Ask Aggrey: Is Hamilton close to coming back?

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Ask Aggrey: Is Hamilton close to coming back?

I was surprised that I didnt get any Jeremy Lin questions, but then I remembered the deadline for submissions was Friday. Being that I have a little space to opine before answering readers queries, how about Sundays Linsanity? Out-dueling Jason Kidd (who Im guessing he grew looking up to, with their shared Bay Area roots), taking and making big shots over Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, creating opportunities for the likes of Steve Novak to shine, integrating the newly-acquired J.R. Smith into the Knicks lineup and finally, taking down the defending champs? It doesnt get any better than that. But more practically, particularly for Bulls fans, if New York ends up in the seventh or eighth seed, does it become a battle with the Heat to not be in the spot to not face the Knicks in the first round? Id bet that a team with Lin, Smith and Novak not to mention Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, who have meshed well with Lin, along with role players Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and rookie Iman Shumpert, as well as currently injured Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis is a lot less appealing than taking on the aging Celtics. Another question for another time, I suppose.
With his hard nosed play, strong D and overall hard working team first attitude, do you think Mike James has earned himself a biggermore permanent role with the team, perhaps supplanting John Lucas III or providing more depth at the guard position come playoff time? - Pat
Pat, its certainly a possibility. Ordinarily, I would say that its unlikely Tom Thibodeau would insert a player who hasnt been with the team long into his rotation, but Mike is a special case. First off, hes a veteran with championship experience, having played alongside Rip Hamilton on the Pistons 2004 title squad. Furthermore, hes familiar with Toms defensive principles from their time together in Houston and offensively, hes very solid in pick-and-roll scenarios, something the Bulls use frequently. Thibs is also very loyal to Luke, but his size can be a detriment against bigger, more physical point guards and Mike can bring to the table a lot of the same strengths offensively. I wouldnt be shocked to see the Bulls sign Mike for the remainder of the season when teams can expand their rosters to 15 players.

Hey Aggrey, do you think players double-teaming Derrick might have hurt his back because he has to jump upjerk his body sideways and throw the ball to a wide open player? - Tyler W.
Tyler, Im sure the wear and tear of the defensive attention Derrick receives certainly played a part in Derricks current injury woes, but when asked about it, he couldnt pinpoint a specific play on the court that led to his back problems. Rather, he said he just woke up with the issue and I cant remember one play or another that seemed to strain his back. As to your point about Derrick making jump passes, its not the most fundamentally-sound basketball play, but hes made it effective and with his physical gifts, I cant really quibble with him doing it, given the results, as well as the fact that its often the only play to make.

When is Richard Hamilton coming back? - Wes K.

Wes, well see Rip return to the lineup after the All-Star break. I cant say for sure if it will be against the Hornets at the United Center, the first game after the festivities, or on the Bulls subsequent road trip, but seeing him warm up before games and work out at the Berto Center makes me think hes close. Its been frustrating to both fans and the organization to see Rip be in and out of the lineup, and miss so much time (dont forget, he was away from the team for a stretch because of a family matter, the death of his grandmother, who he was close to), but hes a 13-year veteran, knows his body and with his successful track record, hes earned the benefit of the doubt.

I've heard rumors that Simeon coach Robert Smith could be in line for the Illinois job, have you heard anything and would he be a good fit there? - Roger G.

Roger, I know Rob fairly well and while Ive never asked him about the Illinois job specifically, I dont think he wants to miss out on coaching Jabari Parker during his senior season next year, although if he wins a state title this year, I believe hell have the most championships in Illinois high school history. That said, if Illinois came calling, he would have to listen. Theres been a lot of talk that the Illini need an African-American head coach or a coach with Chicago ties for recruiting purposes and Rob fits the bill on both counts. But despite his success, the university might think its too big of a leap to go from coaching in the Chicago Public Leagues Red-South division to the Big Ten. I do see Rob as a college coach in the near future and if I had to guess, I think hell start out as either a head coach on the low to mid-major Division I level or an assistant coach at an upper-echelon program.

With the team playing so well, wouldn't it be smart to let D-Rose rest up through the All-Star break? - Rahim T.

Rahim, try telling Derrick or Tom Thibodeau that theory, especially after the Bulls debacle Saturday against the Nets. Derrick is dying to get back on the court, period, regardless of how well the team has played without him. Sometimes I think that due to his age and humble demeanor, people underestimate how much of a competitor he is. With Thibs, his policy is simple: If a player is hurt, can tolerate the pain and wont do any further damage by playing, he plays. But if a player is actually injured, then he sits. At the moment, Derrick is in the latter category, but the instant that changes and hes medically cleared, expect to see him on the court, no matter whom the Bulls play or where they are in the schedule.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”