Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — Evaluation time.

With nothing to play for except lottery position, the Bulls have found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two games remaining, meaning the roles have reserved among the personnel.

The proven players take seats, and the young guys take center stage — except for Jimmy Butler, who was determined to be on the floor for the Bulls’ 121-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Pau Gasol sat, as the probability that he’s played his final game for the Bulls is a real option, along with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore. It meant more of a look for Cristiano Felicio and first-round pick Bobby Portis to get extended time without looking over their shoulders, and they played with usual intensity.

It wasn’t much in the way of entertainment value, considering the Bulls were without prime players and the Pelicans have been riddled by injuries all season, but seeing Felicio and Portis wrestle with veterans Kendrick Perkins and former Bull Omer Asik was compelling enough to produce honest assessments.

Portis scored 13 with eight rebounds, while Felicio was again efficient around the rim, scoring 16 with six rebounds on 6-for-8 shooting.

“He’s still very early in the process and the sample size is still very small, but for everything that he’s shown out there that he can do it fits the way we want to play,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Felicio when asked if the rookie could be a starter next season.

“He’s got the mobility and the athleticism to affect the game in a lot of ways. So we’re excited to have him back next year with another year under his contract, and we’ll see what happens. But I absolutely think Cris can be a long-term guy for the franchise."

Butler, the closest thing the franchise has to a long-term option, didn’t want to sit and essentially refused to stay on the bench with the vets, seizing an opportunity to play point guard like he boldly stated in the offseason.

After dishing out 11 assists through three quarters, he returned with six minutes remaining and many wondering why he or Hoiberg would put him in that situation given the stakes and his health.

Pouring in 12 fourth-quarter points to finish with 23 on 8-for-11 shooting, he felt it was his obligation to give the fans what they wanted — and the competitor in him perhaps wanted the challenge of finishing a game out.

“I tried to keep Jimmy under 30 minutes tonight,” Hoiberg said. “It says a lot. It says he wants to be the leader of this team. He was getting guys the ball, leading us to the finish line.

“He’s shown me a lot, shown his teammates a lot. He can get good looks for himself and his teammates. We run a lot of pick and roll (with him). Jimmy does a good job with that, he was making the right play all night long.”

Hoiberg almost didn’t put Butler back in the game at the midpoint mark of the fourth, but Butler’s stares down the sideline forced Hoiberg to playfully admit, “I caved, I caved.”

Butler scored nine straight to help the Bulls pull away, after helping Justin Holiday (14 points) and Nikola Mirotic (20 points) go off early. The Bulls shot a season-high 57 percent from the field.

Somewhat defiant about his reasoning to play with the stakes being meaningless, Butler laid out his case.

“I don’t ever want anybody to think I’m quitting on my team. I’m not,” Butler said. “I’m not saying Pau or Derrick is, either. That’s not what I’m saying. I love this game, I’m fortunate to play every day. If I can go out there and compete, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

When it comes to playing point guard, Butler knows the look might not be as smooth but he can be effective, as Monday was his fifth game with 10 assists or more.

“I know what I’m capable of,” Butler said. “It’s what I tell coach, what I tell Aaron (Brooks) when he jokes with me: I may not be the best shooter or passer, but I can pass the ball to the open man and I can get to where I need to on the floor.”

And being able to finish the game with some of the young players, he hopes will set some kind of example going forward.

“It’s very important. I was in that position in one point in time in my career, not too long ago,” Butler said. “I know what it feels like to want to get reps with guys who play more than you. When they see me out there competing, fighting with them, they’re always gonna give me everything they have on the floor. I want them to continue to compete, continue playing hard.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 100-89 loss to Philadelphia.

1:00 - On Lauri Markkanen going scoreless in the second half

3:50 - Viewer comment on Lauri needs to be traded

6:10 - On Kornet vs Markkanen’s production

6:55 - On Zach LaVine and 0 for 7 from three

10:05 - Viewer comment on Markkanen struggling

11:25 - Viewer comment wanting Joakim Noah back

13:00 - Viewer comment saying Lauri needs to demand the ball

15:45 - Viewer comment on Sabine’s outfit

16:50 - On the national perspective of this Bulls team

19:05 - Matt Peck rant on Denzel Valentine getting another DNP

21:00 - More viewer comments on Sabine’s outfit

22:05 - Viewer comment on the system and Markkanen

23:30 - Lauri tweets the correct way to pronounce his name

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

PHILADELPHIA — Above all else, Lauri Markkanen is a team-first player.

