Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

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Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

CHARLOTTETo say it was a flashback would be an insult, but the way Rip Hamilton played Wednesday night, he looked like the player they anticipated when they acquired him in December. Granted, the former three-time All-Stars 22-pointon 9-for-13 shooting and 4-for-5 from three-point rangesix-assist performance came against the lowly Bobcats, but his outing was even more encouraging because it occurred with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng sidelined with injuries.

Its feeling better. Each and every game, I get better. Thats the good thing. When I first came back, the problem wasnt me getting to the spots that I wanted to get to . It was actually just gaining a rhythm and getting a feel for the game again. But every game, it gets better. Im definitely pleased with whats going on, said Hamilton, who missed the bulk of the campaign with various ailments. The rhythm and the timing, the timing of the game and thats for anybody. When youre away from the game this long, the biggest thing is just rhythm and timing.

Im just aggressive. With Derrick out and Luol out the last couple games, I just try to be a lot more aggressive and try to make plays, continued the shooting guard, who also had a stellar night, albeit in a loss, against Washington at home Monday night. Just from a spacing standpoint. The more space that we have, with the type of players that we have, good things can happen.

Hamilton emerging as a major threat is happening at just the right time, with the injury-plagued Bulls almost at the finish line of the regular season. His teammates and coaches have taken notice.

Playing great, shooting lights out, super aggressive. Looks like the Rip Ive been playing against for a long time, praised Carlos Boozer, one of the prime beneficiaries of Hamiltons underrated passing ability. I think it opens up a lot of things for me and Joakim. You saw the way he was shooting, it got Joakim and I lots of layups and dunks. But at the same time, defensively, hes a tough defender. Another added weapon.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Its hard to judge. Each day he gets better. Again, its how our team plays. Its not how one particular guy plays. Its how our team functions and thats what were focused on right now.

The fact that Hamiltons mentalityhe won a championship on a similarly-balanced and defensive-oriented Pistons teamjibes with his coachs approach has eased the transition, now that hes regained his rhythm, as he knows hes capable of scoring, but isnt overly concerned with putting up big numbers at this stage of his career.

Explained Hamilton: Its something that Ive been accustomed to my whole career, so its nothing I dwell on. Its just something that I say, Well, all right, if the team needs it, Ill do it, and I think coming back off an injury, you just say, My job is to get to my spots. If I can get to my spots and feel good, and not be as hurt as I was before the game, then I know my shot will end up falling.

Still, Hamiltons long-range shooting on a team in need of more consistent deep threats has been a pleasant surprise, since Hamilton has always been known as a mid-range specialist.

I always feel as though I can make them from the corner, but when Im hitting them up top, thats something different. I felt good. I think we really worked the ball inside-out and got me some easy attempts, he said. I always say, Why shoot threes when you can blow by your man? Thats always been my thing my whole career, but I did lead the league in three-point percentage one year the 2005-06 season. Thats what people dont realize. But I dont get caught up in that. I just take the best shot that I can get. If its 20 feet, if its a three-pointer, if its a layup, I just play the game and try to play it the right way.

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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."