Sam: Asik a work in progress with great potential

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Sam: Asik a work in progress with great potential

Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010
2:21 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Raise your hand if you thought Omer Asik would be an unathletic, soft, minimal-impact, international long-term project without the ability to significantly help the Bulls this season. Now, assuming youve watched the teams preseason games, put it down if youve seen enough from the rookie center to admit you were wrong. You wouldnt be the first.

Taking the Bulls history of drafting European players who havent panned outToni Kukoc being an obvious exception, but who can forget the tenures of Dalibor Bagaric and Dragan Tarlacinto consideration, skepticism upon hearing the offseason news that Asik had signed a three-year, 4-million deal with the organization and would suit up for the team this season would be justified. After watching Asiks development through the preseason, however, it seems as if the native of Bursa, Turkey, will not only be capable of contributing to the Bulls immediately, hell be expected to do so.

With power forward Carlos Boozer sidelined and various maladies and ailments limiting both center Joakim Noah and power forward Taj Gibson during the squads preseason slate, Asik has seen more action than anticipatedand handled it well. In eight preseason contests, Asik has averaged 5.3 points, snatched 6.9 rebounds (including 3.3 on the offensive end), shot 51.9 percent from the field and blocked 1.1 shots per contests in just under 20 minutes a night.

While it hasnt been all peaches and cream for the seven-foot-one, 255-pounderhes struggled at the charity stripe (hes made exactly half, 14 of 28, of his free-throw attempts, something hes dealt with throughout his career) and with whistle-happy NBA referees (hes committed 3.5 fouls per game)Asik, who has started four games when either Noah or Gibson were out of the lineup, has certainly had his moments. For example, in the Bulls preseason finale Saturday against Indiana, he put up a modest six points, but snatched 10 rebounds and blocked three shots in 26 minutes to help the Bulls to victory. Against Washington on Oct. 7, Asik came close to a double-double with nine points and 10 boards in a Chicago win, while scoring nine points, grabbing eight rebounds and swatting three Raptors shot attempts in a Bulls triumph Oct. 12.

Its helpful with Omer because its his first experience in the NBA, so hes probably played more than he would have and hes played extremely well, so I think with each opportunity that hes had to start, play, I think hes learning the NBA game. The thing is, hes a multiple-effort guy, hes in great shape, so hes done a lot of good things for us, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau about the 24-year-old rookie.

We love his size, his toughness. He plays smart, physical. Hes on the boards, he sets great screens. He does all the things that help your team play better, continued Thibodeau. Hes not afraid at all to mix it up. He pursues the ball. Theres contact, he goes right through it. Hes got great hands.

Asik has undoubtedly improved since he first started playing basketball at age 17, but those same aforementioned attributes are the aspects of his game that made him a hot commodity in his homeland, and eventually an NBA prospect. You see, the three-way trade the Bulls made to draft the center in 2008the Bulls gave up three second-round picks, trading them to Denver (which drafted current Toronto swingman Sonny Weems that year); Denver dealt another second-round pick to Portland, which drafted Asik with the 36th overall pick on Chicagos behalfis only part of Asiks story.

At 18, Asik, then a member of the junior team for perennial Euroleague powerhouse franchise Fenerbahce Ulker, played for a second-division Turkish Basketball League (TBL) team during the 2005-06 season. While he was in the Turkish national team pipeline, Asik wasnt very highly-regarded at the time, according to sources.

The following season, Asik was loaned to Alpella, a secondary Fenerbahce team that also plays in the first division of the TBL, viewed as one of the premier overseas leagues, with its parent organization. Asik showed improvement, averaging approximately nine points, 11 rebounds and two blocks during the 2006-07 season and raising some eyebrows in the process.

He was some sort of a surprise when he made his name in the Turkish league. He was actually playing for a smaller team and people were kind of wondering, Hey, whats going on? On this team, theres one guy whos all of a sudden collecting numbers and rebounds and blocks, and when he jumped to a big-time team, people were wondering, Can he still do the same thing? And actually, he jumped on a different scenario, right in the middle of the season, and he kept doing the same thing. Thats where you realized he had very interesting potential, recounted Toronto Raptors vice president Maurizio Gheradini to CSNChicago.com

Asik would average approximately 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks for contest for Alpella in 2007-08, before being called up to play for Fenerbahces big-boy squad in Istanbul midway through the season. Asik would go on to put up impressive numbers7.8 points on over 60 percent-shooting from the field and 5.5 rebounds in under 19 minutes per game; he would also set a round-of-16 playoff record with 19 blocked shotsfor the big-boy squad, putting him squarely on the map (as did his performances in all-star camps for European prospects, which were attended by NBA scouts) as an elite young prospect, which was evidenced by his selection as a TBL all-star in 2007 and 2008.

