Bulls

Thibodeau's work ethic gives Bulls an edge

Thibodeau's work ethic gives Bulls an edge

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
9:37 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

After just a couple days of training camp, one thing is clear about this years edition of the Chicago Bulls: They wont lose games because theyre unprepared or unable to adjust to what opposing teams are throwing at them.

New head coach Tom Thibodeau wont get outworked and he wont be surprised by anything he sees during the course of games. Thibodeau has worked tirelessly since taking over the Bulls job just before the NBA draft in late June. Hes been a fixture at the Berto Center from early morning to late at night, breaking down tape of last seasons games and working individually and collectively with Bulls players. Joakim Noah even joked about being unable to avoid his new coach when he showed up for evening shooting sessions over the summer. Noah says those brief visits to the gym turned into one-on-one tutoring sessions with Coach "Thibs." And the result is Noah will be given even more freedom on the offensive end to shoot his side-spin jump shot and jump hooks in the post.

How many times over the last two seasons under Vinny Del Negro did we see the Bulls slow to respond to the oppositions strategies on either end of the floor? Del Negro never came up with a consistent defensive strategy against the most basic of NBA plays, the screen-and-roll, and he took too long to change defensive match-ups that were hurting the Bulls. That should be a thing of the past with Thibodeau in charge. Hes recognized around the league as one of the top defensive coaches in the game, and the Bulls front office will tell you he also has a number of innovative ideas on the offensive end of the floor.

With Carlos Boozer now on board to provide a consistent low-post scoring threat, the Bulls should have their most versatile offensive attack in years. Thibodeau wants his guys to push the tempo, and you couldnt ask for a better player to do that than All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. With Rose leading the break, flanked by Boozer, Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, the Bulls should be able to score more transition points than weve seen in recent seasons. The Bulls are also much deeper than in years past, with sharp-shooter Kyle Korver, explosive combo guard C.J. Watson and last years all-rookie first-teamer Taj Gibson coming off the bench.

The preseason schedule starts Oct. 5 with the Bulls traveling to Milwaukee, and it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau plans to utilize his personnel. Dont forget, hes a defense-first coach, and that will determine which players get the most minutes off the bench. But whichever combinations Thibodeau puts on the court, the Bulls should be able to avoid those long scoring droughts that hurt the team over the last couple seasons. Theyre not just a perimeter shooting team anymore, and that should be a big plus when the Bulls go up against the other heavyweight teams in the league.

Training camp observations

It seems to me this whole Carmelo Anthony mess is going to end very badly for Denver. After backing away from a four-team trade that would have landed Anthony in New Jersey, the Nuggets are left with an unhappy star who has no interest in communicating with the front office and will be a distraction for as long as he remains in the Mile High City.

Word out of Denver is the Nuggets will try to trade Anthony as soon as possible, but if hes not willing to sign a contract extension with any team except the Knicks, what kind of market is there? New York wont give away its top young players like Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler once they realize theyre the only team in the bidding. If the Melo soap opera carries into the season, who knows what kind of trade package the Nuggets might have to accept down the road.

The Bulls have inquired about Anthony, but theyre not willing to trade Noah, and its not likely Denver would take the four years remaining on Luol Dengs contract, so basically theyre not a serious contender to acquire the high-scoring forward.

Are you as tired of hearing about the Miami Heat as I am? Basically, its been non-stop LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh ever since teams reported to camp. We hear about how vocal LeBron has been at practices, and how he might wind up playing a lot of point guard this season. Sure, the Heat will be a very strong team this season, but the national attention on Pat Rileys traveling All-Stars will become insufferable before long. Why not wait until the playoffs before crowning the Heat as the best team the NBA has ever seen?

Dont forget about Boston when discussing championship contenders for the upcoming season. Danny Ainge was busy this off-season, adding Shaquille and Jermaine ONeal to his roster, along with scoring guards Delonte West and Von Wafer. He also re-signed Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson. The Celtics are deep and versatile at every position on the floor. And I have a feeling Rajon Rondo will come out with a vengeance this season after basically getting cut from the U.S. World Championship team this summer.

The NBA has made a dramatic shift to becoming a point guard oriented league. The battles between Rose and Rondo should be something to watch this season. And dont forget about Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, Tyreke Evans in Sacramento, Stephen Curry with the Warriors and rookie John Wall in Washington, D.C. These young stars join the likes of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Deron Williams among the growing ranks of elite point guards.

But in handicapping the upcoming season, how can you pick against the two-time defending champion Lakers? Sure, Andrew Bynum is expected to miss the first month following his latest knee surgery, but the Lakers are still loaded with size, speed and depth. G.M. Mitch Kupchak improved his bench with the additions of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff. And I dont think Kobe Bryant will be intimidated going up against Miamis "Big 3." Bottom line, the Lakers are the champs until someone knocks them off, and that will be tougher than ever this season, especially since the Western Conference is weaker with the defection of Boozer, Amare Stoudemire and possibly Anthony to the East.

I cant wait for the season to get started. How about you? Please post your comments on the Bulls and the rest of the NBA in the section below, or feel free to send me an e-mail. We will continue to answer questions throughout the season.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

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