Rose, Butler show up late to save Bulls in win over Kings


Rose, Butler show up late to save Bulls in win over Kings

With the closest thing to a full deck the Bulls have had seemingly all season, they had a chance to right some of the wrongs from early in the season by way of beating an under-.500 team.

And with the tumultuous Sacramento Kings coming to town, the stage was set for the Bulls to win their third straight game, re-establish themselves with playoff positioning and inject some much-needed confidence, something they’re seemingly on the brink of.

Or they could give it away.

“Early in the year, I’m not sure we would’ve won this game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, as his words illustrated what 20,000 people in the building were thinking Monday night.

But the Bulls max players wouldn’t let such a thing happen, as Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler combined to do it in different ways when times got direst, leading to a 109-102 win at the United Center.

It felt more like a decision than a win, but considering Pistons’ center Andre Drummond was tipping in a win for the team breathing down the Bulls’ necks just as the Bulls were giving it away, it seemed appropriate the Bulls’ players with the pedigree stepped forward to secure a win.

Because boy, it was dire.

[MORE BULLS: Pau Gasol's return to Bulls lineup a success in win over Kings]

After blowing a 12-point lead in the third quarter and watching Rudy Gay, Caron Butler and former Bull Marco Belinelli storm the United Center, Rose and Butler re-entered with the Bulls trailing by three and 8:40 remaining.

It went to five and held at 95-90 with 6:33 left, then the Bulls woke up.

“The guys got themselves in a big huddle and played the most important part of the game,” Hoiberg said.

With the Bulls flailing away, Rose hit two jumpers to spark a 10-0 run, shutting down the Kings’ opportunistic offense. His last gave the Bulls a 98-95 lead with 3:49 remaining, finishing with 18 points and four assists.

“Just taking what they’re giving me. I’m reading the play,” Rose said. “It was my teammates giving me the ball in position to actually do something.”

Butler didn’t have a banner night by any stretch, but his work on the offensive glass, tipping home a miss, getting a steal underneath the basket and then feeding Mike Dunleavy for a triple — his eighth helper of the night — to give the Bulls a 105-97 lead.

“We need to have that urgency for a longer stretch if we want to be successful,” Hoiberg said. “We played well for six minutes, luckily it was the last six of the game.”

[MORE BULLS: NBA Power Rankings: Leonard, Spurs go toe-to-toe with Warriors]

The stars showed up late after the bench players carried them early in Pau Gasol’s return.

Taj Gibson had another workman-like performance with 18 points in 33 minutes, as he found himself guarding virtually every position on the floor.

Doug McDermott sparked the Bulls yet again, hitting four triples for 16 points, most of them in the first half as the Bulls appeared to gradually pull away from the game Kings. Justin Holiday hit three triples of his own, and Bobby Portis added some energy before the group faltered in the fourth.

“We’ve had games where we let that slip, where we got blown out being down by that much,” Rose said. “Hopefully we’re learning from it. But when we have a team down like this we have to keep them down.”

Luckily as Butler struggled to a 3-for-10 finish, they didn’t turn the ball over much, with just nine giveaways and tallying 28 assists while hitting 12 3-pointers.

With Butler’s struggles, they needed every bit of what Gasol could offer in his return after a four-game absence.

Gasol played 24 minutes and scored 14 points with 14 rebounds, while being tagged as being a primary defender on the best center in the game, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins scored 19 with 17 boards, but he wasn’t the main reason the Kings got back in the game after falling behind 69-57 on a Dunleavy triple.

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The Bulls couldn’t bully the biggest bully in the game, but they could sure bother him. They double-teamed him and doubled him hard, forcing eight turnovers and taking him out of his rhythm, making him get his offense by going to the glass and doing unconventional things, like taking rebounds end to end for layups.

“Pau was great,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he guarded Cousins as well as anyone can play him, and he still got 19.”

In his stead, Gay and Caron Butler began hitting jumpers to keep things close, and surprisingly the Bulls’ perimeter defense started taking plays off, allowing the relentless Rajon Rondo and reserve guard Darren Collison to get to the basket almost at will.

Gay scored 18 with five rebounds, while Collison scored 19. Rondo scored 14 with five assists and four rebounds, while Butler added 10.

“Where before, if we had a lead, it got cut and we would go on a downward spiral,” Hoiberg said. “The urgency is finally helping us.”

