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Rose, Rip backcourt keep Bulls perfect at home

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Rose, Rip backcourt keep Bulls perfect at home

Updated: Monday, Jan. 23 at 11:43 p.m.

Maybe Tom Thibodeaus frequently-repeated mantras about the Bulls depth should be taken more seriously.

Six Bulls (16-3) scored in double figures Monday evening, as the Nets (5-13) became the latest team to be thrashed at the United Center running the Bulls home mark to 8-0 on the season 110-95, earning the home team its fourth straight win.

We have confidence in one another and were not letting any of the attention or any of the critics get to us. Were just doing our thing. Were our biggest critics at the end of the day. Were happy with the record, but were not satisfied. Were just going to keep fighting and keep getting better, said Joakim Noah. I think we could have played better defensively tonight. I think we started off in the first quarter playing solid defense, but I think we let them score too many points at the end, but I guess its good to win by 20 and be critical. I think if you have that mentality, I think were good.

Still short-handed, but with an influx of walking wounded back in the lineup Derrick Rose (22 points, eight assists, five rebounds) and Noah (16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) returned to action after missing four games and a single contest, respectively. The Bulls looked more energized than their weary opponent, playing their third game in three consecutive nights.

But it was fill-in starter (for the injured Luol Deng, who suffered a wrist injury in Saturdays home win over Charlotte) Ronnie Brewer (11 points, five rebounds) who had the hot hand early against a New Jersey lineup that featured four fellow ex-Jazz players (Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, DeShawn Stevenson and Kris Humphries, who was booed by United Center fans apparently familiar with his brief marriage to reality-show star Kim Kardashian) as starters.

Rose, who knocked down a pair of first-quarter triples, and Noah looked no worse for the wear, particularly the latter, who was active, aggressive and showcased an adept scoring touch at the games outset.

Chicagos depth was tested almost immediately, however, as Carlos Boozer (14 points, nine rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots) picked up his second foul and with Taj Gibson inactive (and Deng, who can slide over to power forward, also out), veteran forward Brian Scalabrine, usually a deep reserve, saw extensive minutes.

In addition to balanced and efficient offense, the Bulls also displayed their trademark stifling defense, limiting the visitors to a mostly poor quality of shot selection. As the opening period went on, however, the Nets, propelled by the playmaking of All-Star point guard Williams (16 points, 10 assists), started to find a rhythm, although after a largely positive quarter of play, the Bulls lead stood at 28-18.

Rip Hamilton (22 points, 10 assists), whose passing was actually his strong point in the games initial stanza, went over the 15,000-point mark for his career, becoming the 120th NBA player ever and 20th active player to do so.

Its a great feeling. I didnt know it until they said it today. I think I owe it to all my great teammates I played with my whole career, said Hamilton of the achievement. All the bigs setting screens and things like that. I think I need to take them all out to eat. But its a great accomplishment.

Bulls fans had a reason to cheer for Scalabrine for more than a token late-game blowout appearance, as the self-described White Mamba scored on an acrobatic reverse layup that brought the crowd to its feet in the second quarter, followed by a pair of nice assists to backup center Omer Asik. A modified second-unit rotation, featuring Hamilton in Dengs role as an all-purpose wing scorer and distributor, helped the home team create more separation and develop a comfortable cushion.

Explained Thibodeau: I wanted to keep a starter out there. Rip is feeling better and better, so we extended his minutes a little bit.

Even after the rest of the Bulls starters were reinserted into the contest, Hamiltons strong play persisted and he was joined by his backcourt partner, Rose, who thrilled the partisan audience with consecutive steals and breakaway finishes, though he didnt utilize any high-wire theatrics, in a nod to concern for his injured toe.

I kind of knew that I was going to play this game, but I had to take my time. I had a lot of days off, so those days will help me with my recovery, said Rose. All the games that I missed, I wanted to play, knowing that this year has been great with winning I cant complain about anything but I hate to sit out, I hate being injured, just missing action, playing against great people, playing against great guards.

