game is changing, there's no more true centers anymore. They wanna have people who can shoot from the outside, it's something I'll have to work on through this draft process.”

An executive from a franchise in the lottery said Carter Jr’s game is more complete than Bagley’s, and that Carter Jr. could be the safer pick even if he isn’t more talented than his teammate.

It’s no surprise Carter Jr. has been told his game reminds them of Celtics big man Al Horford. Horford has helped the Celtics to a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in no small part due to his inside-outside game and ability to ably defend guards and wings on the perimeter.

Horford doesn’t jump off the screen, but he’s matured into a star in his role after coming into the NBA with a pretty grown game as is. Carter Jr. has shown flashes to validate those comparisons.

“Whatever system I come to, I buy in,” Carter Jr. said. “Coaches just want to win. I want to win too. Whatever they ask me to do. If it's rebounding, blocking shots, setting picks, I'm willing to do that just to win.”

He was also told he compares to Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge, two disparate players but players the Bulls have had a history with in the draft. The Bulls passed on Green in the first round of the 2012 draft to take Marquis Teague, and in Aldridge’s case, picked him second in 2007 before trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.

As one can imagine, neither scenario has been suitable for framing in the Bulls’ front office, but whether they see Carter Jr. as a the next versatile big in an increasingly positionless NBA remains to be seen.

“I definitely buy into that (positionless basketball). I'm a competitor,” Carter Jr. said. “Especially on the defensive end. Working on my lateral quickness, just so I could guard guards on pick and roll actions. Offensively I didn't show much of it at Duke but I'm pretty versatile. I can bring it up the court. Can shoot it from deep, all three levels.”

His versatility has come into play off the floor as well, deftly answering questions about his mother comparing the NCAA’s lack of compensation for athletes to slavery.

Carter Jr’s mother, Kylia Carter, spoke at the Knight Comission on Intercollegiate Athletics recently and made the claim.

“The only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation … The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

As if he needed to add context to the statement, Carter Jr. indulged the media members who asked his opinion on the matter—or at least, his opinion of his mother’s opinion.

“A lot of people thought she was saying players were slaves and coaches were slave owners,” Carter Jr. said. “Just the fact, we do go to college, we're not paid for working for someone above us and the person above us is making all the money.”

As sensible as his comment was, as direct as his mother’s statements were, he still finds himself in a position where he has to defend his mother. In some cases, teams asked him about her—but that’s not to say they disagreed with her premise.

“My mom is my mom,” Carter Jr. said. “She has her opinions and doesn't mind sharing them. In some aspects I do agree with her. In others...you'll have to ask her if you want to know more information.”

“I never thought my mom is ever wrong. But I think people do perceive her in the wrong way. Some things she does say...that's my mom. You have to ask her.”

The versatility to handle things out of his control, as well as understanding how his season at Duke prepared him for walking into an NBA locker room should be noted.

There’s no delusions of grandeur, despite his unwavering confidence.

“I'd come in and try to outwork whoever's in front of me,” Carter Jr. said. “That's the beauty of the beast. You come into a system, There's players in front of you 3-4-5 years and know what it takes.”

“I would learn those things and let the best man win.”

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

There once was a period in NBA Draft history when leading the country in scoring all but guaranteed a top-5 draft pick. All-Americans were the talk of the class, and if he could pass, too, all the entire better. And if that player was a freshman? Forget about it.

But there’s never been a time in history when a player led the country in both scoring and assists. And it was done by a freshman, all of 19 years old. And yet for all Oklahoma point guard Trae Young accomplished in 32 games, doubters remain. He’s not the consensus top pick in next month’s NBA Draft. He might not even be a top-5 pick. He could even fall out of the top 10.

And that’s because the draft has become a science, of sorts. Position-less basketball is taking over, multiple ball handlers are on the floor for a team more time than they’re not, and height/length/wingspan and the rest of those Jay Bilas buzzwords mean more than ever.

And that is Young’s shortcoming (no pun intended). We’ll get the negatives out of the way before telling you why the Sooner is built perfectly for today’s NBA. He measured just under 6-foot-2 and weighed in at 178 pounds, which he told reporters was 10 pounds heavier than he was five weeks ago. His 6-foot-3 wingpsan was the smallest of all NBA Draft Combine participants, as was his 8-inch hand length.

So it’s reasonable to understand why he isn’t a slam dunk option at the top of the draft. But there’s also a number of reasons this 6-foot-2, defensive liability could also hear his name called in the top 5. And it’s because he’s the most dynamic offensive player college basketball has maybe ever seen. And, for the third time, he’s 19 years old.

“I think I’m the best overall player in the draft," he said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine. "My main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft. My motivation is to be the best player in the NBA and that’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

Young, a five-star recruit from Norman, Okla., double-doubled in his first collegiate game. He double-doubled in his second game. In games 3-8 he scored between 28 and 43 points, all while leading unranked Oklahoma to an unlikely 7-1 record. Then December 16 happened. And over the course of the next eight games Young took college basketball by storm.

In a span of one month, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15, Oklahoma went from unranked to No. 4 in the country. Young’s numbers in that eight-game stretch? 31.4 points, 11.3 assists, 4.9 made 3-pointers and 1.6 steals in better than 34 minutes per game. His lowest scoring output in that time frame was 26, and in that game he handed out 22 assists, which tied an NCAA record. He had double-doubles in seven of the eight games, and had to settle for 29 points and five assists on the road against West Virginia, one of the country’s top defenses.

Young’s Sooners went into a nosedive after that, going 4-10 to finish the regular season and putting them close to the bubble, especially after a loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. Young, the catalyst and only real option for the Sooners, posted modest 24.5 points and 7.5 assists, but wasn’t able to get a hold of the runaway train. The Sooners lost their opening round matchup to Rhode Island, a game in which Young scored 28 points.

But the roller coaster season is in the rear-view mirror. Young’s game is pretty straightforward: he’s a pick and roll nightmare for defenses, has the best range of anyone in the country and finds open shooters with ease. He’s a do-it-all offensively, and has naturally drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry.

“I love the comparisons. He’s a two-time MVP and a champion,” Youg said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young, that’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing.”

Young will make his presence felt wherever he winds up on June 21. Though he needs to continue adding weight to withstand the physical nature of the NBA (as well as an 82-game season) his skill set was built for today’s game. Though his shooting numbers came at a rather inefficient clip – 42 percent shooting, 36 percent from 3 – those will improve as he’s asked to take fewer shots at the next level.

His passing numbers should also improve; despite the 8.7 assists per game he wasn’t exactly paired up with knockdown shooters in Norman. If a team is able to pair him next to a stout defender – not unlike Isaiah Thomas playing next to Avery Bradley in Boston – his offensive game will cancel out any defensive deficiencies.

“My main focus is going to the right team,” he said. “It’s all about the fit for me and whether that’s (No.) 1 or whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and ready to make an impact and that’s what they’re going to get.”

That impact will be felt. Young opted against naming teams – he has met with the Bulls, he said – but mentioned that he has looked at teams picking in this year’s Lottery and knows the playoffs are a possibility if he enters the mix and leaves his imprint on a team in Year 1.

“There are teams in this draft that I think are one piece away, two pieces away from being a team that’s in the Lottery this year but not next year,” Young said. “There’s been some teams that I’ve met with I feel like if I’m on that team that I can make a big impact for them.”

He made that impact at Oklahoma, and despite his measurements there’s nothing to dislike about his game. He set records, carried a team for four months and dealt with adversity. That, as well as a lethal jump shot, will have him ready for the next level and whatever team selects him in six weeks.