Bulls

Tag-team: Boozer, Rose too much for 'Wolves

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Tag-team: Boozer, Rose too much for 'Wolves

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted: 10:06 p.m. Updated: 10:58 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MINNEAPOLISA trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes is apparently a temporary cure the for slow starts, as the Bulls (54-20) remedied their sluggish beginnings to games as of late and then maintained enough intensity to cruise to a 108-91 laugher over the lowly Timberwolves (17-58) Wednesday night at the Target Center. Led by strong performances from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, the Bulls cruised to an easy victory, increasing their first-place Eastern Conference lead.

Even without the energetic Joakim Noahthe center missed the game with a sprained right ankle after missing the teams morning shootaround, then testing the injury in pregame warmupsthe Bulls got off to a much-improved start to the game, as Rose (23 points, 10 assists) scored Chicagos first six points, en route to an early 15-8 lead over the home team. Additionally, both the post duo of Boozer (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Kurt Thomasthe latter started in Noahs place and had his deadly mid-range jumper working, while Boozer mostly finished around the rim and was a rebounding forcehad it going early, enabling the visitors to increase their lead.

Carlos was very aggressive, praised Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. That set the tone and allowed us to play inside-out. He was great on the boards.

Kurt did a good job stepping in and starting, he continued. Thomas was terrific. When he has stepped in previously, he has anchored our defense and played well.

The Bulls played tough defense on their young opponents, won the battle of the boards and shared the ball on offense, all major tenets of Thibodeaus scheme. It was the focused scoring and playmaking efforts of Rose (13 first-quarter points, to go with five assists), however, that was main component in the Bulls 30-19 advantage through one quarter of play.

We went back and watched the tape of the last few games that we played, and we had bad first quarters. We talked about it in practice yesterday, we talked about it at practice this morning, observed Boozer. Its on the starting team to get our guys going and I thought we did a better job.

We played off Poohwe played off D. Roseand let him get busy. We made the secondary passes and we made plays from there. We did a better job spreading the floor and the spacing seemed better tonight. We did a good job of trying to hit the open man, he continued. We did a good rebounding, we did a good job sharing the ball, we did a good job playing D.

Added Rose: We came out, jumped on them, kept the lead for the whole game and kept it going tonight.

We looked at film. We knew that the ball was stopping. Tonight, we just made sure that we made the right passes, guys took the right shots and the game is going to tell you what to do.

Chicagos Bench Mob maintained the teams double-digit winning margin in the second period through balanced play and a continuance of the stout defense from the games outset. Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest by the quarters midway point and while they werent clicking on all cylinders offensively, Minnesotas own scoring struggles kept the Windy City crew ahead comfortably.

Our bench play was very good. C.J., Ronnie Brewer, Taj, all had good energy, said Thibodeau. Our bench has done a very good job for us all year. The more we play them, the more rest for our starters. That's always good. We have a lot of confidence in them. Every time we have an injury, the guys who step in are always ready.

We count on everybody.

While Boozer was effective as both a scorer and rebounder down low, the Bulls faced a lack of able bodies in the postThomas and rookie Omer Asik each picked up three first-half fouls, depleting an already Noah-less frontlinebut the Bulls depth accounted for it, as Taj Gibson capably filled in; the second-year USC products diving hustle play led to a particularly disappointing sequence for the home crowd. Following a Kyle Korver jumper at the halftime buzzer, the Bulls took a 57-44 lead into the break.

Defense was the name of the game after the intermission, as the Bulls length inside either dissuaded or denied Timberwolves attempts on the interior and coupled with a steady diet of Boozer on the other end, helped Chicago gradually build a bigger cushion, with Roses passing ability serving as an offensive catalyst. Boozer dominated his Minnesota counterparts with a combination of solid work on the glass, mid-range jumpers, proficient finishing and intelligent passing, exploiting the inexperience of his foes.

The last two days Carlos has practiced really well. I think he's starting to get healthier, said Thibodeau. When he's healthy and he's practicing hard, he's going to play well. He's proven that. We just need to keep building him as we move forward.

Chimed in Rose: Hes playing more aggressive. He changed the game totally with defenders having to double team. You can throw the ball into him in the post. When people double team him, it opens up almost everything on the court.
Luol Deng (13 points, five rebounds, five assists) also got into the scoring act and despite the efforts of third-year forwards Michael Beasley (12 points) and All-Star Kevin Love (16 points, nine rebounds), the Bulls remained in firm control of the contest, creating a gap of over 20 points between the two combatants. Heading into the final frame, the Bulls led, 86-66.

