Bulls

Predicting the 2017 NBA All-Star Game reserves

Predicting the 2017 NBA All-Star Game reserves

All-Star reserves will be announced on Thursday night, but we're here to give you what we believe the rosters should look like. Let's get into it.

Eastern Conference

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Raptors: DeMar DeRozan has rightfully garnered accolades for his phenomenal season, but Lowry deserves heaps of credit, too. In leading the NBA's second most efficient offense, Lowry has averaged career-highs in points (22.3), field goal percentage (46.7%) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.2%) on 7.5 attempts per game. His defense has been superb this year and, DeRozan included, is the main reason the Raptors are just three games back of the Cavs in the East.

Guard: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics: Given Thomas' stature, the 5-foot-9 point guard is turning in perhaps one of the greatest scoring campaigns in recent memory. Thomas has averaged 28.9 points, trailing only Russell Westbrook's 30.8 points (Thomas is taking four fewer shots per game) and has still managed career-highs in assists (6.2). The Celtics have dealt with injuries to Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, but Thomas has remained a constant. He's also scoring in the clutch, as his 10.0 points per fourth quarter lead the league.

Frontcourt: Kevin Love, Cavaliers: Seemingly left for dead with the Cavs after the Warriors took a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals, Love has been great in his third season in Cleveland. He's taken a back seat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he's nearly averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds and is taking and making more 3-pointers than ever before. He's on pace to become the second player ever to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and two 3-pointers per game (Love also accomplished this in 2013-14). The other? Russell Westbrook, this season.

Frontcourt: Paul George, Pacers: George hasn't been spectacular by his own standards, but even his standard year makes him a sure bet to earn a fourth All-Star berth. He has seen his field goal percentage bump up to 45 percent, the best mark since his rookie season, and he's got the underwhelming Pacers at .500 to date. George is also leading the league in free-throw percentage (92.6 percent), which would rank in the top-30 all-time for a single season. The more you know.

Frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Hawks: He flies under the radar as well as any star in the league, but there aren't too many other players as complete as Millsap. Elected to the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons, Millsap is averaging 17.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in 34.0 minutes. The only other players in the league to reach those thresholds in each category are James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook. In a weak "frontcourt" pool, Millsap's a lock to get in again.

Wild-card: John Wall, Wizards: This may come as a surprise because of how quiet the buzz around has been, but Wall is having a historically great season. Check these numbers: Wall is averaging 23.1 points, 10.1 assists and a league-best 2.2 steals. The list of players to average 23/10/2 in a single season? Russell Westbrook last year, and Michael Adams in 1991. That's it. He's also resurrected the Wizards from the dead after a 2-8 start, and Washington has gone 23-12 since and sits in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Wild-card: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: This was a tough call between Irving and Kemba Walker, but Uncle Drew gets the nod on his fourth All-Star bid. Irving has been a terror on the offensive end this season, averaging 24.5 points on 47 percent shooting and 5.6 assists, nearly a full dime more than he did during last year's injury-plagued campaign. He's shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc and is flirting with 90 percent from the stripe. Oh, and he's running the show for the best team in the East.

Western Conference

Guard: Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Surprised, right? Look, James Harden was a lock to start, and Stephen Curry has been magnificent. But there really isn't any argument to keep Westbrook out of the starting lineup. He's averaging 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists, has 22 triple-doubles and has the Thunder - left for dead when Kevin Durant bolted - sixth in the West. Talk about his lack of efficiency all you want, Westbrook deserved to start. Alas, he'll have to settle for being the surest lock in the history of the league.

Guard: Klay Thompson, Warriors: This one may seem like a surprise, given he's the fourth best player on his team. But Thompson has been great in his sixth NBA season. The 40 percent from deep he's shooting is a career-worst and the 53 percent from inside the arc is a career-best. He's proven to be much more than a 3-point specialist, and it doesn't hurt that he's a plus defender capable of guarding multiple positions. Plus, he scored 60 points in 29 minutes against the Pacers earlier this season. That alone should get him in.

Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: Another no-brainer, and someone who would have started were the three frontcourt starters not future Hall-of-Famers. Cousins has been a one-man show in Sacramento, and what a show it's been. Cousins is averaging 28.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Those numbers haven't been posted since David Robinson in 1993-94 (Russell Westbrook is also doing it this season), and then Larry Bird in 1984-85 before that. Cousins is a lock.

Frontcourt: Rudy Gobert, Jazz: The Jazz have dealt with significant injuries to George Hill, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors this season, and yet they're somehow 29-18 and just one game back of the No. 4 spot in the West. Gobert is the reason why. A leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, he's averaging 12.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, in addition to shooting 66 percent from the field. His most important stat? He's played in all 47 of the Jazz's games.

Frontcourt: Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves: Despite the Timberwolves struggling under Tom Thibodeau, Towns has taken his game to another level. Still just 21 years old, he's averaging 22.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. The only other 21-year-old to reach those numbers was Shaquille O'Neal (who also did it when he was 20). The numbers are great, but it's the eye test that really does it for Towns. The way he moves, the way he affects the game, and his consistency are all so impressive. There's an argument against him earning an All-Star bid, but he's played well enough to get in.

Wild-card: Draymond Green, Warriors: The engine that makes the super-power Warriors offense go, Green has turned in yet another fantastic season. His role has diminished some offensively with Kevin Durant in the fold (his FGA, FTA and points are all down) but he's still ultra-efficient, and his defense remains as good as ever. The Warriors are good offensively, yes. But they're also No. 1 in defensive efficiency, and Green is the main reason why. He could very well win Defensive Player of the Year.

Wild-card: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: This spot would have belonged to Chris Paul, who is expected to miss the All-Star Game with a thumb injury. In his place is Lillard, everyone's favorite All-Star snub. The Blazers have arguably been the league's biggest disappointment in 2016-17, but Lillard has done just about everything he can to right the ship. His 26.2 points are a career-best, and he's doing so while sharing a backcourt with the talented C.J. McCollum. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge would be fine choices here, but in a rough season in Portland, Lillard has shined.

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

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USA Today

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

The Bulls authored their 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday night in quintessential 2019-20 Bulls fashion.

They started scalding hot — scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points. Then, a lull: They led only 24-20 with 1.5 seconds left in the first quarter before a Ryan Arcidiacono three pushed that advantage to seven.

The bench rode that wave to a 16-4 burst to open the second, and the lead soon ballooned to 50-28 — a 22-point advantage. Ahead 50-35 at the half, the Bulls were 19-for-41 (46.3%) from the field and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range. The Grizzlies: 14-for-49 (28.6%) shooting and a mind-bending (for 2019, at least) 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

For a team in the Bulls that’s six games below .500 and still underperforming relative to expectations, these types of spurts aren’t foreign. Nor are extended stretches of sound, swarming defense that drive opponents to stagnation.

Unfortunately, neither is what came next.

It didn’t happen lineally. There was no pinpointable avalanche of jumpshots or careless turnovers that swung the game. The Grizzlies just chipped away, cutting their deficit to as few as six points in the third quarter, then to one point on the heels of a deliberate, nearly-eight minute long 23-9 fourth-quarter run. When Jae Crowder capped that tear with a 3-pointer to pull the Grizzlies within 88-87 with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game, the United Center let out a collective sigh — fans and players alike. It was familiar. 

To that point in the second half, the Bulls were shooting 10-for-31 (32.3%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) from three. The Grizzlies were 18-for-35 (51.4%), 5-for-10 (50%) from distance. In spite of the Bulls never trailing, it felt as though the contest had flipped completely on its head.

“I thought we started the game with the appropriate mindset, got off to a good start,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What we're hoping to get is more consistency… We at times struggle with that. We play good basketball eight, twelve, fifteen minutes, and then we play five minutes of poor basketball and the game flips. Now, we gotta get back, re-engage, and play good basketball again. We're learning how to do that.”

