Bulls

Should Bulls worry about Heat's new secret weapon?

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Should Bulls worry about Heat's new secret weapon?

SAN FRANCISCO - Literally across an entire country from Northern California, where the Bulls are currently licking their wounds from Monday night's shocking loss to Golden State, perhaps the most disturbing threat to the chances of Chicago returning to the NBA Finals (let alone a parade down Michigan Ave.) may have emerged Tuesday evening in South Florida: Norris Cole.

Yes, the season is still very young and it might be a stretch to anoint the rookie out of Cleveland State -- though Heat fans serenaded the diminutive point guard, technically the Bulls' original 2011 first-round draft pick, with chants of "M-V-P" -- the next big thing based on a single performance, but what Cole brings to the table can't be ignored. Already appearing to be a potential upgrade from incumbent starter Mario Chalmers, Cole's speed, athleticism, moxie, surprising maturity and maybe most importantly, ability to knock down jumpers, were the difference for the Heat in fending off the Celtics (after surrendering a huge lead) Tuesday.

With head coach Erik Spoelstra reportedly adopting elements of the University of Oregon football team's warp-speed offense, Cole -- along with rugged backup power forward Udonis Haslem -- is a perfect complement to agile, finesse big man Chris Bosh and those two monster athletes Miami has on the wing. In fact, both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James deferred to Cole late against Boston, and with no hesitation, the rookie took over ballhandling duties (matched up with the likes of defensive-minded All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo) and rained in outside jumpers, scoring 14 of his 20 points in a taut fourth quarter, fending off a furious Celtics comeback.

I first became aware of Norris the summer before his senior year at Cleveland State, when he came to Chicago for one of the Nike Skills Academies camps. While pitted against more-ballyhooed peers like Duke All-American Nolan Smith, the little-known prospect wowed the NBA scouts in attendance with his explosiveness and fearlessness, giving him some buzz heading into his final college campaign.

Cole took full advantage of the increased attention, winning Horizon League (the same conference of back-to-back national runner-up Butler, as well as Chicago's own Loyola and UIC) MVP honors and even getting a piece of the national spotlight after a ridiculous 41-point, 20-rebound, nine-assist performance in one game. Still, when draft day came around, some skeptics wondered if, after dominating mid-major competition, whether his lack of size would negate his effectiveness on the next level, if he could make the transition into a traditional point guard and could he consistently hit shots from NBA three-point range.

So far, Cole has answered all of the above and then some, and judging from his even-keeled demeanor down the stretch of his second professional game, justified the trust his star teammates showed they had in him. Now, the pecking order won't be reconfigured to put the rookie ahead of James and Wade or even Bosh, but all of a sudden, coupled with the addition of veteran Shane Battier, still one of the league's better "three-and-D" players, and the low-risk, high-reward Eddy Curry experiment, the Heat are quietly a lot more multi-faceted than a year ago.

And by the way, Bulls fans who read this and saw Cole's Tuesday-night outburst, don't be mad at the front office for not holding onto him. It's not like there's a lot of playing time behind Derrick Rose or a need at the position (maybe not in two seasons, but right now, for his role on the Bulls, C.J. Watson is better than any rookie point guard, including Cole and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving) and privately, team management is absolutely ecstatic about skilled face-up power forward Nikola Mirotic, who is currently tearing up Spain's high-level ACB league and whom they believe can be an immediate-impact player and possible starter upon arrival in Chicago.

But Cole does affect the Bulls, assuming they have to tangle with the Heat in the playoffs again, in this way: Wade and James no longer have to be Miami's only primary ballhandler (Chalmers is more of a spot-up shooter and occasional slasher, though he's bigger than Cole) and their defense just got even faster, if a bit smaller. Not that Cole is prepared to take on the league's reigning MVP head on, but top Heat executive Pat Riley adding more ammunition -- people around the league weren't unaware of Cole, but with the lockout, no summer league and an abbreviated preseason, the former mid-major star remained an unproven commodity -- to already-loaded Miami is something that, even this early in the season, should have the Bulls' attention.

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley's path to the NBA was an intriguing one, a true story of perseverance featuring many twists and turns. For those who haven't closely followed Beverley's career, the Chicago native and current Los Angeles Clipper had a three-year career overseas before he really caught on in the NBA, landing a multi-year deal with the Houston Rockets in 2013. Before landing with the Rockets, Beverley played for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine), Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece), Spartak St. Petersburg (Russia) before landing in Houston but a lesser-known fact is that Beverley actually spent time practicing with the Bulls within the first two years of his overseas basketball career. 