Thibodeau, a basketball purist even in the face of an ever-ballooning lead, called timeout following a Bulls turnover and uncontested fast-break dunk by Timberwolves forward Anthony Randolph (12 points), just 59 seconds into the fourth quarter. His team responded to their coachs displeasure by buckling down defensively, increasing their effort and pushing the tempo, which is logical, given the fresh legs of the Bulls second unit.

Thibs is not going to let you off the hook for anything, said Rose. Hes always going to yell, call timeouts, all that stuff. But were looking at the bigger picture.

Even Thibodeau, who is seemingly never sure of a win until the final horn sounds, tacitly acknowledged the blowout by not playing Rose or Boozer one minute in the fourth quarter and pulling Deng early in the period. Backup point guard C.J. Watson (13 points, three assists) was the catalyst for the reservesdespite high-energy play from Randolph and fellow backup forward Anthony Tolliver (14 points) on Minnesotas endand though Thibodeau again halted the action midway through the period to express his displeasure, his troops did enough to ensure the Timberwolves never even sniffed striking distance the rest of the way.

The ball was hopping from the start, the extra pass made a big difference, our rebounding was terrific and overall, our defense was good until the fourth. We had good balance to our game, said Thibodeau. It started yesterday. I thought our shootaround was intense and serious. Our locker room was serious and the start of the game was serious. I thought we established a defensive mindset and that got us going. It made us aggressive.

Boozer chimed in: We want to be a 48-minute team. We dont want to be a team that plays for two quarters or three quarters. We want to be a team that can compete for four quarters. Tonight was better, but we still have to make improvement in that area as a group.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls mailbag: Who will own front office power? Will Kris Dunn return?

Bulls mailbag: Who will own front office power? Will Kris Dunn return?

The Bulls have 27 games remaining beginning with Thursday’s home game against the Hornets. Can Zach LaVine sink 13 3-pointers again? Oh wait, it’s your turn to ask the questions.

Will John Paxson still have final say over decisions or be more of an advisor like Doug Collins? If he still has control, won’t this limit the number of quality candidates who would be interested since they would need to report to Paxson? And what is the point of keeping Gar Forman? – Tim G.

This question is in response to multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, reporting that this underwhelming season is expected to lead to offseason front office changes. My reporting said the Bulls are looking to add “an empowered presence.” Where this expected hire’s autonomy ends is unknown to me at this point. In other words, I don’t know if this hire would report to Paxson or ownership. It’s certainly possible it could be the latter.

I do know this: Contrary to some fans’ belief, a management hire for this organization, in whatever role, would attract a significant amount of interest. You’re in a major market. You have some of the best facilities in the league. There are some attractive young pieces on the roster. Paxson has little ego and always has merely wanted to win, please ownership and do what’s best for a franchise to which he feels a great allegiance. So if he’s around in an advisory role, finding a candidate willing to work with him wouldn’t be hard. Paxson will take whatever role that ownership tells him they think is best for the franchise. And as reported ad nauseum: He’s still valued by ownership.

The Bulls always have valued collaborative decision-making on big decisions. So if they hire an outside voice — or voices — in an empowered role, the decision-making still would be a collaborative process. But there’s no point in trying to affect significant change without giving this expected new hire power. Any new hire certainly would, and should, ask for authority to decide on the coaching situation. As for personnel and player development, those should be collaborative decisions anyway. Along those lines, the scouting department will be overhauled and likely bolstered.

As for Forman, the Reinsdorfs are extremely loyal people. That’s well documented. Plus, in the eyes of ownership, his personnel judgement and drafting ability features more hits than misses. As previously reported, nobody has finalized their decision-making process on what likely will be a new structure for the front office. So to answer in absolutes is impossible.

Any indication how the Bulls will go about finding their next general manager? Shouldn't they just poach from a franchise that have had longstanding success — Boston, Toronto, San Antonio? It would be less than ideal when they tell us they will go on a nationwide search and ultimately hire someone they know from Iowa. – Jay R.

All I know is most anywhere I went over All-Star weekend, executives from other teams and agents I know said, “So the Bulls are asking around for input on front office candidates?” Or some variation of that sentiment. So as for the process, that’s where I’ve been led to believe it currently stands: Ownership is seeking input from a wide variety of people on who these people think are the best candidates for this role or roles they envision adding. That sounds pretty far-reaching at this point to me. I assume it gets narrowed down as they move closer to the offseason.

Do you know who the Bulls are currently looking at as possible general manager and vice president candidates? If not, who would you like to see them pursue? As a Bulls fan for a long time, I’m excited that they’re finally looking to make a change. But I hope that they make the right one. – Brian M.

