Bulls

Tony Snell ignites Bulls second-half run against woeful 76ers

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Tony Snell ignites Bulls second-half run against woeful 76ers

One had to wonder how long it was gonna take for the Bulls to realize they were playing the Philadelphia 76ers, as they seemed to dance with danger for over a half.

And there was no guarantee they would wake up, but Tony Snell’s best game of the season propelled the Bulls to a dominating second half and easy win, 115-96 at the United Center.

Snell, whose struggles have been well-documented as the opportunity presented in Mike Dunleavy’s injury-induced absence, turned up the activity as the Bulls were in danger of being the second team to donate a win to the woeful 76ers.

Trailing by five at the half, Snell actually outscored the 76ers alone, 13-12 but it was more than his scoring that sparked the Bulls to distance themselves. He got in the passing lane for steals, grabbed rebounds and generally made himself known in ways he hadn’t thus far this season.

[MORE: Chicago native Jahlil Okafor impressive on the floor, adjusting off it]

In the third, though, his steals and tough drives to the basket were on full display, ensuring the Bulls wouldn’t play four on five offensively, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds for his second career double-double.

“I thought he impacted the game in every way possible. He did everything tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “When he’s out there he can defend. When you get that type of offensive output from Tony, it makes us a very good basketball team.”

It was necessary with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler battling illness, as Rose nearly didn’t play the second half but wanted to be at least a threat with his team struggling.

Snell only averages 5.4 points so his scoring came as an anomaly and explosion, and with the new configuration of a starting lineup with Taj Gibson in at power forward, he's gonna need to make and take open shots with regularity.

Pau Gasol scored 13 with seven assists and six rebounds, as the Bulls had 28 assists and shot 51 percent from the field overall. Gasol and Joakim Noah (five points, 15 rebounds, eight assists) had some strong words for the Bulls at halftime, which Snell obviously took to heart.

“We need Tony to play like that all the time, that confidence, that swag, knowing he’s one of the best players in the league. If you think like that it can happen,” Butler said. “Your confidence comes from your work. You see the ball go through the basket, it’s like the defense isn’t even there.”

Snell seemed to ignite the entire team as Rose awoke from his game-long slumber to score six in the quarter, Taj Gibson grabbed an offensive rebound after a miss and slammed it home to an approving roar from the Bulls crowd.

“My whole mentality in the second half was to get some good defense going and try to lead to offense,” Snell said. “I think it was my best individual game but a good team effort.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls went on a surprising 26-1 run from the 4:03 mark of the third, where the lead was only three, to the 8:15 mark of the fourth when the game was put out of reach at 97-69.

Nikola Mirotic hit several triples during the run and Doug McDermott continued to play with the freedom that’s earned the trust of the coaching staff as Mirotic finished with 17 and McDermott 13.

Things got so good, Fred Hoiberg felt at ease enough for Bobby Portis to make his regular-season debut at the United Center, and the rookie hit a baseline hook shot at 2:36 for his first points at home.

And Portis made his case for more burn, with seven points in four minutes.

But boy, were things uneasy for 24 minutes. Chicago native Jahlil Okafor was working out on Pau Gasol and Noah with silky moves and baseline dunks, scoring 20 in the first half and giving the 76ers reason to believe they could compete for 48 minutes.

Only Butler seemed to be ready to play for the Bulls, keeping them afloat with 19 of his game-high 23 to match Okafor bucket-for-bucket. The 76ers shot 48 percent in the first half, including 37 points in a disastrous second quarter where they shot 64 percent from the field and hit four triples.

“At half we were just talking about how we can score the ball and we forget how well we gotta defend to win, especially at home,” Butler said. “We’re all men in this locker room, we know what we gotta do.”

But they shut down the visitors in the second half, allowing only a step-back basket from Okafor and 76ers shot just 34 percent, ensuring they wouldn’t be giving a little extra Christmastime cheer to a desperate team.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.