Despite youth, Cook brings experience to Bulls

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Despite youth, Cook brings experience to Bulls

DEERFIELD -- Newly acquired Bulls sharpshooter Daequan Cook is just 25 years old, but he brings to his new team a winning background.

In his lone year of college at Ohio State, the Dayton, Ohio, native played in the NCAA championship gamelosing to Joakim Noahs Florida teamand last season, as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he played in the NBA Finals alongside Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed, albeit for spot minutes.

Still, the six-year NBA veteran is confident that his experience, as well as his renowned outside marksmanshiphe was the NBA All-Star weekend three-point shootout winner in 2009can help the Bulls.

I feel like its a good opportunity for me. Im looking forward to it and today was a great start, he said after Sunday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. The biggest part was playing on a team thats been to the Finals, having that experience as a young player. Coming into this team with a lot of guys that love to play hard and have the opportunity to play in the playoffs. I think thats one of the biggest roles I have right now.

The Bulls are a very exciting team, very young team and they play very well together. The most important thing for me is to play my role and do whatever Coach asks me to do, continued the shooting guard, who noted that a few teams contacted him after he cleared waivers Friday afternoon, following the Rockets waiving him last week.

Chicago was one of the first ones, but I went with what was the best for for me, give me the best opportunity and Chicago was the team.

The Bulls will be Cooks fourth NBA team after beginning in his career in Miami under Pat Riley, being a fringe member of the Thunders rotation, then getting traded to Houston in the early-season blockbuster James Harden trade. A 6.9 points-per-game career scorer, he averaged 3.4 points a contest in 16 games for the Rockets this season.

Were excited to have the opportunity to pick him up, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Cook, a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter. Hes another quality shooter, he can shoot the three, so hes got to come in, learn his teammates, learn the system and just get ready.

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Thibodeau was hesitant to say whether Cook, the 14th player on the Bulls roster, would get a chance to crack the rotation, making the situation seem reminiscent of their mid-season acquisition of veteran swingman Rasual Butler two seasons ago.

Were going to see. I thought early on, hes a pretty good team defender. I think he still can improve with his individual defense and well see where he is once he gets going a little bit, Thibodeau said. Right now, were pretty much set with our rotation. He has to learn, get ready and you never know. Over the course of the season, you need everybody. Hes been around a little bit, so we know what hes capable of. He can come in and knock down a couple three-point shots in a very short amount of time, so I think he complements the players that we have.

Cook said he harbored no animosity toward the Rockets for waiving him, indicating that it was a mutual decision.

The most important thing was there wasnt going to be an opportunity for me to play and that was the thing, and we parted ways. I have nothing bad to say about the team, which is good and thats about it. Now its time to get focused and get prepared to play with the Bulls now, he explained. Im going to work. The most important thing here is just working hard and being patient, and when I get the opportunity to play, just play my heart out.

He understands that if and when he does receive playing time, hes expected to help the shooting-deficient Bulls improve from long range.

I take a lot of pride in that. Being young in this league and known as one of the best shooters in this league right now is a good thing, but I just cant settle for that, knowing how important it is to know that its going to be more than my shooting that gets me out there on the floor, he said. Whatever my role is on this team, whether its shooting, rebounding or defending, Im going to play that role to the best of my ability and Im just looking forward to doing it.

Everybody goes into a slump from time to time. I wasnt pinpointing the Bulls because of that. I just came over here, just figuring out what team I could help best, regardless of what it was.

Besides Mohammed, Cook was also teammates with Nate Robinson during the diminutive scorers stint in Oklahoma City. While Cook acknowledged that hes aware of Robinsons verbal tendencies, hes also been picking the backup point guards brain to speed up his adjustment to the Bulls.

Weve been talking all day, especially with Nate more than anything because hes a guard, Im a guard, of course, and hes been in a lot of positions Im going to be in on the court, so talking to Nate more than anything about a lot of the things that have been going on out here, he said. Being around Nate, thats one of the things youve got to roll with. Hes a great guy.

Perhaps Robinsons advice included tips on playing for Thibodeau, but after Cooks experience with the Heat upon entering the league, hes confident that hell be able to fit in quickly.

Ive played for Pat Riley, one of the best in the league, so I dont think hell be much tougher than Pat. So, Im just looking forward to having the opportunity to play for Coach, Cook said. Coach Riley was a great coach and now I get the opportunity to play for Coach Thibs, whos an up-and-coming great coach, as well.

Even if Cook doesnt see the court much this seasonbarring injury to the shooting guards ahead of him in the rotation, though his signing could make starter Rip Hamilton more expendable as next months league-wide trade deadline loomswith his youth and ability to spread the floor, his half-season stint could be a somewhat of an extended tryout for the future.

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.”