Asik-Noah battle shows EuroBasket's value to NBA

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Asik-Noah battle shows EuroBasket's value to NBA

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 4:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
Instead of vying for minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation, it was national pride that was at stake when Joakim Noah and Omer Asik faced off Wednesday. France outlasted Turkey, 68-64, in the quarterfinal round of EuroBasket competition, giving Noah bragging rights whenever the NBA lockout concludes and the two Bulls centers return to the Berto Center.

Asik, however, won the individual battle, finishing with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds, against the man he backs up in Chicago. Coming off a fractured fibula suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, the defensive-minded Asik has improved throughout the event and while he can't be considered an offensive force just yet, this international experience is affording him opportunities for low-post touches -- although Turkey's offense primarily revolves around NBA forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova, as well as a veteran cadre of guards -- and a chance to regain his conditioning from the injury.

Noah, whose role for France is similar -- Tony Parker is the team's unquestioned go-to player, while fellow pros Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw also have prominent roles -- struggled offensively and with foul trouble in the early going, compared to Asik, who notched six points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone. But the ever-active big man bounced back and made key plays on both ends down the stretch to help France survive a late Turkey run.

For Noah, who has cemented himself as one of the upper-echelon players at his position in the NBA, playing in EuroBasket is a positive based on his participation alone, as it can only help his conditioning after an injury-plagued campaign. On the other hand, Asik can use the tournament as a way to continue his development, similar to how Derrick Rose and other players on last summer's USA Basketball triumphant team at the FIBA World Championships did prior to this past NBA season.

Aside from Asik -- and Luol Deng, who led the event in scoring in the first round and led his Great Britain squad to a pair of wins, despite not advancing to the next round -- here are a handful of other NBA players who might use EuroBasket as a springboard to success next season (whenever that comes), based on their performance thus far:

Nicolas Batum, France: The Portland small forward has long been highly regarded as one of the bright, up-and-coming talents in the league, but has failed to consistently produce at the level some observers expect of him. Playing second option to Parker, Batum's assertiveness has been evident, as he doesn't seem content with taking on a passive role offensively. Defensively, his versatility and athleticism have always been there, but if he can become a reliable nightly scoring threat, it can make a transitioning Blazers team -- still somewhat in limbo with the health issues of former All-Star Brandon Roy, let alone perennially injured center Greg Oden -- that much more dangerous.

Marc Gasol, Spain: No longer just "Pau's little brother," the Grizzlies center is fresh off helping to lead Memphis on a surprising playoff run. An upcoming free agent, Gasol is a veteran of international play and it's showed in his effectiveness. Quickly becoming one of the best players at his position, his size, strength, touch, rebounding, feel for the game and relative youth make him a force on any continent.

Chris Kaman, Germany: A former All-Star, Kaman struggled with injuries last season and reportedly has been on the trading block, as the Clippers supposedly value the services of fellow seven-foot center and free agent DeAndre Jordan over him. While Jordan's potential, youth and athleticism may ultimately lead to Kaman eventually relocating, his stock should be back on the rise after EuroBasket. Teamed up with Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, simply proving he hasn't lost a step and relishing in doing the dirty work down low will make him even more coveted in a league deprived of true centers.

Enes Kanter, Turkey: The Jazz first-round draft pick needed the tournament perhaps more than any other player in the event. After a season playing against sub-par competition at a California prep school, Kanter was forced to sit out his freshman year at Kentucky due to NCAA regulations before being picked by Utah and walking right into a lockout, which took away the benefit of playing summer league. Playing behind Asik and Ilyasova, Kanter has shown flashes of brilliance with a nice mid-range touch and a physical nature that should serve him well upon arrival into the NBA.
Tony Parker, France: Just a few seasons ago, Parker was regarded as one of the league's elite point guards, but a highly-publicized divorce, injuries and an aging Spurs team all factored into falling out of the limelight. But if there was any doubt that he's still a game-changing talent, that's been erased with his play in Lithuania. Parker has been at his penetrating, finishing and playmaking best, leading a team with a reputation for underachieving to an undefeated mark so far and likely putting a smile (or at least wiping off the grimace) on the face of San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Multiple reports indicated that former Bulls center Joakim Noah will join Derrick Rose and sign with the New York Knicks.

Both the Washington Post and ESPN report that Noah is very likely to sign in New York, his hometown. ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to say that other teams have already accepted that Noah is all but a done deal to sign with the Knicks.

And according to Tim Bontemps from the Washington Post, Noah's deal with the Knicks will have "a starting salary somewhere in the $18 million per year range," a large but not insane number considering the league's salary cap explosion this summer.

The Vertical's Shams Charania added that Noah will meet with Phil Jackson and the Knicks when free agency begins Friday night.

Noah would fill a void at center left by the Knicks' trade for Rose, which shipped center Robin Lopez back to Chicago. Noah averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games last season before season-ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls and was named Defensive Player of the Year just three short years ago.

But he fell out of grace with Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who opted to bring Noah off the bench for the first time in his career. It was largely assumed that both Noah and Pau Gasol would not return to a Bulls team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1, and can sign free agents beginning July 6.

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

The Bulls are undergoing a "retooling" in their backcourt after dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks, drafting Denzel Valentine and attempting to re-sign E'Twaun Moore in free agency.

That, combined with Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jerian Grant and an already versatile frontcourt will give Fred Hoiberg plenty of options that Valentine believes will make the Bulls "dangerous" in 2016-17.

"I think that's going to make us so dangerous this year, is we are versatile with our guards," He said on Wednesday night's White Sox broadcast. "And in those three positions I feel like we're going to be able to guard and do a lot of things offensively and throw a lot at you when we're coming down on offense. And the defensive end, too.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year with all that we have, and I'm glad to be part of the building year, or whatever you want to call it."

On paper the Bulls will have more versatility than a year ago. Valentine is capable of playing either wing position and can handle the ball, though he doesn't project as a point guard. Butler can play and defend four positions, and Grant is capable of playing either guard spot. Bringing back E'Twaun Moore would benefit that versatility greatly, as he's capable of playing on or off the ball.

In the frontcourt, the Bulls will need to replace Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, neither of whom provided much versatility. Robin Lopez is entrenched at center, which will give the Bulls' stretch forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis more room to roam the perimeter.

Wherever Valentine plays, and however Hoiberg uses him in Year 1, the Michigan State rookie said he's ready to do what's asked of him from a franchise known for winning.

"My job is to just come in, do what I can do best and just work on my game and try to lead as best as I can," he said on SportsTalk Live (in the video above). "I'm not coming in to step on anybody's toes but I'm going to do what I can to lead and be a good teammate and try to win some games."

Bulls' Denzel Valentine throws out first pitch at White Sox game

Bulls' Denzel Valentine throws out first pitch at White Sox game

Count Denzel Valentine as 1-for-1 in a Bulls uniform.

The first-round pick threw out the first pitch prior to tonight's White Sox-Twins game and fired a strike to another young Chicago star, pitcher Carlos Rodon.

Check out Valentine's first pitch in the video above.