On Saturday's episode of "The Woj Pod" hosted by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Beverley discussed the importance of glue guys, Kris Dunn's season and much more. One of the more interesting tidbits was the aforementioned workouts with the Bulls. Beverley responded to a Woj question about if he could've played with the Bulls had things went differently earlier in his career:

I worked in the summertime with the Bulls, I don't know, two-three years in a row, Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense...

Beverley elicited laughter from the crowd but he is clearly (and some would say rightfully) still upset by those who didn't give him an opportunity along the way. He went on to say that there is a "dynamic that fans don't know" and "can only assume." In the interview, Beverley didn't give a specific year but he says "two-three years" and clearly states that Vinny Del Negro was the head coach, meaning that he likely scrimmaged with the Bulls at points during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

When you take a closer look at those rosters, the possible matchups Beverley had become incredibly interesting to think about. The 2009 Bulls had nine players scoring in double figures — and a 10th scoring 9.9 points per game in Kirk Hinrich — and the 2010 Bulls had six players scoring in double figures.

Beverley could've had matchups against Larry Hughes (12,0 PPG in '09), John Salmons (career-high 18.3 PPG in '09), Ben Gordon (20.7 PPG in '09), or even Derrick Rose (18.7 PPG from 2008-10). Out of that group, Gordon and Rose specifically, can make any defender look bad on their best day, so maybe Del Negro's mistake wasn't as egregious as it appears now. Either way, Beverley certainly hasn't forgotten the ordeal. 

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Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Ask anyone from Chicago around All-Star weekend, and you'll quickly learn the city breeds tough, gritty and relentless basketball.

Apparently, it also breeds controversial dunk contests.

Thirty-two years after Michael Jordan bested Dominique Wilkins in a contest at the Old Chicago Stadium that many agree saw a healthy heaping of home-cooking on the menu, Derrick Jones Jr. topped Aaron Gordon in an affair that sent shockwaves through the NBA universe. Here's the rundown:

Highlights from regulation

There was a special feeling about this one from the very beginning.

Perhaps white men can jump:

 

 

Dwight busted out the cape (again) — and tributed Kobe along the way:

 

Aaron Gordon at one point rattled off five 50s in a row:

 

The finish

In the end, it all came down to Gordon and Jones, who duked out a dunk-off that featured some absolute haymakers:

 

It was raucous fun, truly. But the controversy came at the finish. Jones' final dunk was an attempted reprisal of Julius Erving's famous free-throw line dunk (re-popularized by Jordan, partly in that aforementioned '88 contest), which registered a 48. Gordon then pulled out the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall for an improvised leapfrog that nearly tore the roof down.

 

"It was a great decision for him to do that. Everybody knows Tacko's a fan favorite," Jones said. "I knew it was going to get the crowd hyped."

"He (Fall) was a little bit nervous. He was like 'I got faith in you.' I was like, 'I appreciate it,'" Gordon said.

That dunk, though, garnered only a 47 from the judges. Game, set, match: Jones. Boos cascaded from the rafters.

The reaction

That sentiment carried over into the postgame presser.

"What are we doing here?" Gordon bemoaned to assorted media before even taking his seat at the podium. "Jumping over somebody 7-foot-5 and dunking is no easy feat. What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?"

All fair questions. All fair points.

"I don't even know who gave me the 9s. I'm going to find them," he added with a laugh. "Trust me, I'm going to find them tonight.

Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen and Chadwick Boseman... Look out.

Gordon did give Jones his due, calling him a "leaper" and "great dunker." Still, this appears to be the final contest of Gordon's career.

"It's a wrap, bro. It's a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies," Gordon said, alluding to his defeat at the hands of Zach LaVine in 2016. "My next goal is going to be trying to win the 3-point contest."

Jones, meanwhile, contested the premise that Gordon was robbed at all.

"When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school and I know that's 50-worthy. There's no way I should have got a 48," Jones said. "He clipped Tacko's head when he did that dunk, so I knew they couldn't have gave him a 50 for that one. I would have respected it if they gave him another 48, so we can go again."

In that event, Jones said he would have been ready.

"I just turned 23, I got legs for days," Jones said. Jones' birthday was the night of the contest, and he said he had dunks planned for as long as the judges allowed them to.

And though Jones hasn't yet thought about where this dunk contest ranks in the history of ones before, he's ready for the next challenge.

"Whoever want to step out there. I don't know. I'm not naming no names. I don't want to call nobody out, but whoever want to step out in front of me, I'm there. I'm not going to shy away from nobody."

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