Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

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Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

The minds of Bulls fans might still be on Sunday's humbling loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the basketball world as a whole is focused on Monday night's NCAA Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. For NBA purists who aren't fans of the college game, this could be the year to watch, given that Kansas has one of the top individual talents in the nation in junior All-American power forward Thomas Robinson, while Kentucky has a whole host of future pros, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, a freshman, odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the national Player of the Year. I'm not necessarily the biggest advocate of Kansas coach Bill Self, but he did a masterful job in what was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season, leading a team featuring no McDonald's All-Americans and arguably only the third-most talent in its own conference (behind Baylor and Missouri) to the title game.

However, the Jayhawks' run will probably end Monday, as the sheer talent and athleticism of the Wildcats should get Kentucky coach John Calipari his first national championship. In addition to Davis, Kentucky features an overwhelming supporting cast, including fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a high-motor wing who could be the No. 2 pick in the draft) and Marquis Teague (the younger brother of Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague is a likely first-round pick in a weak draft for point guards), sophomores Terrence Jones (a versatile forward, the team's leading scorer and a projected lottery pick) and Doron Lamb (the guard is one of the best shooters in the country and another probable first-rounder) and senior swingman Darius Miller, who's the squad's sixth man and also should play in the NBA next season. I won't be able to see the game because of the coinciding Bulls-Rockets game, but I'm going with Kentucky by a dozen. With that, on to this week's edition of the mailbag.
Who should the Bulls be more afraid of - the Heat in Eastern Conference Finals or the Thunder in the NBA Finals? -- Mark H.
Mark, "afraid" isn't the word I'd use, but certainly after Sunday's outing, the Bulls are probably more wary of the Thunder. Keep in mind, they played without their starting backcourt, but the Bulls' lack of fight was somewhat disturbing, as that just doesn't occur under Thibs. That said, it's just one game and a regular-season one at that. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook really had it going and as good as they are, they won't have games like that every night against the Bulls' defense and even if they did, the Bulls' offense endured one of its worst performances of the season. But the Bulls aren't a team to, in Thibs' words, "skip steps," so with two more regular-season matchups against the Heat looming, they're certainly more concerned about Miami at this point. That's the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season and all signs point to an Eastern Conference Finals rematch this spring, so even if the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals -- which isn't a guarantee, no matter how dominant they looked Sunday -- the Bulls won't put the cart before the horse.
Would last year's Bulls team would have had as much success WITHOUT Derrick Rose than the team this year is having? -- Pablo T.

Pablo, no way. Last season's team was still getting used to Thibs' system and if you recall, Derrick bailed them out of several games individually. Even in games when they got a solid collective effort, it took MVP heroics to win. This season, even with Derrick in the lineup, they've been much more balanced. Another major reason the Bulls have been able to weather the storm without Derrick is that the frontcourt has been relatively healthy. It was the opposite last season, with Joakim and Carlos being out for long stretches, while the starting perimeter trio of Derrick, Luol and the departed Keith Bogans missed one game combined. But now, with the system ingrained and the bulk of the players back from a year ago, the Bulls are equipped to still play at a high level without Derrick, at least until the playoffs hit. That was unthinkable last season.

Yo Aggrey! What's the best and worst part of being a beat-writer for the Bulls? -- Greg S.

Greg, the best part of my job, by far, is getting to know the players and coaches on the team. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls have genuinely good people around and they're all unique, have a variety of interests and opinions, both on and off the court, and make coming to work every day an enjoyable task. The worst part is probably the travel. It sounds exciting and it can be fun, but believe me, two-week road trips and getting out of arenas after midnight, then having to wake up a few hours later to catch an early-morning flight can be exhausting. Overall though, the good definitely outweighs the bad.Do you have any insight on where Jabari Parker will be going to college? I'm a DePaul student and would LOVE to have him here! -- Jasmine Q.

Jasmine, I won't pretend to know which school Jabari will pick, since things change in the course of high-profile recruitment sagas all the time, but if I had to guess, I'd put my money on Duke, though many of the other national powers involved, such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, and even the likes of Washington and Stanford -- Jabari's father, Sonny, played professionally with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, while Jabari has family on the West Coast and Stanford's academics likely appeal to him -- also have a chance. I've gotten to know Jabari a bit and he's an excellent student, but he's probably going to be a one-and-done player. Thus, Duke fits him from both an academic standpoint and after winning three high school state championships -- and likely a fourth next season -- as well as providing him with an opportunity to develop under a coach with a track record of having won national championships and coaching pros, something that's been enhanced by Coach K's work with USA Basketball.

However, I wouldn't completely rule out DePaul just yet, simply because Jabari has a lot of civic pride, is close to his family and is good friends with AAU teammate Billy Garrett Jr., a junior point guard at Morgan Park, one of Simeon's rivals. Billy, who's also an excellent player, has already committed to DePaul, his father is on the coaching staff and I'd imagine he's constantly in Jabari's ear about joining him and putting the program back on the map.

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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."