The Bulls need Lauri Markkanen to produce more.

Markkanen doesn’t like to force shots.

The Bulls need the third-year forward to shoot more.

Therein lies the at times contradictory dynamic that is helping sink the Bulls’ season. That’s not overdramatizing matters either, which is why this issue has been written about often this season—and again Friday night after the Bulls dropped to 1-17 against winning teams following their 100-89 loss to the 76ers.

At halftime, all seemed well. The Bulls took advantage of a 76ers team playing without Joel Embiid to lead by one with Markkanen scoring 12 points on seven shots.

In the second half, the 76ers ran away and hid with Furkan Korkmaz scoring a career-high 24 points, double Markkanen’s output.

Yes, the player the Bulls anointed as one ready for a breakout season failed to score in the second half. Worse, he took just two shots. Luke Kornet attempted more shots than Markkanen in the game.

“I know I can probably attack the rim a little bit more often and be more aggressive and obviously try to get to my spots. But I didn’t feel that I had the opportunities where I could really attack the closeout. So I just tried to play the system and find the open man,” Markkanen said. “I probably have to be [more selfish]. Obviously, I have to get the ball and get to those spots I can take those shots. I’m a team-first guy. So I’m going to do whatever we need to do. But obviously a big part of it is me playing at my own level.

“I got a couple looks in the second half that I could’ve probably launched. But they were deep 3s. And without touching the ball for 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like shooting at that point. It was pretty contested. So I just moved the ball.”

There’s so much to parse from this quote that it may take 10 minutes, 38 seconds to break it all down.

That’s the amount of time Markkanen sat from exiting with 5:29 left in the first quarter—after throwing down two dunks—until returning in the second. He promptly added another dunk and a 3-pointer.

“Obviously the first time you touch the basketball feels a little different after that period of [rest] time,” Markkanen said. “But other than that, I don’t think it affects me. I’m still young. I’m pretty warm even after that kind of stretch. I don’t really feel it.”

When Markkanen averaged 26 points and 12.2 points in 11 February games last season, he averaged 36.3 minutes and took 18.1 shots. He's averaging 30 minutes this season on 12 shots per game.

He attempted 12.7 shots per game his rookie season. To clarify: Kornet taking more shots than Markkanen in a game and Markkanen attempting fewer shots than his rookie season are not good developments.

“We do have to get him going more. Some of it is on him. Some of it is on me,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I just want him to be aggressive. He handles the ball in transition. He rebounds the ball. Offensive rebounds, he had a couple opportunities there. He slashed to the basket in the first half and got a couple great dunks and plays. Gotta keep your energy up and we have to get him involved.

“I just think it’s a learning and growing thing. There have been times he has been very aggressive and he has got himself involved. There are times where I have to get him involved.”

Part of that, obviously, would be playing Markkanen more. He logged 28:48 against the 76ers.

“That’s what it’s been my whole career, right?” Markkanen asked reporters.

Told that he averaged 32.2 minutes last season, including that even busier February stretch, Markkanen alluded to the need to get Thad Young playing time.

“Thad is a key player for us,” Markkanen said.

But this was sold as Markkanen’s breakout season. When the Bulls signed Young in free agency, management and Boylen publicly painted the move as a complementary one to benefit Markkanen.

Instead, the same storyline keeps repeating itself.

It’s not Markkanen’s rolled left ankle. He was able to joke about getting dunked on by Ben Simmons when asked about it.

“I can tell I rolled it a week or so ago. But it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “I still don’t have too much pop on it. But the pain is going away. That’s probably why I got dunked on.”

Markkanen said he feels he has a strong enough relationship with Boylen to ask him to play more if he needed to. But, again, he’s a team-first guy and knows Young is a valuable piece.

“He goes with how the game is going and who is rolling and who is on the floor from there. That’s his decision,” Markkanen said of Boylen determining playing time. “I’m ready whenever my name is called.

“I feel like we have a good relationship. I don’t mind talking to him. We have conversations pretty often. We haven’t talked about [playing time] too much because we know the situation and that’s the way we’re going to run.”

The situation is Markkanen needs to produce more if the Bulls’ rebuild is going to succeed. It’s as simple as that.

“I’ve had my good moments. I think I’m getting my rhythm back on my shots. Obviously, I can be more aggressive,” Markkanen said. “It’s a different system that we’re running and different kind of spots that my shots are coming from. So it’s a little different. But obviously, I can do more.”

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