Bulls

Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

LAS VEGAS — Wearing a Cheshire grin while making his way through the Cox Pavilion was one Tom Thibodeau, still wearing the newlywed glow of a man who pulled off quite the heist.

The Timberwolves coach and president acquired the player he longed for since taking the top post in Minneapolis in Jimmy Butler on draft night and while it doesn’t guarantee his team a playoff spot, it definitely increased its chances for next season.

And it probably gave him a little satisfaction to send his former franchise into a rebuild that could take years to get out of. Still, he insists it was a “good deal for both teams”.

“I think, here’s the thing. Having been there, they had a great run and you have to make a decision, where you are with your window. You know they had been thinking about it (trading Butler),” Thibodeau said. “Both of our windows matched up, what they wanted to do and what we wanted to do. I think it was a good deal for both teams. They got quality players, we obviously got an elite player and thrilled to get Justin Patton also.”

In adding to a core that includes talented youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves agreed to terms with former Bull Taj Gibson in the opening days of free agency and Saturday evening, added free agent guard Jamal Crawford as a scorer off the bench.

The Timberwolves also acquired Jeff Teague to replace Ricky Rubio at point guard, giving them a bonafide starting lineup that should be interesting in the West. For a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 and owns the longest streak of futility in the NBA, legitimacy has been added in the last two seasons with handing Thibodeau the keys to the franchise and now, acquiring the likes of a top-15 player in Butler.

It’s safe to say Butler was instrumental in the signings, necessary acquisitions in a stacked Western Conference. Butler was supportive of Gibson when Gibson was traded at the deadline from Chicago to Oklahoma City, telling him to “go get the bag (of money).”

Apparently, Butler did his part in making sure his new team brought another familiar face — albeit with a substantial bag of money.

“I think it’s critical. I think anytime you can add an elite player to your team most players are aware,” Thibodeau said. “When they’re looking around, when they become free agents, they’re going to look at the first part is obviously the financial part. And then the second part is going to be who are they playing with and how do they fit into the group?”

Butler’s relationship and recruiting of Dwyane Wade was instrumental in Wade’s signing last summer, but Thibodeau plans on using his players even more as time goes on. One could say the Bulls have been reticent in that department, not taking much input from players in personnel matters.

“And I think when you add in a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, I think it makes it that more attractive,” Thibodeau said. “And of course Jimmy has relationships with a lot of guys in the league because of his experience in All-Star Games, with Team USA, so that all factors into it.”

Thibodeau’s fondness of Gibson was well-known, and he fawned over Gibson Saturday, calling him the most versatile defender in the NBA and more than anything, he’ll be an advocate for Thibodeau’s culture next season as the expectations will rise exponentially.

“I don’t think there’s a better defender switching to two’s (shooting guards), 3’s (small forwards), point guards, and his ability to finish,” Thibodeau said. “You have 3-point shooting (on the roster). Defensively we’re a better team. Next to Karl you have a big time multiple effort guy. I think that goes a long way to being a good defensive team. As they learned, multiple effort is necessary and required.”

Bulls mailbag: There's Lauri Markkanen angst, Jim Boylen queries

Bulls mailbag: There's Lauri Markkanen angst, Jim Boylen queries

Q: Do you anticipate Lauri Markkanen being more aggressive and getting out of this funk sooner rather than later? - Jeremy K.

A: His career numbers suggest yes. Markkanen is an extremely talented offensive player. He can be a matchup nightmare. The Bulls are taking some solace in the fact Markkanen has missed plenty of open shots. That is true. And perhaps Markkanen’s now disclosed oblique injury has played a factor as well, though, since he has never landed on the injury report, that can’t be a major issue. Markkanen said it hasn’t affected his play. Plus, his slow start can’t be completely explained away by just those factors.

Markkanen has looked less aggressive. That could be a byproduct of him struggling to adapt to the new offensive system or spending less time in the post. Perhaps a stretch like he authored last February is on the way to make all this a moot point. But until his production nears his career marks---and this is the season it was supposed to be beyond it---such questions will remain. He was more aggressive in the Knicks game but then also committed six turnovers. Stay tuned.

