Bulls show 'Melo what he's missing in Chicago

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Bulls show 'Melo what he's missing in Chicago

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
9:45 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

In a game of runs, offensive droughts and individual spurts, the Bulls (3-3) made a late push to outlast the visiting Nuggets (4-3) at home, 94-92, buoyed by Joakim Noahs sixth consecutive double-double to start the young season and a balanced offensive effort.

Denver superstar Carmelo Anthony threatened to put the game away for the United Center guests late in the third quarter, but a determined Chicago squad persisted and held off the visitors in the end behind a late offensive burst by Derrick Rose, timely defensive plays and Noahs ownership of the paint.

It feels good. Every time we have an opportunity to win a basketball game, I think its huge. Its great to be able to win against a good opponent like Denver. Thats a tough team right there, said Noah. Im just taking it one game at a time and Im just worrying about trying to affect winning as much as I can. I feel like there are things that I can still improve on and do better.

I feel like Im in the best shape of my life and Im taking it pretty seriously. Im just enjoying what I love to do and thats play basketball.

For all of the pregame hype surrounding Anthony (32 points, eight rebounds)and speculation that he could end up in Chicagothe Denver small forwards counterpart on the Bulls, Luol Deng, got off to one of his typically aggressive hot starts. Regardless if he was truly motivated by Anthonys presence (Deng denies he looks at any matchup from an individual standpoint), he and Taj Gibsonpractically beaming with confidence these dayscarried Chicagos offensive load in the early going with Rose struggling to find the mark against his USA Basketball summer mentor, Chauncey Billups.

Its something Coach Thibodeau does really well. A lot of the scorers would rather relax on defense and score for their team, so were just doing a good job of moving the ball and making them work, said Deng, previously rumored to be dealtalong with Gibsonto the Nuggets for Anthony. Theres a lot of stuff that goes ona lot of trade rumors, a lot of opinions out thereI dont really care about all that. Im just playing basketball. Im playing hard, Im trying to win and thats all Ive got to focus on. I cant really get caught up in all that.

Im just finding my niche," Gibson added "Whatever happens, Coach draws the play up and I just fulfill it. If he wants me to take a guy off the dribble, be smart, be crafty, Im just real patient and Ive been watching a lot of film, maybe to see where I can fit in. When Derrick comes off screen-and-roll, Im just ready to shoot. So far, my jump shot, everything Ive been working on, is being consistent and real fluid right now.

Im just real smart about scoring. If I have a smaller guy, Im going to take my time and post up, but most big guys, they underestimate my dribbling because I can use both of my handsleft and rightand Im just letting the game come to me, he continued. Guys are finding me. We have a real unselfish team. We have a good assist ratio, so Im just taking my time.

For the visitors, center Nene (back in the lineup after missing time with a groin injury) showed little sign of rust on his powerful drives and finishes. Anthony also got into the flow, showcasing what is roundly considered perhaps the best pure scoring ability in the league, while Billups long-range shooting was another boon for the Nuggets. At the end of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed, 28-23.

The ongoing saga of the poor play of Chicagos bench in the early second quarter seemed as if it would persist initially, with Denver widening its winning margin bit by bit. However, improved play from the likes of Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson ensured that the deficit remained manageable.

When I was out there with the second unit, we really tried to focus on not letting them get a big lead. Weve been doing that a lot and dig ourselves a hole, said Deng, who was the primary scorer in a lineup otherwise full of reserves. Tonight, they got a lead, but we didnt let them get a big lead and we got right back into it before the half, and that was big.

Gibson (16 points, six rebounds, career-high five blocked shots) and Deng (17 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) remained aggressive upon the return of the Bulls regulars and although Rose (18 points, six assists) and Noah (13 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks) werent having major statistical impacts, Chicago was able to creep back into the game and erase the Nuggets slim cushion.

Noahs play picked up toward the end of the period and with a stout defense (Denver was held to 2-for-14 shooting in the quarter), as well as a concerted effort to get the ball into the paint on offense leading the way, the Bulls overtook their guests and even created their own small winning margin.

Despite Rose muddling through his worst half of the seasonhe shot just 3-for-11 from the fieldChicago went into the locker room at the half with a 50-43 lead.

Rose is playing outstanding," Anthony said. "I think hes leading his team. Hes gotten a lot better offensively, attacking the rim, getting them going in transition, getting them easy baskets in the open court. His speed is at the top of the league. We wanted to make him see two guys at all times, especially on pick-and-rolls; I think we did a good job at that in the first half. They made some major adjustments out there.

A mini offensive explosion by Keith Bogans (10 points) to start the half gave the Bulls an early boost, but it was the rebounding efforts of Noah, continued stingy defensive play and balanced scoring that allowed the home team to maintain their advantage. That offensive balance was made evident by the fact that all five starters reached double figures in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Chicago limited and frustrated Anthonywith Deng guarding him individually for the most part (Brewer also took his turn at defending the potent scorer), but the entire squad was part of the effortwith a swarm of defenders marking him both on and off the ball.

Just make it tough for Anthony, said Deng of Chicagos strategy. Were going to have mismatches out there, but whenever Im on guys like that, just try to make them work. Not even when they catch the ball, but before they catch the balltry to deny, make them work for it.

At the end of the day, superstars are going to get their numbers. The best I could do is make him take a lot of shots.

Eventually, however, the Bulls offensive crispness waned, and while the Nuggets werent exactly an offensive juggernaut themselves, they were more efficient than Chicago and a late Anthony-fueled surgehe scored all but two of the points in a 12-0 run to end the period; his 10 occurred in a remarkably short period of timeenabled Denver to gradually come from behind and overtake the Bulls. At the end of three quarters, Chicago was at a 70-68 disadvantage.

I like being competitive. I like challenges. I know Deng is a good defensive player in this league, so I took that challenge on tonight. I made some shots and I broke out of it in the third quarter, said Anthony. Luol is always going to be him. Hes going to play defense, hes going to hustle, get the hustle plays. Thats his game, thats what he does.

The inevitable Bulls second unit drop-off occurred later than expected in the contest, but the fourth quarter was even less timely than its usually scheduled time slot for the home team.

Denvers bench consisted of four true scoring threats, while Chicago had just one playerDeng, a starterin the unit that began the final stanza, leading to the Nuggets lead ballooning slightly.

Clawing back into contests has become a Bulls specialty under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, and the squad displayed plenty of fight in cutting their deficit to a single possession midway through the period.

From that point, it was a chess match between Denver head coach George Karl and Thibodeauwith Karl opting for a small-ball lineupand while contributions from Brewer were important and Noahs interior efforts were as significant as ever, Rose finally began to assert himself.

Derricks our leader and his shot wasnt falling, he couldnt get in a groove tonight, said Noah. When its time to go get it, he finds a way for us. Thats why hes a star.

We told Derrick to keep shooting it. Derrick has carried us a lot and its going to happen; we play so many games, added Deng. It was just a good team win. We locked down at the end, we got rebounds, Jo was huge on rebounding, Keith made some huge playsbut thats what it was about. Guys are going to step up.

Weve got a lot of good players and as the season goes on, I think some guys are going to get more comfortable in what were trying to do and even now, we have times out there where the rhythm is not right. But I like it when its spread out like that because thats the time of team we have, he continued.

Chicago gained even more momentum as Rose found his scoring touch, Noah dominated both ends of the glass and various Bulls made key defensive plays. While the Nuggets continued to challenge late, Chicago fought off a final charge to seal the deal.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

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.”