Of course, the momentum eventually swung back in the Bulls’ favor permanently. Thank Zach LaVine for that. After the timeout that Boylen called following the Crowder three, LaVine was at least partially responsible — via made basket or assist — for the next 13 Bulls points. In the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Bulls canned three triples and missed only one shot.

“We made big plays down the stretch, kept our composure,” LaVine said. “[Early on] we came out and played the right way, and then teams are gonna make their little runs here and there. I think we didn’t do a good job of keeping them down by 20… But we ended the game on a high note and that’s the best thing we can do.”

Forgive a moment of contrivance, but for the Bulls, this game felt microcosmic. The flashes were there of a crisp, movement-based offense and high-intensity, impact defense, but their inability to string 48 consistent minutes together will, to some, sour what was a solid overall performance. LaVine, an offensive revelation of late, rushing to the rescue was befitting, as well. 

It was the same story in Sacramento, where the Bulls led by as many as 19, but needed late-game heroics from LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to cling to a victory over a below-.500 team (missing its two best players). It happened — twice — in Charlotte, the first time resulting in a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead, the second an impossibly infernic comeback win that was as exhilarating as it was unsustainable.

“I don't feel a big-time shift, because I still know that we're in the right place,” LaVine said when asked if he feels the team’s energy or confidence wanes during dry spells, both offensively and defensively. “I just wish we could cut it off sooner. And we could make in-game adjustments better, and I'm not just saying coaching stuff, like, us too.” 

But what’s a team to do, then, when the lid on the basket closes? There are differing schools of thought, though no one in the locker room was resigned to a team-wide fate of perpetual inconsistency. LaVine offered something of a solution.

“I think getting to the foul line has been big, because that'll almost — not bail you out — but you can make an aggressive play,” LaVine, who has attempted 10 or more free throws in his last three games, said. “You still gotta stay aggressive, you still gotta take those shots if they're open. We gotta run our offense because at times it works really well.”

Thad Young was also candid, saying he thinks the Bulls’ current conundrum is in some ways a repercussion of attempting to blend into the break-neck paced, 3-point-happy style of play that’s en vogue in the NBA.

“When you're up 20 it's hard to win games, simply because of the fact that you have certain teams that just don't give up. And then you're trying to control pace as opposed to playing as fast as you were before. And sometimes that hurts you,” Young said. “When you're trying to slow it down, the other team tends to pick it up and gain confidence.

It stands to reason that the Bulls — notorious for generating turnovers and creating offense in transition — would be uniquely impacted by this. Boylen stressed that they’re continuing to learn and grow. 

"Just get back to what we were doing that got us to that point," Young said on the mentality of perservering through those tough stretches. Markkanen, among others, consistently preaches never getting too high or too low, in victory or defeat.

Bigger picture, the offensive metrics haven’t turned around yet (the Bulls remain 29th in offensive rating — 27th since LaVine’s 49-point outing in Charlotte — and a bottom-eight 3-point shooting team), but the win-loss record is beginning to. However, the Bulls are doing it, they’re winning, and that’s worth celebrating, for the time being. It allows the team to hone in on areas of inconsistency from a position of assurance.

“I don't feel a lack of energy or confidence,” LaVine said, of when times get the toughest. 

“We just gotta continue to be aggressive and put the ball in the right players' hands and make plays.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 106-99 win over the Grizzlies.

0:45 - On the Bulls first win streak of the season

2:20 - On Zach LaVine taking over as the team’s closer

5:25 - Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen being on his way back; discussion on Lauri minutes

10:45 - On Denzel Valentine contributing in meaningful minutes

13:05 - Viewer comment with a different Portillos giveaway suggestion

13:50 - Viewer comment on Satoransky

16:20 - Thoughts on Bulls very blue city edition jerseys

18:30 - Our nightly ‘John makes Big Dave laugh really hard’ moment

19:25 - Viewer comment on concerns over Coby White

21:20 - Viewer comment on Matt breaking multiple mics

22:30 - Viewer comment on Dunn’s defense vs LaVine’s offense

24:15 - On Lebron James not getting called for an obvious travel

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.