Bulls

Schanowski: Early observations from Bulls camp

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Schanowski: Early observations from Bulls camp

The early reviews are in and it’s clear Bulls players are loving the new approach of Fred Hoiberg and his staff. Ask just about anyone on the roster, and they’ll rave about Hoiberg’s calm demeanor and communication skills. Hoiberg encourages his players to take good shots and play hard. Mistakes don’t mean an instant hook. Players are able to execute with a sense of freedom on the offensive end, which is a sharp contrast from the way things were under Tom Thibodeau, who wanted to call a play just about every trip down the court.

Here are a few other things I’ve noticed from the first week and a half of training camp:

1. Jimmy Butler wants to take another big step in his career. 

The fifth year pro talked openly on Media Day about how becoming a vocal leader was the logical next step in his development. Butler says the Bulls need someone who can pull teammates together when things aren’t going well, and since Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol are quiet by nature, he has to be the guy to take that role. Butler showed that leadership in Tuesday's preseason opener against the Bucks, attacking the basket in his 25 minutes on the court, by scoring 23 points and dishing out six assists. Butler joked about wanting to play some point guard this season, and with Rose and Kirk Hinrich sidelined, it was the 6-foot-7 Butler who was penetrating and dishing to open shooters. It’s apparent Butler isn’t going to wait around to see whether Rose will make it through a full season. The Bulls are Butler’s team now, and he plans to show the rest of the league he’s one of the Top 10 players in the NBA.

[RELATED: Bulls will experiment with lineups in preseason; Gasol, Mirotic keys]

2. Pau Gasol has found the fountain of youth

The Bulls plan to give their 35-year-old center plenty of rest in the preseason, and why not? Gasol showed this summer that he’s still one of the elite big men in the game. Gasol basically carried Spain to a 2015 EuroBasket title and a spot in next summer’s Olympics, by scoring 40 points in a semifinal win over France, then coming back with 25 points and 12 rebounds in the title game. Gasol has added the three-point shot to his arsenal, which will make him even more dangerous in Hoiberg’s offense. And, even though Pau’s numbers are likely to go down slightly in fewer minutes during the regular season, he should be healthier for the most important games in April, May, and hopefully, June.

3. Hope you enjoy the three-pointer. 

We knew coming into the season that Hoiberg was a big proponent of the three-point shot. After all, he did lead the league in three-point field goal percentage in his final year in the NBA. But to watch the Bulls launch 39 threes in the preseason opener still came as a bit of a shock, especially since Thibodeau considered a reliance on shots from beyond the arc “Fool’s Gold.” Everyone on the roster has the green light to launch the three, and the hope is, if the Bulls can shoot around 35 percent from beyond the arc, it will open up driving lanes for Butler, Rose and the rest of the team’s wing players. Golden State used a fast-paced, three-point heavy offense to win an NBA championship last season under former Bull Steve Kerr, and Hoiberg met with Kerr this summer to discuss the best ways to implement his system.

[MORE: Bulls staff visited Derrick Rose, Hoiberg said he's 'in great spirits']

4. Doug McDermott could play a big role.

Let’s be honest, McDermott’s rookie season is one he’d like to forget. Thibodeau doesn’t have much use for rookies in general, and when McDermott got off to a slow start, then suffered a minor knee injury, he was relegated to the bench the rest of the season. But now, playing for another Ames, Iowa high school star, McDermott will be called on for instant offense off the bench and could put up 12-15 shots per game. Tuesday’s preseason opener tells the story of how the change in coaches will affect McDermott. He missed all of his shots from the field in the first half, but Hoiberg still went back to him early in the third quarter, and the former NCAA scoring champion responded with 23 second half points, including five three-pointers.

5. Bobby Portis could be another late first-round steal.

Because the Bulls are so deep in the front court, the SEC Player of the Year might have a tough time cracking the rotation this season, but he’s already shown he’s a versatile 6-foot-11 athlete who plays with a mean streak. Portis isn’t afraid to challenge established players under the basket, and he showed his quickness with a couple of steals. The rookie could be called on to play the center position in some small ball lineups, and with Joakim Noah in the final year of his contract, Portis’ role figures to expand in years to come.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

6. Depth could be this team's greatest strength.

Remember back in Thibodeau’s first season, when the Bulls won 62 games led by Rose, Luol Deng and the “Bench Mob”, featuring Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer? Injuries and salary cap considerations robbed the Bulls of that quality depth in succeeding years, but now John Paxson and Gar Forman have put together a roster that has at least 12 rotation-caliber players. Hoiberg wants to play fast, which means playing aggressive defense and controlling the glass. Look for the Bulls to take advantage of their depth, with Nikola Mirotic, Gibson, McDermott and Portis contributing up front, and Tony Snell, Aaron Brooks, Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore providing relief in the backcourt. Yes, Cleveland has the three superstars and the best starting lineup in the East, but if Hoiberg can maximize the use of his deep roster, we could be in for one heck of a battle come playoff time.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”