I know some names that were given to ownership from some of the people they asked for input. I don’t yet know who they’re interested in or looking at, and I think the list of names they’ve been given is a very long one. So to narrow it down to specific names would be misleading, especially because there are many avenues they could explore. Does ownership dream big to try to make a Theo Epstein-like hire and throw big money at Masai Ujiri or Sam Presti? Do they go the route of the accomplished executive with a president of basketball operations over him like Mike Zarren, Troy Weaver, Matt Lloyd, Justin Zanik, Chad Buchanan or Trajan Langdon? Do they go the agent route like B.J. Armstrong or Austin Brown? (Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein told WSCR-670 AM that he’d have no interest in such a move.) From my understanding, the Bulls are in the information gathering stages of this process. And to be clear, the above names are my names and not meant to be an all-encompassing list.

In your opinion, should the new general manager take a hard look at our young talent like Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. before making any major moves? – Cary B., via Twitter

That’s why player development is so important. The Bulls don’t project to have salary-cap space this summer. If Otto Porter Jr. exercises his player option, the roster as it currently stands will largely return unless they opt to trade Zach LaVine. (I’ve been pretty clear in past mailbags that I think such a move would be a mistake.) When I talk to executives from other teams, most point to all three of those players you mention as solid young pieces. So, however the Bulls choose to approach this offseason, player development has to be near the top of the to-do list.

Since we are still paying Fred Hoiberg and gave Jim Boylen an extension, will that force the Bulls to stay with Boylen for a while? – Duncan H.

The financial commitment to Hoiberg ends after this season. Boylen’s extension is modest by NBA head coaching standards. If an expected new hire is given authority to address the coaching situation and didn’t want to retain Boylen, eating the rest of the money wouldn’t be prohibitive.

Any hope for Lauri Markkanen? Does he need a new coach or is he just not as good as we thought? – Kabby, via Twitter

Opinion is divided on this around the league. From the people I talk to, there’s still a slight edge to Markkanen approaching All-Star level than mere rotation player. As previously stated in this feature, I think Markkanen’s regression is multifaceted and a bad combination of confluent events. A system that doesn’t always utilize him to maximum efficiency. A system that brings out his team-first, non-selfish tendencies and too often allows him to cede to the background. His health. Missing open shots.

Is Markkanen a good dancer? – Jesse P., via Twitter

This was sent after I initially solicited questions for this mailbag and the first five were all on the front office. So I said other subjects welcomed. Bravo to Jesse for humorously taking the bait. And speaking of humor, would it surprise some to know that Markkanen possesses one of the best senses of humor on the team? He comes across as bland during most group media sessions. But he’s extremely funny when you talk to him away from the cameras.

With the Bulls’ decently easy schedule coming up, do you think it’s even a possibility we could get hot while our injured players come back along the way and push for the 8th seed? – Matt B.

I’m not sure what schedule you’re looking at, my man. Yes, the Bulls resume with a four-game homestand with three games against non-playoff teams. And, yes, they could get healthier soon. But from March 14 to April 8, they play the Heat and Nuggets twice each, the Celtics, Spurs, Rockets, 76ers and Lakers and Clippers. Can you say draft lottery?

If the Bulls were able to get healthy and go on a winning streak that allowed them to sneak into the playoffs, how impactful do you believe that would be as it relates to any kind of changes the organization would be inclined to make? This looks like a much weaker draft compared to 2018 and 2019, so my hope as a fan is to see improvement from the young core rather than hoping we luck out in the lottery. There’s no Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis or even a Zion Williamson-type prospect in 2020. – Mark F.

To answer your first question, I think changes are coming regardless. The issues facing the Bulls move beyond won-lost record. I thought All-Star weekend placed a spotlight on the distance between where the Bulls are and where the league is. They need to connect with a largely disgruntled fan base and become relevant again with agents and players around the league.

That said, particularly for a young team, always shoot for the playoffs. Getting swept by the Bucks in the first round would be more valuable to me than seeing this team improve its draft lottery positioning by a spot or two, particularly with this draft. Will that happen? I had them pegged for 36 victories and no playoffs before the season. One out of two ain’t bad.

What are the chances that Coby White will start at point guard this year? This season is basically lost, and Tomas Satoransky is obviously not the long-term point guard starter. I think it's time. – Corey H.