If Lauri Markkanen continues to struggle, would it make sense to let him come off the bench and start Thad Young to get more production from the first unit? - JordynsDad, via Twitter

No chance. Thad Young is a complementary piece signed for the next two to three seasons to provide stability, durability and veteran leadership. Markkanen is a cornerstone for the rebuild. If anything, Markkanen needs to play more, or at least get more shots.

What potential do you see in Markkanen? Future All-Star or great role player? - Lawrence N.

Can the answer be somewhere in between? I had a conversation last season with someone I respect who has been associated with the NBA in some capacity for 30 years. This was during Markkanen’s breakout February. This person said Markkanen would be like Detlef Schrempf. My first reaction was to say, “No way.” Because you associate Schrempf with mostly coming off the bench. Then I looked up Schrempf’s career numbers and was like, “Man. What a solid career.” Dude averaged 13.9 points on 49 percent shooting, including 38 percent from 3-point range, over 16 seasons. Now that said, the Bulls need Markkanen to be an All-Star, or at least close to one, for this rebuild to fully take off towards success.

Can Daniel Gafford take Luke Kornet’s minutes? - Sears Centre Uber, via Twitter

Kornet dropped out of the first-half rotation for one game but then returned and then dropped out of the rotation completely against the Knicks. He has struggled defensively in the Bulls’ aggressive pick-and-roll coverage, so his touted rim protection hasn’t been very noticeable. Worse, he is shooting a career-low 21.7 percent chance from 3-point range. He entered this season at a career 35.8 percent. Gafford has become many fans’ favorite backup quarterback. His strengths of running the floor hard and playing with energy translate no matter the venue. However, Boylen has talked about staying on Gafford in practice about all that he demands from the center position. Boylen needs his center to be a strong communicator on defense. For now, that appears to be holding him back. And a three-man rotation at center is fine by me.

Is the foundation of Jim Boylen’s coaching purely based on analytics rather than on the players’ strengths and weaknesses? Kris Dunn can’t and doesn’t want to shoot 3-pointers, but he’s constantly stationed on the perimeter. PapaBearIII, via Twitter

Boylen is proud of the fact the Bulls lead the league in shots at the rim and have increased their 3-point attempts drastically from last season. Dunn never will be a consistent threat from the latter, but the opportunity for him to be a driver remains. Particularly since he is often paired with Coby White, who has been playing more off the ball. Offensively, I agree that Dunn hasn’t driven the ball as much as he did as a starter. He’s been solid defensively. As for Boylen’s approach, he keeps saying he believes in the math. So this approach is here to stay.

What do you think of the stadium’s new scoreboard? Devin M.

If it’s good enough for Derrick Rose, who noticed it and commented on it at Pistons shootaround when he was in town, it’s good enough for me.

Developing young players is one of the most essential parts of being a good NBA coach. Under Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose developed into an MVP, Luol Deng into an All-Star, Joakim Noah into a Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star and Jimmy Butler into Most Improved Player. All of the current young Bulls players, aside from Wendell Carter Jr., have badly regressed under Jim Boylen so far this season. Zach LaVine isn’t as efficient this season as he was last year, Lauri Markkanen looks like a shell of himself and Kris Dunn is practically unplayable on offense playing with a second unit. How is this lack of development being overlooked by the Bulls front office? - Dan B.

You’re assuming it is. You’re also assuming this all falls on the coaching staff. I somewhat agree with your overall premise, that only Carter has shown dramatic signs of growth through 10 games. I think LaVine’s decision-making and defense are coming on and I think Coby White has shown signs of growth beyond his scoring. A couple caveats: It’s early. And Boylen keeps citing players shooting well below their career averages on good shots. So he expects shots to fall and players like LaVine and Markkanen to play better.

What’s the vibe in the locker room right now with Bulls being at 4-7? - Hamza B.

Overall, it seems fine. There’s frustration, to be sure. But for now, guys are saying and doing the right things.

