Bulls

What to Watch for in Bulls' Pre-Season Opener

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What to Watch for in Bulls' Pre-Season Opener

Thursday, October 1st

Here's a few things to watch for in the Bulls' opening pre-season game against Indiana, Friday at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Plus.

1. LUOL DENG'S QUICKNESS...... How much did the right leg stress fracture and long summer of rehab affect his ability to drive past defenders and get to the rim? Deng looked like a future All-Star after his outstanding playoff series against Miami in 2007, but he's been held back by a series of injuries over the last 2 seasons. The Bulls need him to be a reliable scorer, combining his mid-range jumpers with an aggressive driving game. Will his health hold up over the course of a long season?

2. IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAY OF NOAH AND THOMAS..... Both players spent a lot of time in the gym this past summer working on their offensive games. Tyrus says he has complete confidence in his 15 to 18 foot jumper, which would open the door for him to fly past on-rushing defenders for one of his patented dunks. Noah did a lot of work with a shooting coach to improve the form on his mid-range jumpers and the consistency of his free throw shooting. If both players can make opposing defenders honor the threat of a mid-range jump shot, it will open up the Bulls' offense considerably.

3. THE ROOKIES.... How much playing time will James Johnson and Taj Gibson earn as rookies? It sounds like the Bulls have big plans for Johnson, their top draft pick out of Wake Forest. At 6-8, 250 pounds, Johnson has the size to play power forward and the ball handling and outside shooting skills to play some small forward. Keep an eye on him during the pre-season games to see if he has the confidence to contribute meaningful minutes off the bench. Gibson is more of a project at this point. The Bulls want to get him in the weight room to improve his strength, much like they did with Horace Grant when he first came into the league. Gibson is a versatile defender and extremely aggressive. With the injury to Aaron Gray, the Bulls might experiment with Gibson as their 3rd center behind Noah and Brad Miller.

4. JOHN SALMONS AT THE "2" GUARD...... With Ben Gordon taking his 21 points a game to Detroit, the Bulls are counting on a big season from Salmons, who's played both shooting guard and small forward during his NBA career. Salmons should be able to score 16 to 18 points a game, but will he be able to defend shorter, quicker shooting guards? And, after the injury issues he had at the end of last season, will an increased work load have him worn out come playoff time?

5. DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE...... The coaching staff has talked about a renewed commitment to defense ever since the playoff series against Boston ended last spring. They plan to be more consistent in their approach to defending the pick and roll, which is the staple of most NBA offenses. The Bulls are counting on an improved defense to make up for some of the scoring they lost with Gordon's departure.

6. ROSE IN FULL BLOOM........ Derrick Rose had an eventful summer, not all of it pleasant, thanks to the academic irregularities reported involving his former college and high school. But Rose spent a lot of time working with personal trainers in Los Angeles to improve his jump shot and finishes at the rim. He also practiced with the U.S. Olympic developmental team, and should be a fixture on future national squads. Derrick turns 21 next week, and it's going to be a lot of fun watching him take his game to an even more dynamic level this season.

I wanted to answer some of the e-mail questions we've received lately, and as always, I invite you to keep them coming.

Question from Steven, Wilmette, Illinois:

Since the Bulls lost their scorer, can we look to the deadline to find a scorer rather than wait till the off season? Maybe we can acquire a guy like Stephen Jackson or Jason Richardson to play the 2-3 for Deng if things don't work out. Could that happen?

Mark Schanowski: It's always a possibility, but I'm pretty sure the Bulls are going to wait until next summer to make their move for a big time free agent like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. They probably could have worked out a trade for Carlos Boozer over the summer, but the front office wasn't convinced he was the right guy to be handed a max contract. Stephen Jackson has had a lot of attitude issues during his career, so I don't think the Bulls would be interested in him, and Jason Richardson has bounced around since coming into the league with so much promise out of Michigan State. I thought Richardson would develop into a great pro, but so far, it hasn't happened.

Question from Marc, Olive Branch, MS:
Hey Mark, do you still believe that the Bulls organization will try & make a move for Chris Bosh? They STILL need a low post presence that'll hopefully take this team to the next level. GO BULLS!!

Schanowski: My read on the situation is Wade will be the number 1 target for the Bulls in free agency, followed closely by Bosh. When you look at the top players in the league, it's probably something like LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Bosh would be in that 2nd tier of all-star players, who would be great additions, but not necessarily franchise players. Personally, I'd rather see the Bulls pursue Stoudemire over Bosh. I think Amare is a more dominant scorer, whose talents would mesh perfectly with Rose in the pick and roll game. The Bulls are still hoping Tyrus Thomas might take a big step this season towards becoming the kind of player they expected when they picked him 4th overall in 2006. And if that happens, they might even think about a guy like Atlanta's 6-7 shooting guard Joe Johnson in free agency next summer.

Question from Ty, Chicago, IL

What did you think of MJ's HOF speech? I was very surprised at all the low blows.

Schanowski: I'm right there with you Ty. I was in Springfield for the speech, and I couldn't believe M.J. would pick that occasion to take so many shots at rivals and former colleagues instead of thanking his teammates, coaches and family for all their help through the years. As you can tell by all the criticism Jordan has received in the national media, a lot of people had their eyes opened regarding the down side of Michal's famous competitive, win-at-all-costs attitude. I thought his speech was very heavy-handed, and I'm guessing he would do things a little differently if he had it to do over again.

Question from Andy Larson, Barrington, IL:

My question is why don't the Bulls take risks to make their team better? Now i know the Ben Wallace free agent signing in 2006 was a risk but it seems like that was the last time they did so. The time is now for the Bulls. Let me know your feedback. Thanks

Schanowski: As I mentioned earlier, the Bulls seem to be putting all their eggs in the 2010 free agent class. I would have liked to have seen them roll the dice on a trade for Carlos Boozer this past summer, and see how his skills would have meshed with Rose. If they worked well together, sign Boozer to a long-term extension. If not, let him walk, and go after someone else in free agency. I think the Bulls front office is a little more cautious after getting burned on that huge contract they gave to Ben Wallace. It really hurt team chemistry, and sent their building plan back a couple years. It forced them to trade an emerging player in Tyson Chandler, and altered decisions they made in the draft and trade markets. The upside is they were able to get in the draft lottery in '08, and win the rights to draft Rose, so I guess things could work out well in the end. If they can get Wade next summer to go with Rose, they will instantly become a championship contender for the next 5 to 7 years.

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?

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USA TODAY

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.