Bulls

Thibodeau doesn't buy weakened Thunder theory

935523.png

Thibodeau doesn't buy weakened Thunder theory

Don't include Tom Thibodeau amongst the skeptics. There have been mixed opinions about the blockbuster trade that sent reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year and early-season league leading scorer James Harden from Oklahoma City to Houston for Kevin Martin, but the Bulls head coach isn't buying that the Thunder are any less dangerous or have changed very much because of the deal.

"Not a whole lot. Harden's a great player and Martin's a great player, but that team is a lot deeper than just one guy. It's built on team play. You've got Russell Westbrook, who's an Olympian. Kevin Durant, an Olympian. So, you've got some guys who are very, very talented. Kendrick Perkins has won a championship. Serge Ibaka keeps getting better and better. He can shut down the lane as well as anybody and former Bull Thabo Sefolosha. That team is put together extremely well, they're extremely well-coached, so they're tough," Thibodeau explained after Wednesday's practice at the Berto Center. "I think it's the nature of the league and there's a lot of change, and it's how quickly you can adapt to that change and that's the challenge that everyone faces, so I think the fact that the core of their team is basically the same, I think that helps. Martin's been around for a while. He's got a lot of experience, so I think the transition has been seamless for him."

"They're deep, they can hurt you a lot of different ways. Obviously Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka. But it's a lot deeper team than just that. Their bigs are tough. Ibaka and Perkins give them a physical presence inside and they come off with Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet, so they're big and active. Collison's one of the most underrated players in the league. Of course, Eric Maynor comes off the bench also and he's healthy, and explosive. Sefolosha is a guy that can guard five positions and one of those intangible guys, just knows how to win. So, they're hard to guard, extremely well-coached. We have a great challenge for us," he continued. "The thing is about Martin, too, you can't overlook how good this guy is. The guy has the ability to get 20 points on a few shots, great ability to draw fouls, get to the free-throw line, so it's a team that's very, very deep. When you're bringing a guy like Kevin Martin off the bench, that says a lot, and a Collison and a Maynor, those guys are starters, and Thabeet has played well for them, so this team, there's not much that they're lacking and they're a young team that's gained a lot of experience. So, they're good on offense and they're very good on defense."

As for the Bulls' strategy against Oklahoma City, Thibodeau made it clear that his team will have to execute Thursday evening, regardless of the widespread knee-jerk reactions about the Thunder struggling with Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring at this early juncture of the season. The defensive guru admitted that there is no easy solution in terms of strategy when guarding the firepower of Durant and Westbrook, in particular, especially considering how the Bulls were massacred in a road loss when the two teams matched up for the only time last season.

"It's very difficult. You're not going to guard them individually. You're going to guard them collectively with your team and even that being said, any time you have to put two on the ball, you're opening up another area and great players still have the ability to score. You just have to try to make them work for your points, and we can't gift them points with foolish fouls and reckless gambles, and things of that nature. We have to stay disciplined and if they make a tough shot that's defended well, you have to have the tenacity to come back and do it again, and again and again, and you've got to try to make them play in a crowd," the coach explained. "We've got to get easy baskets, but for us, we want to be well-balanced. We want to try to get misses, rebound the ball well, get out into the open floor, get as many easy baskets as we can. We want to try to attack. They're very good at getting back, so you have to recognize they have three or four defenders back. Now, you have to flow into your secondary offense, keep the ball moving, get bodies moving. They have great length, so you can't keep the ball on one side of the floor. You have to execute, you have to screen well, you've got to make quick decisions, keep the ball moving."

While starter Luol Deng will start out with the assignment, second-year swingman Jimmy Butler could see some action guarding Durant and potentially even Westbrook. Although Butler is excited about the challenge, he also acknowledged the Thunder's star power.

"Great team with great players. We're going to have to go out and play hard, and play the Chicago, tough basketball that we know we have to do, key in on a few players. Also, when we key on those few players, they've got a lot of other players who can make shots and get to the basket, as well, so we're going to study and just going to go out, and try to get the win," he said. "Durant does a lot of different things for his team and he's a great player. He does a lot of things great--not just well--so it'll be an interesting matchup and hopefully, Chicago can come out on top."

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

shaikentucky.png
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.

Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

0421-danny-farquhar.jpg
AP

Danny Farquhar to throw out the first pitch before White Sox game on June 1

In another example of how amazing Danny Farquhar’s recovery has been, the pitcher will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the White Sox game on June 1.

Farquhar suffered a brain hemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm during the sixth inning of the team’s April 20 game against the Houston Astros. But his recovery has been astounding, and he was discharged from the hospital on May 7. Farquhar’s neurosurgeon expects him to be able to pitch again in future seasons.

Farquhar has been back to visit his teammates at Guaranteed Rate Field a couple times since leaving the hospital. June 1 will mark his return to a big league mound, even if it’s only for a ceremonial first pitch with his wife and three children. Doctors, nurses and staff from RUSH University Medical Center will be on hand for Farquhar’s pitch on June 1.

The White Sox announced that in celebration of Farquhar’s recovery, they will donate proceeds from all fundraising efforts on June 1 to the Joe Niekro Foundation, an organization committed to supporting patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms.