Bulls

Tom Thibodeau: '90 percent' of time in Chicago was great

Tom Thibodeau: '90 percent' of time in Chicago was great

Although just four players remain from Tom Thibodeau’s last season in Chicago, his first trip back as a coach who’ll be on the opposite sideline brings about some feelings of nostalgia, even though he wouldn’t be confused as some sentimental sap.

“Yeah, like when you come back you look at the building, you look at the time that you spent here,” Thibodeau said after his Minnesota Timberwolves finished shootaround at the United Center Tuesday morning. “Obviously you build a lot of relationships over that time. And I know what a great organization, the history, the tradition, being part of it. It was a great run for me. It was a great experience. You think about the players, the organization, the arena, all the people you see, the fans, the city itself, when I look back it was unbelievable.”

Saying “90 percent” of his time in Chicago was great, Thibodeau was classy in discussing his former employers.

“When I look back, you can focus on the 10 or 15 percent that didn't end up going the way you would like, but there were a lot of good times,” Thibodeau said. “And overall, the organization treated me great. I have no regret.”

In a way, he can’t even escape the specter of Chicago. He spent his season-long sabbatical last year as a Chicago resident, often being spotted around town through the year and living in Minneapolis currently is a place he calls “a smaller Chicago”.

“I was there at the start of my career. It’s a great city,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot going on. Great sports town, behind their teams. It’s a lot different than it was 25 years ago. Downtown is great. I’m enjoying it.”

Taking over as president of basketball operations along with assuming the title of head coach this summer—as one would think he coveted the former due to his acrimonious relationship with Gar Forman and John Paxson—he reiterated again he has no hard feelings toward either, or Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Many will remember Reinsdorf issued a strong public statement from the team when the Bulls fired Thibodeau after their second-round playoff loss to the Cavaliers in 2015.

“I don't have a problem with those guys. I really don't,” Thibodeau said. “They have a job to do, I had a job to do. Unfortunately, we had some injuries along the way, and so it didn't end up maybe the way we all would have liked, but I don't have any problem with those guys.”

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As for Reinsdorf, with whom he shared a close relationship, Thibodeau said he hoped to run into the Bulls chairman at the Hall of Fame but didn’t get a chance to.

“Jerry was great to me. I've got great respect for him,” Thibodeau said. “I spoke to Michael (Bulls President and COO). But at some point, I'll sit down with Jerry.”

He called his first season, the 2010-11 campaign that saw the Bulls claim the number one seed with Derrick Rose winning MVP and Thibodeau himself winning Coach of the Year as his best.

“When I look back, I think that start the first year was such a remarkable year,” Thibodeau said. “And it was all the guys. The team was such a deep team, and for Derrick to have that kind of season, and then Joakim (Noah) growing, Luol (Deng) growing, Taj (Gibson), Kyle Korver, (Omer) Asik...It was an unbelievable group of guys. I had great fortune to be coaching those guys. And the organization, they gave me an opportunity. I'll always be grateful for that.”

He’ll get a hero’s welcome when introduced to the United Center crowd but he knows the warm feelings from at least one of his former Bulls players will dissipate at tip-off.

The player is the one he spent the most time with over the summer with USA basketball, the player he desperately tried to acquire on draft night, Jimmy Butler.

“I know when that ball goes up tonight, he’ll be trying to kill me and we’ll be trying to kill him,” Thibodeau said.

Butler was one of the players who developed the most under Thibodeau’s unrelenting style, qualities he believes he has in the young players he inherited on the Timberwolves’ roster like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

“I don’t think any of us could’ve said that we thought he would be who he is today but we knew he would be good,” Thibodeau said. “We knew he would be a good rotation player. We knew that he was smart and tough and driven. And those guys always get better. And it’s his dedication and commitment.”

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.