Ten games to mark down on Bulls 2016-17 schedule

Ten games to mark down on Bulls 2016-17 schedule

The Bulls had as busy an offseason as any team in the NBA, which means there will be plenty of headliner games on their 2016-17 schedule, which the league announced Thursday.

Here are ten that all fans should have circled on their calendars:

1. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah return to the United Center (Nov. 4)

For the first time in a decade the Bulls are without one of Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose. Arguably the two most crucial pieces to the Bulls' run in that span, Rose was dealt to New York less than a month before Noah signed with the hometown Knicks in free agency. Seeing both players competing inside the United Center in different uniforms for the first time - they've combined for 491 games in Chicago - will be a sight to see. And despite Rose's injury-prone career irking some fans, expect both players to receive standing ovations upon their introductions from PA announcer Tommy Edwards.

2. Hosting LeBron James and the champion Cavaliers (Dec. 2)

With the Cavs, LeBron James has played 35 regular-season games against the Bulls. But he's never faced them as a reigning NBA champion. Even with Kevin Durant joining the 73-win Warriors, the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the NBA until further notice. And they're certainly the team to beat in the East, as James has won the conference each of the last six seasons. The Bulls took two of four from the Cavaliers last season, and could gain a real confidence boost by doing so again. It will also mark the first meeting between Dwyane Wade and James, two close friends, since Wade joined the Bulls. It's always must-see TV when those two go up against each other.

3. Dwyane Wade returns to Miami playing for the opposition (Nov. 10)

Wade spent 13 years in Miami, playing a combined 524 regular-season and postseason games in South Beach. That will change this season, as he makes his return to Miami wearing a different uniform for the first time. As emotional a return as it will be for Wade, who is sure to receive a standing ovation, it could wind up being an important game for both teams battling for positioning in the Eastern Conference. 

4. Tom Thibodeau takes his Timberpups to Chicago (Dec. 13)

The former Bulls coach already returned to the United Center this summer as an assistant for USA Basketball. But when he brings with him the most talented group of young players in the NBA, expect some serious competition. With the previous two Rookies of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves will prove to be a stiff test under the defensive-minded Thibodeau. Remember, too, that the Bulls were heavily interested in acquiring Dunn before this year's draft. Thibodeau and the T-Wolves took the Providence guard with the fifth pick.

5. KD, Steph, Draymond and Klay bring their superteam to the Windy City (March 2)

Like they did to most teams last season, the Warriors entered the United Center and stepped on the Bulls' throat from the opening tip in January. They led by 16 after the first quarter and cruised to a 31-point victory, extending their record to 39-4 on their way to 73 wins. All the Warriors did this offseason was add the game's best scorer in Kevin Durant, making Golden State's only trip to the Windy City must-see. 

6. Bulls open the season with new-look Celtics (Oct. 27)

The Bulls and Celtics were reportedly discussing a deal for Jimmy Butler on draft night, but nothing appeared close to getting done. Instead, the Celtics hung on to their core, drafted Cal's Jaylen Brown and wound up signing All-Star big man Al Horford in free agency. That's put them right in the thick of the Eastern Conference hunt, and it should create an electric atmosphere on Opening Night. It'll also pit two former Marquette teammates together in Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. Free agent acquisition Rajon Rondo also spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Celtics.

7. Bulls will play on Christmas Day for the 21st time in franchise history (Dec. 25)

The additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo this offseason made the Bulls a team to watch this season. And the NBA rewarded them by slotting them in for the late afternoon game on Christmas Day against the Spurs. It's the 21st time they've played on Christmas, sporting a 13-7 record that included an impressive road victory over the Thunder last season. It's the seventh straight season they've played on the holiday, and it will mark the Bulls' first matchup against Pau Gasol, who left for San Antonio in free agency this summer.

8. Pau Gasol and the Tim Duncan-less Spurs arrive (Dec. 8)

The Spurs will be ushering in a new era of basketball this season after Tim Duncan's retirement. It'll be the first time since 1996 the Bulls square off against a Duncan-less Spurs. But Gregg Popovich's team isn't necessarily getting that much younger. They grabbed Pau Gasol in free agency - two years after the Spaniard almost chose the Spurs over the Bulls. It'll be an emotional return for Gasol, who always spoke highly of Chicago and his time with the Bulls. It was simply time to move on after two seasons in Chicago. Still, he'll receive a nice ovation from the fans after he averaged 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games for the Bulls. He also made two All-Star appearances during his time with the Bulls.

9. Looking to keep the streak going against the Raptors (Jan. 7)

It has to be one of the oddest winning streaks in basketball, but the Bulls have reeled off nine straight victories - spanning three seasons - against the Raptors. That's the same Raptors team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and re-signed DeMar DeRozan to a max deal. They'll face each other four more times this year, and if they can win the season series again - another sweep seems unlikely - it could pay off significant dividends if they met in the postseason. This matchup will also pit Team USA members against each other, with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry representing the Raptors in Rio, and Jimmy Butler doing the same for the Bulls.

10. Anthony Davis comes to Chicago, plus a battle of rookie All-Americans (Jan. 14)

It's always a fun homecoming when Chicago native Anthony Davis returns. And this time he's bringing company. Not only will E'Twaun Moore be making his first appearance in Chicago since leaving the team in free agency. Oklahoma sensation Buddy Hield, who the Pelicans selected with the No. 6 pick in June's NBA Draft, will go toe-to-toe with former Michigan State sharpshooter Denzel Valentine. It will pit college basketball's two best players from last year against each other in what should be a high-scoring affair.

Here's a look at the Bulls' entire 2016-17 schedule. Click to enhance the image.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago


Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.

Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.

But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 

Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.


For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 

Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker


Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.

Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 

LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.

LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.

Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.