Bulls

Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

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Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

The ball softly left the sure hands of Pau Gasol, falling off the rim before the Spaniard tipped once and tipped again as the ball finally reached its destination in Game 2 against the Bucks, followed by Gasol yelling in relief and satisfaction.

But like everything else with Gasol in this series, there was a drawback—his final tip was waved off because of a loose ball foul he wasn’t involved in, negating his basket and the frustrating energy he used to score.

Gasol has been public enemy No. 1 on Jason Kidd’s defensive scheme, running double-teams so fast and furious at Gasol that he probably sees them in his sleep.

But despite shooting just 31 percent through the first two games this series, he hasn’t lashed out in frustration or tried to force his own offense. Whether it’s John Henson or Zaza Pachulia or the long-armed Giannis Antetokounmpo running at him, facing single-coverage hasn’t happened at all this series.

“The double teams, if they continue, so be it,” Gasol said. “I'm not worried about making the right play and being unselfish. If they're doubling me, there's a guy who's gonna be wide open with a better shot than I would. I'm prepared if that stops.”

They’ve made the decision that Gasol will not be the one to beat them, and even though they’ve given Derrick Rose more attention when he has the ball, they haven’t lightened up on Gasol, perhaps the greatest sign of respect. He’s used to getting doubled-up on, but it’s usually after getting off with a few easy scores and a defense adjusting to stop him.

“I just attract two defenders, which I like to do anyways,” Gasol said. “For the most part that takes sometimes you get going and score a few buckets then they make adjustments but it's been continuous and automatic since the start of the series. If that continues, I'll continue to make the right play. Even though I haven't been in a very good rhythm, somebody else will get a good shot and that's good offense.”

[PLAYOFFS: Mirotic ruled out for Game 3, could miss Game 4 with injury]

While the Bulls are up 2-0 and poised to take a real stronghold on the series if they can weather the emotions and energy of the Bucks tomorrow night, they haven’t been a fluid offensive group, heavily dependent on Rose and Jimmy Butler.

Rose, a player who’s never been afraid to attack double teams and force up a few shots at times, admires Gasol’s patience.

““It says a lot about his character as far as he’ll do anything to win,” Rose said. “He knows that they’re coming right away, he’s not complaining about shots, he’s not worrying about playing so many minutes. He just wants to win the game, so it rubs off on everyone. You’ve got a player like that, that’s giving himself up the way he does it shows a lot.’’

The Bulls often speak about what “the game gives you”—which sure sounds like a “Thibs-ism” or Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich saying to “play the right way”. Either way, Gasol makes it a habit of having his unselfishness lead by example.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s great having him,” Rose said. “With the way that they’re double-teaming him, they’re not even allowing him to get a good shot off. They’re coming right away, so it’s easy basketball. Two swings to an open shot, that’s the easies shot that you can get when they’re double-teaming like that.’’

They shot just 38 percent in Game 2, and one can expect the screws will be tightened even more with Nikola Mirotic out. Gasol may have to be more aggressive—and Tom Thibodeau will probably have to put Gasol in situations where he’s on the move and can score before the double teams come.

“If I can, yeah. If I can, if I get opportunities I'll be more aggressive,” Gasol said. “I'm not discontent with my level of aggressiveness, I just try to make the right play. See if I can make a couple more shots and see if I can be good.”

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.