But surprisingly, as things got tough, the Bulls buckled down a bit and showed something many weren’t sure they possessed.


B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

Bleacher Report named Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season. The list included five players whose expectations have exceeded what author Grant Hughes, felt is realistic for this upcoming season. It is not entirely shocking for LaVine to make this list, and his defense was the main reason he was included. But the potential for his offensive output to get even better was somewhat overlooked. 

Per Hughes:

In 2016-17, he ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus metric. Last year, he was 490th out of 521. According to Basketball Reference, he's never posted a defensive box plus-minus in positive territory. He topped out at minus-2.0 in his abbreviated 2017-18 season.....It's hard to justify rotation minutes for a player like that, let alone $78 million.

Hughes’ critique is harsh, but based off of statistics that are hard to argue with. LaVine has indeed been one of the worst defenders in the league for the entirety of his NBA career, and his netting of the $78 million falls hand-in-hand with Jabari Parker’s comments on players not being paid to play defense. But for the Bulls to take the leap from lottery-to-playoff contender, at least a league-average D will have to be cobbled together. But that responsibility will not fall solely on his shoulders, and that is why I am skeptical on the idea of LaVine being “overhyped”. 

The post goes on to elaborate that even if LaVine was to recapture the magic of his solid 2016-17 season, he still would be a player who gives up more points on defense than he gets his team on offense. That is a strong possibility, but with the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. as another rim protector, capable of at least providing a hard hedge (if not an outright switch), there is a possibility that LaVine becomes a more aggressive defender out on the perimeter. But that is unlikely, and a much more realistic outcome is LaVine’s offensive value surpassing what is expected.

LaVine’s strength last season was his ability to get to the free throw line. Despite coming off a major ACL injury, he was able to get 4.5 free throw attempts per game, a mark that would’ve had him sandwiched between players like Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo had he qualified (LaVine only played in 24 games). It was the highest free throw attempt rate of his career, and assuming he expands on that in a year where he should be completely healthy, he will be one of the best in the league at getting to the line. 

His efficiency will be helped by players like Parker and Lauri Markkanen, who will draw attention off of him. LaVine’s 3-point percentage last season was 34 percent, a number that was more of a reflection of that fact that he was still working his way back into game shape. That 3-point percentage will soon trend more towards the 38 percent mark he shot the previous two seasons. And his 3-point attempts were also down, another mark that is sure to trend upwards, especially with Parker’s inclusion as a scorer who does most of his half-court work in the mid-post area. 

The way the 2018-19 Bulls are built, there is little behind Kris Dunn in the way of a reliable backup point guard, though there is belief internally that Cam Payne can develop into that player. But there is a strong possibility that LaVine will be used as a backup point guard to free up minutes for one of Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine or Chandler Hutchison. And in his rookie year, playing point guard, LaVine had an assist rate of 24 percent, but also an incredibly high turnover percentage. Since making the full-time switch to shooting guard, he has not posted a turnover rate above 10 percent. So, if he can adjust to the fact that there are other players capable of scoring 20 points on the floor—like he did in Minnesota—it is entirely possible for LaVine to be a player capable of getting you 20 points and five assists per game while scoring efficiently and avoiding turnovers. Even if his defense continues to be dreadful, a player who can keep the offense running well from either guard spot is definitely valuable in today’s league. 

In his last season with Minnesota, LaVine had a usage rate of 21.7 percent, a number much lower than his extremely high 29.5 usage rate last season with the Bulls. And while many think of LaVine as a high-volume shooter, his usage rate last year was likely a result of him forcing the issue to try to prove he was worth a significant investment. With his shiny, new contract in tow, LaVine should be focused on making the team better, and get one step closer to his Timberwolves self. On that squad, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each scored 20+ points per game, while LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game. And the team finished in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive rating.

It is not crazy to think the Bulls could have their own high-scoring trio in LaVine, Markkanen and Parker. And if that is the case, then the expectation is for LaVine to be a efficient scorer who can occasionally spot the open man. Hyped? Yes. But overhyped? No one is banking on him being an All-Star, though it remains in the realm of possibility. The idea that he is overhyped is based on the fact his new contract is $78 million and he is poor at defense, but this is overlooking the fact that LaVine has proven he is a player capable of having a large role on a top-10 offense. September 30 can’t get here fast enough.  

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short


Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.