Still point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne

Still point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne

LAS VEGAS -- Since trading Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ relationship with the point guard spot has been “complicated”, if it were a Facebook status.

So while it’s not surprising to see the franchise’s evaluation of Cameron Payne fall flat to this point, one wonders how much progress should be expected given they still have Jerian Grant and acquired Kris Dunn on draft night.

Payne and Dunn played together in the backcourt in the Bulls’ Summer League opener Saturday and although the Bulls went to a two-point guard front, they looked disorganized and out of sorts for most of the game.

Not the best sign considering Payne was called the “point guard of the future” when he was acquired from Oklahoma City as the Bulls dumped Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.

Considering the Bulls renounced the rights of Joffrey Lauvergne, making him an unrestricted free agent, Payne is the lone body remaining from the deal. And although the setting of Summer League is hardly the best ground to show what a player will do when the games really matter, going two for nine and missing all five 3-point attempts won’t do much to inspire confidence in Payne from the outside.

“I would agree with that. We watched a lot of clips on that this morning with Cam. He walked into a very difficult situation (in February),” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said following Sunday morning’s practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center

Hoiberg said Payne was a positive in the playoff prep for Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, where he played the role of Thomas for the scout team. Considering the way Thomas played in the series after Rajon Rondo was hurt, perhaps it was more the defense that was easily manipulated compared to the actual performance.

But the Bulls have confidence in Payne and will continue to express it outwardly, as evidenced by Payne being more on the ball than Dunn in the opener. Dunn expects to play more point guard Monday afternoon, though.

“Cam is a good basketball player. He’s a competitive kid,” Hoiberg said. “He was really disappointed last night. It’s all about bouncing back, watching film, getting better from it. Hopefully he finishes summer league strong.”

More than the statistics, it didn’t appear Payne had a strong feel for the game and its rhythm, requirement number one at that position. At times he rushes the offense while looking for his shot and even more, his cadence often gives away when he’ll forsake the offense to look for his own shot.

And considering the lack of positive experiences Payne has had since being acquired, one has to wonder about his confidence level being affected before it can actually be built.

“We talked a lot about going out there and just making the right basketball play, making simple plays,” Hoiberg said. “We had a lot of examples in our three-day minicamp that we had of making solid plays. When Dallas went on a run last night, it looked like it became my-turn basketball. We just came down and jacked up bad shots.”

On the criticism Payne has received, Hoiberg keeps pumping Payne up: “You can’t let negative comments affect the way you play. Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow and throughout these last four or five games,” he said.

Payne has spent most of the offseason in Chicago, a must after Bulls VP John Paxson said Payne needs to work on his body and conditioning before next season

“Yeah, I feel like I began to improve. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I mean it’s a process,” Payne said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’ve been in Chicago. That’s been my summer. Just trying to get bigger, stronger. Pick my conditioning up, improve my stamina on the court.’’

Stating pointedly that there’s no time for summer vacation, Payne hopes this experience is a building block for himself personally as he hopes to rewrite a narrative that hasn’t gone his way thus far.

“I mean of course. I mean Summer League is definitely a big task for us,” Payne said.  “We’ve got to build a good chemistry and it starts here. That’s going to translate into the regular season.”

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

USA Today

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

The Bulls got back in the win column with a 118-106 victory over the Cavaliers, and Zach LaVine is ridiculous. Here's some observations:

Zach LaVine did it again

Whatever happens over the rest of this Bulls season, don’t put it at the feet of Zach LaVine. If you take one thing away from this one, make it that.

LaVine was simply tremendous tonight. He finished with a cool 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of play, and shot 16-for-30 from the field (5-for-12 from three; 7-for-8 from the free throw line). After the Bulls fell to the Kings on Friday, LaVine said he was fully prepared for any amount of advanced opportunity that might come his way. He proved that tonight. The Cavaliers threw the kitchen sink (and Tristan Thompson, for a couple possessions) at him, and it didn't matter.

Though he entered the fourth quarter with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, LaVine was unable to clinch his first career triple double. He did make a modicum of history, though: 

Yeah, getting those last two assists would have been a cool milestone. But Bulls fans will take the sublime scoring performance — and victory — and run with it. LaVine’s fourth 40-point outing of the season doesn’t hurt his All-Star chances, either.

A bunch of good things happened in the third quarter

I’ve harped on it more than a few times this season, but the Bulls are not a good third quarter team. Their 27th-ranked -8.3 third quarter net rating proves it.

Tonight was different. The Bulls pounded the Cavaliers 40-19 in the third period, extending a two-point halftime lead to 23 entering the fourth.

To put it simply: Everything went right. The Bulls turned eight Cavaliers turnovers into 13 points, shot 16-for-21 (76.2%) from the field, 3-for-5 from three and slung 10 assists in those 12 minutes, alone. And though LaVine carried the load in the first half, the Bulls got 28 points in the third from the non-LaVine contingent of the team — a positive development.

Notably, Tomas Satoransky finished the night with a fully stuffed stat line of 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals on 8-for-11 shooting. The Bulls’ second-scorer problem is still a pressing one, but we’ll put it aside for another night. 

Let’s have fun with this one

This win doesn’t assuage most any of the darkest clouds hanging over the Bulls. The Cavaliers are a disastrous team -- rated in the bottom eight of the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, and with the league’s highest turnover rate (Cleveland committed 21 cough-ups tonight). And yet, they shot 50% from the floor, 43.3% from the 3-point line and both outrebounded and out-assisted the Bulls tonight. 

But given the mounting adversity facing this team, this is one fans can afford to have some fun with. The Zach LaVine show marches on, and will continue to be worth watching.

Next stop: the UC for the Spurs on Monday.

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Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

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