Bulls

Paul George adds another chapter to comeback tour with Pacers

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Paul George adds another chapter to comeback tour with Pacers

It was almost a year ago when Paul George spoke to reporters for the first time since suffering a gruesome broken leg during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas months earlier. At the time George, a two-time All-Star, had been limited in his brief rehabilitation to stationary shooting and running on a treadmill in a pool. There was no timetable for his return, and while George said then he had "no doubt" he'd be "coming back better," no one could be sure given the severity of the injury, an open tibia-fibula fracture in his right leg.

Monday night George made yet another convincing argument that he's all the way back. His comeback tour added another chapter, with the 25-year-old forward scoring 26 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists against the Bulls. His efforts came up just short in a 96-95 loss, as his fadeaway jumper at the buzzer was blocked by Jimmy Butler, but George's ability to lead the short-handed Pacers to nearly overcoming a 15-point deficit on the road against a division foe was another step in his resurgence among one of the NBA's elite.

Monday marked the seventh consecutive game George has eclipsed the 26-point mark, the longest stretch of his career. Five of those opponents were ranked in the top-12 in defensive efficiency, including Boston (twice), Cleveland, Miami and Orlando. Monday night posed yet another challenge. Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls entered the game with the league's No. 5 defensive efficiency, and George was shadowed much of the evening by Butler, a reigning All-NBA Defensive Second Team member.

But in a battle of Most Improved Players - George earned the award in 2013 and Butler won it in 2015 - George was zoned in from the opening tip, not worrying about what stood in front of him.

"In this league I have the most confidence in myself that this is the way I should be playing," George said after the game. "Regardless of team or who’s guarding me."

[MORE: Butler saves Bulls win, but Rose leaves with ankle injury]

In George's 39 minutes, tied for a season-high, he was relentless. He attacked Butler, forcing the Bulls swingman into five personal fouls, connected on four 3-pointers as he and C.J. Miles (19 points, five 3-pointers) worked as a two-man show to keep the Bulls close in the first half. When Monta Ellis (20 points) took over in the third quarter, scoring eight points, it set the stage for George to perform as the closing act. And he almost succeeded.

George hit his last triple of the night to pull the Pacers within five after the Bulls had pushed the lead to eight and were ready to run away with it. He scored five straight to get Indiana within two, with an Ellis layup tying the score 93-93 with 2:11 to play the next trip down. George also guarded Butler, who went 1-for-6 in the final frame, the majority of the final period, showing off his length and quickness on both ends as the Pacers, playing without guards George Hill and Rodney Stuckey, fought back.

Hill's absence at the point didn't allow the offense to function as well as it could have, but there were also glimpses of Frank Vogel's spread offense functioning at a high level. Much like the Bulls, the Pacers are transitioning this season from a more traditional structure to a quicker-paced, free-flowing offense. It's meant more time at the power forward spot for George, a natural small forward, though he and Butler guarded each other most of the night, with C.J. Miles guarding a man up; at times Vogel also used George at small forward as Hoiberg's Bulls went with bigger lineups. Vogel countered with a combination of Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill.

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The Pacers shot just 40 percent from the field and committed 12 turnovers, but George reiterated that he's pleased with how his teammates are responding to both the new offensive structure as well as his addition to the rotation. The Pacers are playing two possessions per game faster this season, and in stretches like the end of the third quarter there were obvious signs that it's something the roster is built for.

"We’ve played enough games now, we’ve been together long enough now, to kind of get a feel for one another and better chemistry going on on the court," George said.

George's numbers this early in the year have come as a bit of a surprise, given the time he spent off the court — not including the forgettable six-game stretch he had at the tail end of last season — and he has the Pacers looking like a team ready to get back to the playoffs after missing out on a tiebreaker to the Nets a year ago. The Pacers still have won six of their last eight following an 0-3 start, and the offense will only get better as it settles into a groove with George pacing the way.

From stationary shooting a year ago to transition 3-pointers. From running on treadmills a year ago to using spin moves to drive baseline on one of the league's best defenses, George showed once again that he's put his injury behind him. He vowed to be better than he was prior to the devastating injury, and the early returns are proving he was spot-on in his assessment.

"I had a whole year off and then a big summer to really get better and get back to work to help this team win," George said. "Spent a lot of hours working on my game, working on myself, so it’s no surprise to me. I guess it’s just a surprise, people didn’t think I’d get off to this start considering the injury. But I’ve worked toward this."

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”