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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.

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.