It didnt hurt during the game, he continued, though he acknowledged that he was kind of scared on the fast break to really dunk the ball.

After first allowing their guests to cut the deficit to single digits, the Bulls, led by Hamiltons all-around efforts and Rose, who finally showcased his explosion on a powerful drive and finish toward the end of the half, found a comfort zone and at the intermission, held a 59-43 advantage.

To miss as much time as he did and come out and play like he did says a lot about him. His timing obviously wasnt there, but hell get up to speed very quickly and I thought he played very hard, said Thibodeau. He had a lot of explosive plays and I also think when you miss that amount of time, your conditioning goes. Hell get that back quickly.

Noah was a force immediately after the break, finishing at the rim, being a factor on both ends of the glass, putting solid post moves to use and generally displaying the scoring touch he showed off at the beginning of last season, but has been inconsistent since then. The charismatic center was only one aspect of the Bulls efficient offense, which led to gaudy team shooting numbers against their smallish opponents suspect defense.

I feel pretty good. I feel Ive just got to keep working, get back to 100 percent, get my ankle right, said Noah, who described his injured left ankle as feeling pretty good afterwards. Everybodys really focused on recovery more than past years Ive been here. Guys are working really, really hard and we understand whats at stake, and just enjoying it, enjoying playing basketball with a great group of guys.

Added Thibodeau: Hes been playing at a really high level and with him missing last game, I was a little concerned about his timing in this game and he missed a couple bunnies early, but he was extremely active and he got more comfortable as the game went along.

Williams attempted to take advantage of his hobbled counterpart and was somewhat effective in doing so, but he had little help other than sharpshooter Anthony Morrow (15 points) and backup point guard Jordan Farmars (21 points) contributions and thus, the Nets were unable to chip away at their disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Hamilton continued to knock down his patented mid-range jumper at a high clip and Rose put pressure on the defense with shifty, warp-speed drives in transition, leading to the Bulls ending the third quarter up, 85-68.

Its every aspect of the game. Great leadership, playmaking ability, big shot-making ability and more importantly, he makes the right play. When hes open, he shoots. When hes guarded, he makes the right read and if hes double-teamed, he knows where the holes are, said Thibodeau of Hamilton. He makes the game simple, gets easy shots for people, and he runs the floor and he never stops moving, so it makes your offense hard to be defended and I think that becomes contagious also. We had 33 assists, so the ball was hopping. We got into a pretty good rhythm.

Chimed in Rose: Its way easier, knowing that hes the guy thats creating, helping everyone, it takes a load off of me. Hes a great passer. We can give him the ball and he can create for others.

Hamiltons blend of scoring and playmaking set the tone in the final stanza, with Asik (10 points) and backup point guard C.J. Watson also making contributions that kept the home teams wide winning margin intact.

A lot of plays are the same. Its just learning the different terminology and I think every day, I get better at it. The offense is the offense. Every day I get better at reading my teammates. Its just basketball at the end of the day, said Hamilton. With me, its not just about scoring. Theres so many great players on this team and my job is to try to make everybodys job easy. If its scoring, if its passing or whatever.

Rose did find fault with one aspect of his teams performance.

Playing a 48-minute game. Towards the end of the game, we tend to let teams score a little bit, but hopefully we can fix that pretty soon, he said, disregarding the fact that the Bulls currently have the leagues best record. Its too early. Its way too early. First part of the season. Were not worried about that. We know that weve got a long way to go.

Now the Bulls prepare for what promises to be a tough test with the 11-4 Indiana Pacers visiting the United Center.

Were playing against a great opponent on Wednesday, an opponent whos going to be really hungry here. Its always exciting to play against Indiana, said Noah about the Bulls upcoming game against their Central Division rivals and last seasons first-round playoff foe. Were focused right now and weve just got to keep it up, have a good practice tomorrow and do it all over again.

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

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