I’m in the minority here, but I think the Bulls’ usage of White has been excellent. Notice I said usage and not development, as I do think the latter could be better. But I think they’ve done well not trying to pigeonhole him into playing point guard and riding his strengths as a reserve scoring guard for now. I also think Boylen has utilized him down the stretch of games where he has been hot. And his minutes have increased of late, and with all the injuries, that should continue. It’s almost certain he’ll get some starts, possibly as early as Thursday. And, yes, the Bulls need to develop the point guard aspects of his game more.

Any chance the Bulls bring back Kris Dunn this summer? And at what cost? – Joe M.

I think there’s a good chance. I also think, given his injury history, Dunn should not play on the qualifying offer and look for long-term security. As a restricted free agent, the Bulls can match any offers he receives. They’ve historically played hardball in such situations. Unfortunately for Dunn, this latest injury — a sprained right MCL — came at the worst time for him. Not only is he about to become a restricted free agent, he was enjoying a solid season. The injury could lessen his market even more. Previously, I thought he’d be in the $10-$12 million range annually. But now perhaps he’ll be in the $8-$10 million range? Remember, not many teams have cap space this summer. And with the salary cap rising, that may seem like a lot for a point guard who isn’t a great 3-point shooter. But Dunn has the potential to become elite defensively if he stays healthy.

With everyone healthy, what is a lineup you would want to see start/finish games? – Casey K.

To start: Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. To finish: White for Satoransky to add more shooting. Good luck with the “everyone healthy” part.

How do other players around the league, especially the All-Star players, view Zach LaVine? I saw clips of players saying that Bradley Beal should have made the All-Star game and was wondering whether players view Zach in a similar way. If not, why not? - Jacob C.

This isn’t the be-all, end-all because some players don’t take voting seriously. But Beal finished second behind Kemba Walker in player voting for All-Star. LaVine finished seventh behind Walker, Beal, Trae Young, Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving. And Irving barely played this season. I don’t think this is as much a poor reflection on LaVine as it is to show how deep the East backcourt is. But for the most part, LaVine is viewed as an uber-talented scorer who plays for a bad team and needs to improve on defense.

I love Chandler Hutchinson’s game recently. Where do you see him fitting in as we get guys back from injury? – Chris F.

Well, he’s among the injured again now. And that’s a huge problem. Not only is he giving up valuable starting experience with his recurrence of that right shoulder injury, he’s showing again that he can’t stay on the court consistently.

What is Otto Porter Jr.’s future with the team? What are the chances he opts out? – William M., via Twitter

I have a better chance of winning a Pulitzer than him opting out.

Is Adam Mokoka just a guy or does he have some real potential as a wing in the NBA?  Cee J., via Twitter

I sensed some actual buzz and intrigue when the Bulls signed him as a two-way player. And he put on quite the show when he scored 15 points without missing a shot in less than 6 minutes against the Pelicans. But I haven’t seen enough of him to accurately answer your question. He seems like a fringe player to me.

I've been reading everything and anything I can about the offense. How much of this is on Zach and Lauri just not fitting? Or is it more likely that the coaching staff just isn't setting them up for success? Lauri isn't being coached to back smaller players down. He isn't using his drag step that was soooo money last year. I just feel like the offense is not in sync at all. Am I crazy? – Tony A.

Well, let’s see. It’s currently ranked 26th. So, no, you’re not crazy. Markkanen and LaVine have struggled to consistently impact games at the same time. But I do think part of this is usage. How many times have they been placed in screen-and-roll together? I also agree that this offense hasn’t featured Markkanen on the move as much as Fred Hoiberg’s did. As with most issues, it’s not one or the other. It’s a combination of players not playing to their potential and coaching not always putting them in the best position to succeed. There’s no reason two offensively gifted players like this, with different skill sets, shouldn’t play well together. But they haven’t.

No questions this week. I’ll return strong in March. – Andrew G.

That makes one of us.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Bulls’ rebuild remains in relative disarray. A combination of injuries, individual regression and daunting opponents on the horizon leaves little hope for a playoff push in the short-term, and uncertainty regarding crucial pieces in the long-term.

For those reasons, all eyes will be on Coby White down the final 27-game stretch of the season. Or at least, they should be.

The Bulls, after all, are just eight months removed from investing the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft on White — the same number selection they used on Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in each of the two years prior. At the time, White profiled as a perfect last addition to a burgeoning core four of Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Carter — a lightning-rod scorer the team could bring along slowly off the bench with veteran Tomas Satoransky in tow. All while straddling dual objectives of winning and developing.

But, to borrow an old quarterback adage: Sometimes if you have two objectives, you really have none. The Bulls haven’t won. And White’s rookie season has been turbulent. In flashes, he’s inspired attention, respect and even awe — his first month in the NBA featured a record-smashing seven 3-pointer (all in the fourth quarter) performance against the Knicks, a six 3-pointer outing his next time on the floor and four 20-point games, overall. Seventeen games in, averages of 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists with 35.6% long-range shooting (on good volume) seemed an exciting base from which to work.