My questions are regarding the coaching. You point out almost every week that the bond between Boylen/Gar-Pax/Reinsdorf is as strong as you've seen, how committed they are, etc....but why? What has Boylen done to get such treatment? I'm not necessarily calling for his head, but many pro coaches have been fired for a lot less. Boylen seems like a solid assistant but why all this monumental trust? He hasn't won anything, and the team is somewhat healthy and they're still not winning, and aren't showing the improvement that they should've, since they added veterans, had a full training camp, etc. It'd be different if he had a track record other than being an assistant (and sure, see: Tom Thibodeau...but where's he now); maybe Doug Collins or D'Antoni or somebody, but I don't get it. And 2) I wasn't really a Hoiberg fan but I fear we're gonna end up back where we started, and have to wipe away both the Hoiberg/Boylen eras. I really thought they were showing signs of being a decent team under Hoiberg and couldn't understand why he didn't get the remainder of last season. The injuries made the season a waste and that wasn't his fault. Can't say I believe we would've won more games but it felt like his connection to the team was better, as well as style of play. Boylen swung from slow-it-down gritball to...now he's got the space/pace thing figured out, in less than a year? Again I don't get it, and despite what you've reported about how much he cares for his players etc. can't help but wonder how long before they tune him out. But I wanna see some wins! Totally happy with a scrappy, near .500 team. Shouldn't be out of the question for this bunch. Elijah H.

And it still could happen. I get the frustration. And skepticism for Boylen remains no doubt for some fans. If you’re aware of the bond between Boylen and management and ownership that I and others have reported about ad nauseum, then you should be aware of the reasons. They value his communication, collaboration and teaching. They think he’s the right voice to drill fundamentals into a young team. Perhaps more directly, Boylen and Paxson believe in a lot of the same philosophies---mental and physical toughness, hard-playing, fundamental basketball.

As for Hoiberg, he’d agree with you that he didn’t get a fair shot last season. Also reported then ad nauseum: Paxson believed the issues went beyond won-loss record and more to a lack of accountability and a lax approach in the locker room. I personally think Hoiberg would’ve loved to coach this current roster.

Lastly, here’s a news flash: Plenty of losing teams tune out coaches. At 4-7, it isn’t currently happening. It’s early.

Not sure if you've received this in the past, but something I have thought about over the last couple of years: Since the NBA switched to Nike last season and allowed teams to choose the color jersey they wear at home, why have the Bulls elected to go with red the vast majority of the time? Given the equity and history of the Bulls white home uniforms since MJ, it seems odd to make that shift. Wondering if anyone in the organization has given rationale, or maybe I am the only person it bothers?  Just seems weird to make that switch with such iconic uniforms.  – A.J. Schaub

I’m gonna go with the guess that red jerseys sell more? Surely marketing has something to do with it. Whatever the case, your question prompted me to discover a website I didn’t know existed. You can see which jersey each team is wearing for each game. Who knew? http://lockervision.nba.com/

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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Ready for a track meet?: Bulls-Bucks a matchup of two of the league's best transition attacks

Ready for a track meet?: Bulls-Bucks a matchup of two of the league's best transition attacks

The Bulls got a much-needed 120-102 win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday behind a historic night from rookie Coby White, some excellent defense from Kris Dunn, and the rest team finally catching fire from deep. Coming off of the win over New York, things ramp up in difficulty in a big way as the Bulls will be taking on a Bucks squad that — even without All-Star Khris Middleton — will present quite a large challenge. 

Here are three things to look for in Thursday's Bulls-Bucks matchup:

Bring your track shoes: Two of the best transition offenses in the league face-off

Bulls head coach Jim Boylen talked earlier this week about being encouraged by the Bulls' shot profile, saying, "We're getting the shots that we want." Boylen and Co.'s new-look offense is heavily focused on getting shots at the rim and from the 3-point line, and both of these facets are aided by their transition offense. Chicago is leading the league with 35.3 restricted area field goal attempts per game and they are 12th in 3-point attempts per game (34.5).

Over the last five games, the Bulls are second in the league with 18 points per game in transition. It will be very important from the onset of Thursday's game for the Bulls to push the rock in transition early and often, as they will need to do their best to wear down a Bucks team that currently ranks second in the league in opponents' field goal percentage in the restricted area (54.3%).

