Beyond the Arc: Rookies Making an Impression

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Beyond the Arc: Rookies Making an Impression

Tuesday, October 6th

OK, I know it's only two meaningless preseason games, but you can't help but be encouraged by what we've seen so far from Bulls rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson. NBA observers shrugged when the Bulls grabbed the two power forwards in Round 1 of the draft back in June, with some of the so-called experts saying the team made a big mistake not taking Pittsburgh big man DeJuan Blair. Blair looked good in summer league play with San Antonio, and there's no question he has some scoring ability in the low post. But like so many other teams, the Bulls were scared off by his lack of height and medical reports on his surgically repaired knees.

But back to Johnson and Gibson. Bulls GM Gar Forman told us back on draft night that the Bulls had Johnson ranked as the fifth-best player on their draft board and they were thrilled to get him with the 16th pick overall. He has good quickness and ball-handling ability for a big man, and decent shooting range out to the three-point line. But during the summer, Johnson didn't exactly burn up inferior competition in Las Vegas. He was carrying too much weight at around 265 pounds and didn't look nearly quick enough to play small forward in the NBA. Obviously, Johnson got the message. The former kick-boxing champion worked hard to get his weight down to around 250, and he looks noticeably slimmer and quicker so far in the preseason. Playing against the likes of Utah's Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, Johnson found a way to put up 18 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. He also made the big plays down the stretch, including the game winning jumper at the buzzer. Vinny Del Negro plans to give Johnson playing time at both forward positions and he looks like the kind of player who can grow into a scoring role off the bench.

As for Gibson, a lot of mock drafts had him falling into the second round, but here at Beyond the Arc, we were campaigning for the Bulls to select the hard-working big man out of USC with that 22nd overall pick they got in the Thabo Sefolosha trade. I really liked Gibson's relentless work on the boards at USC playing for Tim Floyd, and he also showed a nice shooting touch and the ability to be a shot blocker at the NBA level. The only real knock on Gibson was that he was too thin, at 225 pounds. But the Bulls have a terrific weight-training staff led by Erik Helland, and they'll work hard with Gibson to help him build the strength he'll need to survive in the NBA, much like they did with Horace Grant before the Bulls' first three-peat. Gibson started the game against Utah with Tyrus Thomas out because of injury, and put up 10 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, including an emphatic rejection of Millsap. He was even better in the preseason opener against Indiana, leading the Bulls with 19 points off the bench, while adding nine rebounds. Entering training camp, it looked like Gibson might have a tough time finding minutes behind Joakim Noah, Brad Miller, Thomas and Johnson, but he was the first big man off the bench against Indiana and has impressed the coaching staff with his hustle and determination on the boards.

Things could change once the regular season begins, as the Bulls face the likes of San Antonio, Boston and Cleveland in the early going, but the early returns suggest Johnson and Gibson will work their way into Vinny's rotation and maybe contribute more as rookies than anyone around the NBA expected.

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

PHOTO: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose reunite at Cubs-Dodgers game

Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose may not be teammates anymore, but that didn't stop them from catching up on the west coast while watching a familiar Chicago team.

The former set of Bulls teammates happened to bump into each other at the Cubs-Dodgers game on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, where they both work out in the offseason.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler likely haven't seen each other since the trade that sent Rose to the New York Knicks over the summer.

Butler shared the picture on his Instagram with Rose and his son P.J., capturing a cool moment after speculation of a reported rift during their time together in Chicago never seemed to go away:

three cats at a cubs and dodgers game.

A photo posted by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

Dwyane Wade's cousin shot and killed in Chicago

On Thursday, Dwyane Wade appeared on an ESPN special for The Undefeated to talk about gun violence. The next day, Wade's cousin was shot and killed in Chicago.

Nykea Aldridge was pushing a baby stroller in the Chicago neighborhood of Parkway Gardens when she was shot and killed. Aldridge was 32 and a mother of four.

Police said she was not the intended target and one person was taken into custody as a result of the incident.

Wade's words during his appearance on the ESPN panel took on extra meaning after Friday's shooting.

"It's important for all of us to help each other, to go back and say 'You know what, where did this start, how did this start? Let's see how we can change there,'" Wade said on ESPN. "It's deep-rooted and this is something that didn't start today. This is something that's not going to end tomorrow. But this is something that we can start a conversation, we can start the work today and hopefully eventually we can stop it."

Wade tweeted after the shooting.

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

The Windy City Bulls are beginning to feel more like a real team.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls' new NBA D-League franchise that will play games in Hoffman Estates beginning this season participated in the league's expansion draft.

As one of three new expansion teams joining the NBA D-League this season, the Windy City Bulls were allowed to select 12 players from the other 19 teams in the league. Each returning D-League team was allowed to protect the rights to 10 players on each roster with two players being available to the Bulls, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.

The Bulls acquired the rights to 12 players as here's the rundown of who they selected.

Round 1: Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard (Austin Spurs)
Round 2: Kiwi Gardner, G, Midland College (Santa Cruz Warriors)
Round 3: Ralph Sampson III, C, Minnesota (Maine Red Claws)
Round 4: Booker Woodfox, G, Creighton (Texas Legends)
Round 5: Jerel McNeal, G, Marquette (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 6: Akeem Richmond, G, East Carolina (Reno Bighorns)
Round 7: Casey Prather, G/F, Florida (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 8: Jon Octeus, G, Purdue (Canton Charge)
Round 9: Justin Dentmon, G, Washington (Texas Legends)
Round 10: Jamal Jones, F, Texas A&M (Delaware 87ers)
Round 11: Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State (Fort Wayne Mad Ants)
Round 12: Ian Chiles, C, Morgan State (Salt Lake City Stars)

It's important to note that although the Bulls have the rights to these 12 players for two seasons that many of them might never suit up for the team. Many players from this expansion draft group will head overseas to pursue professional opportunities there. If they do end up signing a D-League contract, the Bulls will have right of first refusal, giving the Bulls rights to these players for two seasons.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Among the notables picked by the Bulls include the 5-foot-7 Gardner, who has had a successful D-League stint in the past as well as some experience in the Saudi Premier League. Local college hoops fans will probably recognize the 6-foot-3 McNeal from his days at Marquette where he played for one season with Bulls star Jimmy Butler. McNeal also has more NBA experience than anyone on the expansion list as he most recently finished out the 2014-15 season with the Phoenix Suns. Former Washington product Justin Dentmon is also a native of Carbondale as the 6-foot-0 guard helped Carbondale High School to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 IHSA Class AA state basketball tournament.

Windy City will tip off the season with a home opener at Sears Centre on Friday, Nov. 11. The 2016-17 D-League schedule was released earlier this week as Windy City will have 24 home games, including 16 that will be played on Friday or Saturday night. 

While the Windy City roster will look very different from this expansion draft list, the Windy City Bulls should help the main Bulls franchise develop young talent in a nearby location as it will be the start of a very intriguing dynamic.