The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

Given the political climate of the day, it’s fitting Michael Carter-Williams’ first lesson as a member of the Chicago Bulls was the art of diplomacy.

In a span of a few short hours, Carter-Williams went from preparing for a game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night to finding out he was traded to the Bulls and had to deal with everything that came with being traded during the NBA season: Moving on short notice, saying goodbyes while saying hello to new people and experiences.

And in a few short hours Monday night, he went from picking out his old jersey, No. 1, to letting it go and selecting No. 7, after being told by the team he could reclaim the number he had throughout his life and his rookie year.

Whether it was the Twitterverse or the Bulls changing their minds about giving away Derrick Rose’s old jersey number, diplomacy prevailed by 10 p.m.

“I know the discussion is probably gonna be D-Rose’s old number,” Carter-Williams said in the hallway of the United Center while meeting the media for the first time before Monday’s game. “That has nothing to do with D-Rose. He was great for the city, he’s an excellent player. I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or boundaries. It’s just a number I like.”

His introduction to the Bulls won’t come with the mixed reaction of being compared to the hometown kid, and one would wonder why, given the bad luck Rose endured after his MVP campaign, Carter-Williams would even want to claim the number as his own again.

“I was (No.) 1 in college, (No.) 1 in Philly,” Carter-Williams said. “I feel like I had success in Philly, Rookie of the Year. I was (No.) 5 in Milwaukee. It’s a new place. I’m trying to get the chip on my shoulder back.”

He couldn’t wear No. 1 in Milwaukee due to Oscar Robertson’s jersey being retired there, and if he asked for it then, he was likely given a history lesson he’ll never forget.

The discussion about jersey numbers temporarily obscured the actual discussion about the Bulls’ acquiring a former Rookie of the Year to bolster their bench as a backup point guard and in addition, changed the narrative for why such a talented and productive player has been traded twice before hitting restricted free agency.

Before then, most discussion revolved around why the Bulls picked up yet another perimeter player whose 3-point shooting was closer to the Mendoza line than the league average.

“I don’t really know. Some places work for some people,” Carter-Williams said. “Some places don’t. I was able to have success my rookie year and I got moved. That’s the business of the game. Crazy things happen in this league. Those are things you can’t focus on.”

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In context, though, the Philadelphia 76ers were trading away and all assets during the short time Carter-Williams was there, as they went through their “tanking for the sake of tanking” phase.

And in Milwaukee, despite playing for a coach whose playing style was similar to his in Jason Kidd, the Bucks found a more dynamic wing man to initiate offense from the point guard spot than Carter-Williams in Giannis Antetokounmpo, making Carter-Williams expendable and thus, available for the Bulls to acquire him in exchange for Tony Snell.

“It really comes down to who fits best around him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You know, for us, again, it gives us a guy who can facilitate offense. The thing I'm excited about with our group is that we have multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers, and Michael certainly fits into that category. He's a guy that can get into the paint and make plays. For us, I think it's a good fit, and I'm excited to see what he brings to our team.”

Perhaps Carter-Williams will become a bit of a defensive irritant off the bench, given his history against the Bulls. In the deciding game of the Bulls-Bucks playoff series in 2015, Carter-Williams took a shot to the jaw from then-Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy on a drive. Subsequently, Dunleavy was speared, wrestling-style, from Antetokounmpo on a 3-point make.

“I think it was a great series, a great learning experience for me and the team then. I got to experience the playoffs. It was a fun series, things get physical. That’s how the playoffs are, guys get physical. That’s the game, the beauty of the game.

Whatever he did it worked. They won by a lot. It’s part of the game, I’m sure (Dunleavy) is a pretty good dude.”

The details of why an incident began were sketchy, but the series was chippy from the start, and Carter-Williams did a good job defending Rose for stretches. He knows that’s a big reason why the Bulls targeted him, in addition to seemingly being injury or disaster insurance for Rajon Rondo.

“I think I’m a defensive guy, pretty good at pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers,” Carter-Williams said. “Offensively, getting in the lane, getting rebounds and pushing it up the floor and finding my teammates.”

“I think I’m a basketball player and basketball players can adapt to any situation. I have been fortunate to start a lot in my career. I’m looking to learn a lot from Rondo.”

Learning the Bulls’ system and his teammates is priority number one, as Carter-Williams said, “We’re definitely a playoff team, so I’m looking to help the team in any way I can. That’s my main focus.”

Battling the ghost of the old number one wasn’t a battle worth fighting, showing if nothing else, he’s a quick learner.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?


Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.