Bulls

With the season at a crossroads, Bulls running out of time to find the right path

With the season at a crossroads, Bulls running out of time to find the right path

For all the steps the Bulls have taken in the attempt to keep drama down and to simplify things, they’ve somehow found themselves at a critical juncture in the season and it’s not even halfway through.

Rajon Rondo promised to be professional through his new situation, and if his cooperation with the media is any indication there’s little reason to believe he’ll be intentionally disruptive.

Rondo and the Bulls haven’t engaged in buyout talks or trying to trade Rondo, sources tell CSNChicago.com, but one wonders how long Rondo will stay on the pine and tolerate it before he wants out—a reasonable thought considering Rondo’s pedigree.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg is outwardly ignoring the talk about his seat being hot after an uneven slow start, but inwardly you have to wonder how responsible he feels for things compared to factors outside his control.

Hoiberg and Rondo, for their differing beliefs on expectations of one another and opinion of Rondo’s play, are almost at a perfect parallel.

Best of intentions, but intentions aren’t always enough in this NBA.

Rondo can’t shoot, but that’s been known since his days at Kentucky. His defense has slipped since his early years in Boston, but that wasn’t exactly a secret either.

Hoiberg, although well-intentioned, can’t make Nikola Mirotic more consistent. Nor can he make this roster less dependent on Mirotic. Hoiberg can’t make his players recognize when a guy like Doug McDermott has the hot hand and to keep feeding him—but he can’t blame the team if they decide McDermott’s defensive lapses means they have trouble seeing him on the other side of the floor.

Rondo, one can glean, feels misled from his early meeting with the Bulls in free agency, when he and Hoiberg commiserated over a film session and likely bonded over Rondo’s creativity for thinking on the run, not always needing to look over to the coach for direction.

But that was before Dwyane Wade was fully into the Bulls’ orbit, and his place on the pecking order changed upon Wade’s agreement with the Bulls to return home to Chicago as a triumphant Hall-of-Famer and de-facto big brother to Jimmy Butler, the franchise’s most important player.

“Fred and I talked in the beginning, said I would be able to call a lot of plays,” Rondo said. “(Then) the flow of the game and throughout the season things may change.”

Apparently things did change with the playcalling (otherwise Rondo wouldn’t have brought it up) leading to the change that started in Indianapolis when Rondo was benched at halftime by Hoiberg and associate coach Jim Boylen, according to Rondo’s.

“We are in constant communication, and you're always talking about the team,” said Hoiberg, in reference to consulting Wade and Butler about Rondo’s benching. “But in terms of the decision that was made, it was my decision. It's something that I decided to go with. It's something that's not always easy to make these types of decisions, but you've got to get buy-in from your group and go out and perform and compete.”

If Rondo’s benching was meant to cure an ill, it didn’t because the Milwaukee Bucks ran through and around the Bulls for a 20-point win on Saturday.

Clearly, Rondo isn’t the ideal fit for this roster, being tabbed with pushing the pace with players who aren’t the best at getting up and down the floor—hence his comment about the team’s athleticism being “bottom three” not too long ago. And it must be stated the setup of personnel was tailor-made for Mirotic to put a stranglehold on the starting power forward spot in training camp.

He didn’t have to beat Taj Gibson out, as anyone with eyes can see Gibson is the more savvy and consistent player. But Mirotic’s spacing makes life easier for Rondo, Wade and Butler while they believed they could figure out defense and rebounding on the fly.

But the gulf was so wide, Hoiberg had to go with the best performer as opposed to be the best fit.

After last season, Hoiberg couldn’t afford such an error, and to his credit he’s been more forceful this year—or as much as he can be given his nature—and things haven’t reached critical mass in the locker room.

He hasn’t lost Butler or Wade’s support, it seems. Wade isn’t a huge believer in assigning blame to coaching, even at its worst, because he’s believes in the talent on the floor making plays and players taking responsibility for the state of affairs.

That feeling has probably had an effect on Butler, too.

“I don’t know. I’m optimistic man,” Butler told CSNChicago.com Saturday night. “I think we can still turn it around, we just gotta figure it out. Everybody has to do their job better, stop making so many mistakes. We know what teams are come in here and try to do. We talk about it but we don’t do it. You can talk the talk but you don’t walk the walk, none of that s--- matters.”

Butler is controlling his frustrations, and hasn’t made any passive-aggressive statements in the media toward Hoiberg.

And with Hoiberg being owed such a sizeable amount of money on his deal, with three years at $5 million per year, along with the remaining amount for this season, it seems unlikely the Bulls would swallow that just for the sake of—especially when their stated goal was just to stay relevant for the next couple of years while the young players developed.

The Bulls haven’t fallen out of relevancy in the East, but the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening by the day as the dog days approach—along with a schedule that isn’t as kind on paper as December appeared to be.

Charlotte and Boston have appeared to establish themselves as the next tier in the East behind Cleveland and Toronto, leaving four playoff spots to be decided amongst eight teams, including the Bulls.

Charlotte is a rugged team that will defend and follow Kemba Walker’s lead, while Boston is well-coached and allowing Isaiah Thomas’s general disposition to shape their identity, while Hoiberg’s Bulls are still struggling at establishing something to hang their hat on, one year and 30-plus games into the his tenure.

Being 16-18 isn’t a death knell, but it doesn’t inspire confidence that things are moving in a definitive direction, particularly when Wade and Butler have been healthy, positive, and carrying a heavier load than one can reasonably expect—but how long can it last?

“Right now it’s who we are,” said Wade to CSNChicago.com about the team’s inconsistency after Friday’s loss to the Pacers. “You can make a change (to your patterns) but the record, a lot of times don't lie. We’re roughly a .500 team. You can see certain moments where you like certain things, you know certain things have to be a little better. Right now, our record is right about where our team is.”

“Certain moments” points to an inconsistency and an unreliability with some of the players the Bulls have expected something from this season. Neither Wade nor Butler feel the team is that far away from elevating itself to a definitive playoff team, or even one that reaches the second round with a chance to make some real noise with two prime-time perimeter players who can take over a game or series at a moment’s notice.

But with the Bulls at a crossroads, at it surely appears to be, they can’t afford to lose any more ground or that optimism can go right out the window with a four-game losing streak.

Wade and Butler have been queried multiple times, being asked if the Bulls have enough in the way of consistent personnel, to make this stopgap period worthwhile.

“I’ll leave that alone. We gotta make it enough. Whatever you have is what you have. I'm a player. My job is to play,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com.

“I very much said at the beginning of the year we’re not a championship team and everybody (got mad). We’re a playoff team, yeah. Whether we make it is on us. Your record just has to be better than (the lottery teams).”

Butler said to CSNChicago.com: “We better have enough. That’s why we’re here. You can’t feel sorry, make excuses and do this and that. We have mental lapses. That’s the stuff that hurts you.”

And if some of the players the front office believe in have decent enough value around the league despite underperforming in the present, are they ready to part with them to make the “now” more palatable while still keeping an eye toward the future as the conference will shift as LeBron James is expected (possibly) to age?

Depending on Wade and Butler to make every play in every game, particularly late, will only last so long before teams start to figure the Bulls out, if they haven't already, considering they've lost eight of eleven.

“Listen. I’m not arguing with you,” said Wade with a gleam in his eye when it was suggested the Bulls don’t have enough to keep themselves sustained in the East for 82 games.

He wasn’t suggesting anything, merely answering a question that appears quite obvious to those observing where this group could be headed.

“Noted,” he said with a laugh when it was suggested the Bulls could use one more consistent player to keep this afloat, not wanting to fully engage but not unable to deny what he sees.

But as the Bulls are firmly in the crosshairs and the crossroads, what are they willing to do—and can they pull it off?

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”