Bulls

Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

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Rip returns to Palace, helps Bulls cruise past Pistons

Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 4, 11:10 p.m.

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. While the return of Rip Hamilton to his old stomping grounds ended up being somewhat anticlimactic, the shooting guards return to the Bulls lineup only further stabilized his new team, which convincingly beat their Central Division rivals, the Pistons, 99-83, Wednesday night.

Five Bulls scored in double figures in a balanced effort that highlighted the squads unselfishness.

I thought the ball moved, extra pass. I thought our spacing looked a lot better, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought we ran the floor harder. I liked the offense a lot.

The visitors jumped on the Pistons early, scoring the games first six points and showcasing solid ball movement, as well as suffocating defense. Hamilton (14 points, five assists), in his first game in the Palace of Auburn Hills since he signed with the Bulls, was effective, converting a traditional three-point play and dishing out a pair of assists when defenders collapsed on him after coming off screens.

First quarter was good; I think just adrenaline, said Hamilton, who described his injured groin as sore afterwards. Second quarter, I felt a little pull, but there was no way that I was getting off the court.

Added Thibodeau: I thought he handled the whole situation really well. Got himself ready to play, was focused and to start the game, he came out and he was playmaking. He wasnt trying to do too much and I think that speaks to his experience. He plays to win and I thought that he was terrific.

But the home team, led by the mature play of second-year big man Greg Monroe (19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), battled back they were assisted by Thibodeau picking up an early technical foul for arguing an officials call that a Rodney Stuckey made basket was indeed good to ensure they werent run out of their own building from the outset.

However, Chicagos continued unselfishness, a spark from its reserves -- with backup point guard C.J. Watson sidelined, Derrick Rose (17 points, 10 assists) stayed in the game, along with Luol Deng, and got his first dunk of the young season -- and a re-commitment to defense led to a 22-14 after a quarter of play.

Thibodeau rested Rose at the start of the second period, turning over the reins to third-stringer John Lucas III, who, after some early jitters (a turnover and a foul), drew a charge, found Taj Gibson (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists) for a dunk and knocked down a triple in quick succession. Speaking of Gibson, his typical high-energy play was also a key factor in the modified Bench Mob maintaining the Bulls edge over their hosts, then turning it into a double-digit cushion.

I thought John was terrific, but Ive told you guys this all along. That doesnt surprise me, said Thibodeau. His rebounding, excellent. His defense, excellent. Seven rebounds in 20 minutes or so, real active.

Thibodeau went back to his starters and they extended the lead even further, as Joakim Noah (13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) scored and rebounded at a high level, while Carlos Boozer (19 points, seven rebounds) was effective as a post-up threat and mid-range shooter and Rose was content to run the show, but made sure the Pistons occasionally felt his scoring presence. Going into the intermission, the Bulls held a 51-35 advantage.

Detroit, minus starting point guard Stuckey (he wouldnt return to the contest after halftime due to a sore left groin; rookie Brandon Knight replaced him), attempted to mount a challenge after the break behind the polished Monroe, but the Bulls held their hosts at bay. Boozer and Noah continued to dominate inside, while the backcourt duo of Hamilton and Rose simply picked their spots.

Weve been playing great this season. I know a lot of you all media, for some reason, put our play under a microscope, but I thought weve been playing great, said Boozer. Our record shows it, our defense shows it playing great defense this season together and were sharing the ball good offensively, made the right plays and were having fun.

Added Rose: They played great. Moving the ball well, passing the ball to each other. They played great together. Thats how they always should play. They always look for each other and thats a good thing, tells you that they like each other, but I think their passing was on target today.

The guard tandem were tremendous distributors in the third quarter, setting up the Bulls post players for multiple easy opportunities throughout the period, which ended with the Bulls leading, 71-58. Not that the fans in attendance cared, as the biggest rise out of the sparse Palace audience of 9,125 came when the JumboTron showed an arena employee showing off his 1980s-style dance moves.

Contributions from reserves Gibson and Ronnie Brewer (nine points), whose much-improved jumper gave the swingman an added dimension to his game, got the Bulls off to a good start in the final stanza.

Once again, though, the Pistons tried to battle back to within striking distance, as the likes of rugged forward Jonas Jerebko (13 points) and Chicago native Will Bynum (10 points in 16 minutes of action) flirted with cutting the deficit to single digits by the midway point of the frame.

"I thought we loosened up, Thibodeau observed. We were trading buckets for a while there.

Down the stretch, however, Chicagos offensive balance allowed the visitors to cruise, as Boozer, in particular, scored with ease, though the Pistons began to lay the wood to their guests Noah was fouled flagrantly by former teammate Ben Gordon, Hamilton was knocked to the ground by Bynum and Rose lay on the court momentarily, then walked back to the bench under his power and returned to the contest after taking a scary fall as if they were the Bad Boy Pistons of old.

However, Rose insisted he was good afterwards, though he had his left elbow X-rayed, while Thibodeau said, Thats part of the NBA.

Although Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams ball-security issues at the end of the contest, their ability to stay focused on the second night of back-to-back games, ensuring their new teammate had a successful semi-homecoming, was enough for the perfectionist, who prizes winning above style points, to be moderately pleased.

Were still not a 48-minute team. I like the way were moving. I think we responded well to our performance yesterday. I thought the concentration was really good today. I want us to move in the right direction, so this was a good day, but in this league, once you start feeling good about yourself, youre going to get knocked on your butt, said Thibodeau.

Weve got to be ready. Were going down to Orlando. Theyre really good. They put a lot of pressure, theyve got a dominant inside force and great shooting.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.