Both the Bulls (8th, 1.14 PPP) and the Bucks (9th, 1.12 PPP) are in the top 10 in the league in points per possession in transition, so slowing down the opponent will be the theme of Thursday's matchup.

On the defensive side of things, the Bulls are trending in the right direction. Over the last five games, the Bulls have the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA at 102.3. But on the season overall, Chicago is still in the bottom 10 in defended field goal percentage (i.e. shots where the Bulls have a player contesting the shot).

This highlights the fact that the Bulls may need to get a tad more aggressive with their shot contests as a unit. 

Getting back in transition and contesting aggressively will be key to slowing down the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. As Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul learned on Sunday, one man being in the way of "The Greek Freak" does little to deter him from attacking the rim with aplomb.

In the above clip, notice that the Bucks go from defensive rebound to outlet pass to a Giannis layup with a mere four seconds coming off of the shot clock. The Bucks will put this type of pressure on the Bulls transition D through the game, so this will be a great litmus test to see the attention to detail for the Bulls, as Milwaukee has been off since Sunday.

Defensively, the Bulls have started off most games strong only to fade away down the stretch.

So while it would obviously be encouraging if the Bulls play the Bucks tough in the first half, their second-half defense is going to have to show up if they hope to keep this matchup from getting ugly. 

Giannis, the marksman?

The nickname "Giannis The Marksman" is going to catch on anytime soon—or ever for that matter—but the moniker looks like it could catch on one day, especially if the reigning NBA MVP continues to shoot the 3 ball as he has through the first six games of November. Below is Antetokounmpo's shot chart 10 games into the 2019-20 season, which shows off his new confidence in his 3-point shot (30.8% from 3-point range through 10 games).

This month Antetokounmpo is averaging 33.7 points, which includes shooting 40% from 3-point range on 4.2 attempts per game. 

Antetokounmpo is looking quite comfortable shooting the ball from the perimeter on the season overall. His career-high 3.9 attempts per game from 3-point range showcase that — unlike Ben Simmons up in Philadelphia — he will look to punish defenses from deep if they continue to play off him and go under screens, 

With Otto Porter Jr. still out nursing his foot injury, the onus will be on Chandler Hutchison and Thaddeus Young — with Young being one of the better "Giannis stoppers" in the league — to keep Antetokounmpo from getting clear driving lanes to the rim, while simultaneously trying to get up (at least) a half-decent contest on his jump shots.

Crunch-time conundrum

The Bulls have played the 11th most clutch time minutes in the league and have a +4.8 net rating in the clutch, good for 14th in the association.

In the clutch, the Bulls are posting a 111.1 defensive rating, which reflects their struggles to close out games pretty well and highlights why Boylen has often gone with Young down the stretch over Markkkanen.

On the flip side, Chicago is posting a 115.9 offensive rating in the clutch (with a 59.7% true shooting percentage) which even with the obviously small sample size, illustrates the immense offensive potential of this young Bulls squad.

For the Bulls to start to convert that offensive potential into consistent and great production, they will need to come to an agreement on a clear and concise crunch-time offense. Their great offensive rating in the clutch so far this season was likely inflated by Coby White's 23-point fourth quarter in Tuesday night's win.

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The Bulls know that they obviously can't count on that type of incredible production from the rookie guard on a regular basis but the fact that he and Zach LaVine were the only Bulls to make more than one shot from the field on Tuesday says quite a bit about the state of the Bulls' crunch-time offense. Like everything else on O this season, it heavily based around the perimeter shooting and when those shots aren't  falling, it's not clear who is going to be the player to get to the charity stripe and get the Bulls some easy baskets.

In the fourth quarter scoring barrage that sealed the game for Chicago on Tuesday, White and LaVine combined for 14 of the Bulls 22 shot attempts but neither one of them got to the free throw line a single time in that final frame.

That will get you a win against the lowly Knicks, but the Bulls will have to up the aggression on both sides of the floor, especially down the stretch, to take down the Antetounkmpo-led Bucks.

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