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.

Bulls core ranked 14th best in the league by The Ringer

Bulls core ranked 14th best in the league by The Ringer

The Ringer ranked the NBA's best young cores, organizing the best foundations in the league of players under 25.

The idea was to form concrete rankings based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projections and the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic, and The Ringer's list certainly has some star power at the top with Zion Williamson's Pelicans, Nikola Jokic's Nuggets and Luka Doncic's Mavericks all ranking in the top five and the Bulls made the top half of the list for their collection of young talent. 

The Ringer's Zach Kram has the Bulls ranked 14th in the young core rankings, with Lauri Markkanen contributing heavily to the Bulls favorable placement. 

Markkanen was rated as the best young player on the Bulls as a result of his WAR being the highest (10.8) among the Bulls young players. 

The team amassed an overall WAR of 33.1 (14th in the league) right behind the Miami Heat and ahead of the San Antonio Spurs. 

All of the rankings are based on the aforementioned advanced stats—WAR and CARMELO—but the Bulls specifically were both helped and hurt by the fact that they have a stable of young, potential-filled players rather than one central, clear-cut star. 

The Bulls core group of players fit together better than many young groups, which gave Kram and The Ringer some confidence in their long-term outlook.

...at the very least, the Bulls roster features a reasonably complementary set of young players around which to build.

-Zach Kram 

The fact that the advanced stats like Markkanen as the Bulls best player isn't extremely shocking, as his sophomore season was unequivocally a success. Over 52 games in the 2018-19 season, "The Finnisher" averaged 18.7 points and 9 rebounds per game while posting a career-best 106.8 offensive rating (per NBA.com). 

Of the five teams (weighted by production)  with an average age under 25-year-old last season, the Bulls had the 3rd most wins (22) behind the Kings and Nuggets.

Chicago will be looking to build a winning culture this upcoming season and having their talented youngsters now surrounded by competent veterans will certainly help make this a much easier feat for Jim Boylen and co. to accomplish.

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Bulls crack the top 20 of Forbes' most valuable sports franchises

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USA TODAY

Bulls crack the top 20 of Forbes' most valuable sports franchises

The Bulls' franchise is heading in the right direction on the court, and it's doing pretty great off it, too.

Forbes released its annual ranking of the top 50 most valuable sports franchises, and the Bulls are back in the top 20 with a valuation of $2.9 billion.

The Bulls are up from 23rd a year ago, when they were valued at $2.6 billion. They were 22nd in 2017 with a $2.5 billion valuation, and 18th in 2016 with a $2.3 billion valuation.

The Bulls were one of nine NBA franchises in the top 50. That number was one more than last year.

Here's a list of all nine NBA teams that made the cut:

1. New York Knicks ($4 billion)
2. Los Angeles Lakers ($3.7 billion)
3. Golden State Warriors ($3.5 billion)
4. Chicago Bulls ($2.9 billion)
5. Boston Celtics ($2.8 billion)
6. Brooklyn Nets ($2.35 billion)
7. Houston Rockets ($2.3 billion)
8. Dallas Mavericks ($2.25 billion)
9. Los Angeles Clippers ($2.2 billion)

As Forbes noted in the piece, "NBA teams have made the most dramatic moves this decade." Just seven years ago, the Lakers were valued at $900 million and were one of just two NBA teams (the Knicks were the other) in the top 50.

Among Chicago teams, the Bulls ranked second behind the Cubs ($3.1 billion) and tied with the Bears ($2.9 billion). Neither the Blackhawks nor the White Sox made the list.