Since the early going, however, those aforementioned outbursts have become fewer and farther between. White has just one 20-point game since Nov. 23 (averaging 9.9 points per game), and his numbers across the board have largely either stagnated or dipped. A perusal of his basic month-to-month offensive splits reveals noticeable choppiness, both in production and opportunity:

Month Games Minutes per game Points per game Assists per game FG% 3P%
Oct. 5 23.3 12.6 2.8 40 30.8
Nov. 15 26.1 13.1 1.9 35.7 33
Dec. 14 22.6 9.4 2.4 37.7 40
Jan. 17 23.3 10.3 1.9 39 33.3
Feb. 4 29.1 11.5 6 30.8 27.6

Some of that is out of White’s hands. When Kris Dunn was forced into the starting lineup by injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison in November, White was asked to play the part of a lead-guard and facilitator with the second unit to varying success (his most efficient offense comes in spotup scenarios). Coming off the bench all season, his running mates have been in constant flux, which has undoubtedly hurt his severely unflattering on/off splits. Still, White has handled every challenge hurled at him with unflinching professionalism, humility and determination.

“The rookie experience is definitely humbling. It humbles you. It's up and down,” White said. “Patience – a lot of people just tell me patience, my time is coming.”

White pointed to his on-ball work as the area he most wants to see improvement from himself for the rest of the season. Evolving into a true point guard is a strident aspiration of his. The Bulls, for their part, would gladly sign on for that outcome.

“I think today's natural point guard — scoring, playmaking, being a leader, and just holding everybody accountable,” White said, when asked to describe his vision for himself as a lead guard.

“At the beginning it was kind of difficult,” White added of finding the balance between scoring and playmaking for others at the NBA level. “But now I'm starting to get better at it and making the right reads and just making the simple plays. I think ultimately, it's just making the simple plays and reading the defense.”

Here lies an area he has improved recently. Small sample size alert, but in the five games since Dunn sprained his MCL (including the game in which the injury occurred), White is averaging five assists per game — leagues above his season-long average of 2.4 — and his body control, patience in the halfcourt and finishing through contact have all steadily improved over the course of the season. The game is beginning to slow down for him.

 

“I think just playing consistently has been big for me. Being on the floor as a rookie and whatnot,” said White, who is averaging 28.2 minutes since Jan. 31. “I've made a lot of progress from when I was at Summer League until now. I think controlling the game a lot better, putting my teammates in position to succeed. So I feel like I've been doing that a lot better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to work at it.

That “long way to go” is mainly in shooting efficiency, a point White acknowledged. Of 272 players that have taken 200 field goal attempts this season, White is 261st in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%). In his last 11 games, he’s reached 50% shooting from the field only once, when he shot only six times in 19 minutes against the Pacers on Jan. 29. Generally speaking, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the lowest on the team of those that have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

So is the song and dance of analyzing White. His virtues are tantalizing, the areas to improve inescapable. But if the Bulls make one thing their priority over the last 27 games of the season, it should be clearing up as much murk as possible around evaluating him. White and Markkanen represent the two players on the team that are simultaneously the most important to the Bulls’ future while also being shrouded in the most uncertainty. The organization can’t afford to go into year four of this rebuild without clarity on both.

And in terms of White, specifically, the Bulls owe it to themselves to have as much information as possible at their disposal with another top-ten draft pick likely in the cards, and a top-heavy, guard-heavy 2020 class looming. Creating a logjam at the guard spot risks impeding his development.

The opportunity to collect that information is nigh. As of Thursday, Dunn is set to miss at least four to six more weeks with an MCL sprain before being reevaluated; Hutchison will miss the team’s first game back post-All-Star with a flare-up in his shoulder; Carter and Porter are inching closer to returns, but neither have concrete timetables; and Markkanen and Denzel Valentine remain out, ambiguously.

White, meanwhile, is one of just three Bulls — along with LaVine and Satoransky — to appear in all 55 games this season, though he has yet to make a start. (Stay tuned.)

For now, Boylen said his plan for White hasn’t changed in light of that brutal spate of injuries. But one way or another, he’ll get his shot.

“He cares, he wants it,” Boylen said. “Like all young players he's trying to establish himself in the league, and I just keep telling him he's doing that and just keep it simple and keep playing… He's a high character dude, so the future's bright.”

Whenever that future comes fully to fruition, it will be worth watching.

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