However, although he had emerged as a productive player with an extremely bright future, Asik was bitten by the injury bug, with a knee injury in 2008 and a collarbone injury in 2009 truncating those seasons for him. Despite those concerns, the Bulls still went on to draft the center, who recovered remarkably, by all accounts.

He had some sort of a setback when he got injuredand probably people were wondering how strong he could come back from the injury. I think his comeback has been remarkable. Hes probably stronger than before, Gheradini, the former general manager of storied franchise Benetton Treviso and considered one of the most astute judges of international talent, told CSNChicago.com. Hes got an NBA body. Hes as tough as any player in the league. Hes going to surprise people with his ability to rebound and block shots. I think he gained confidence with his time with the Turkish national team over the summer.

If anybody can testify to Asiks development, its been the Bulls, who were ahead of the curve when it came to the prospect, thanks to international scout Ivica Dukan, who declined comment on the record for this story. Dukan identified Asik during his first professional season and quickly informed the front office about the prospects potential.

Duke Dukan had been tracking him for a number of years and really knew of him at a young age. I think he was friends with his coachPaxBulls executive vice president John Paxson and I had seen him play before we drafted him, Bulls general manager Gar Forman told CSNChicago.com. We really targeted him in that 2008 draft as someone we thought had great potential and we really liked.

"That was our plan, that he would come over this summer--once he was out of his contract--and with that said, he had a number of very lucrative offers to stay overseas, but he really wanted to play in the NBA and really wanted to play for Chicago, continued Forman. The knee injury was a couple years agoand he recovered from that as quickly as I've heard anybody coming back from a torn ligamentand the collarbone injury was just a freak thing. I think it set back his development just a little bit because he didn't get as many games in the last two years, but we figured he'd get back healthy.

Asik, who declined comment because of his discomfort speaking English (although his coaches and teammates insist he communicates fine with them on the basketball court), so far has ingratiated himself with the organization because of his physical nature, surprising agility, defensive presence and basketball IQ. In the 2009-10 season, Asik showed progressaveraging 10.8 points on 61.3 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 1.55 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game in nine TBL contests; hed average 8.9 points on 65.8 percent shooting, six rebounds and 1.43 blocks in seven games in more highly-regarded Euroleague playbefore suffering the aforementioned collarbone injury.

He's got size and mobilityand he's got a motor, like Joakim Noah; it's hard to find big men with that kind of motor, that's runningand he's an extremely intelligent kid, so he picks things up quickly, Forman said to CSNChicago.com. He's got pretty good instincts. It's hard to find seven-foot-one guys with that type of mobility and you watch in some of our early games, his ability to hedge out on the perimeter and recover, his ability to cut off people's penetration, controlling the lane and again, I think he'll just get better and better.

Asiks pleasantly surprising preseason may not have been completely unexpected, as he played a major role in Turkeys second-place finish in the summers FIBA World Championships. As his national teams starting center, Asik averaged 8.9 points on 55.2 percent from the floor, 6.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks in 19 minutes per game, leading the team to an undefeated record prior to the gold-medal game, which Turkey lost to the United States (and Asiks current teammate, Derrick Rose) at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul, Fenerbahces home arena.

We heard he was going to start for Turkey and be a big part of what they were doing. He had a great summer. We watched, obviously, all the games. Actually, his worst game was probably against the USA, Forman told CSNChicago.com.

I think he can surprise some people, Gheradini told CSNChicago.com. He knows what hes got to work on. Id say his overall offensive game is the area that he needs to work on. I think hes getting better, but again, you can not live just on dunks and very, very close shots. You have try to have more weapons available. But hes smoother, hes working on his game, hes much more confident in the things he needs to on offense, hes a good passer for a big man, so at the end of the day, hes going to get better by working on his game here in the NBA. Hell never be what we call a scorer, but I think hes going to be reliable scorer underneath the basket.

When they the Bulls drafted him, I was very curious to see when he would make it over to the NBA. Its not easy to judge ahead of time, most of the time, Gheradini continued. The fact that hes coached by Thibodeau, I think is a plus because hes going to somehow exploit his strong points, which are rebounding, defense and definitely above-average shot-blocking ability. Hes long, he can stay with the guy and hes very good timing on blocking shots.

Thibodeau has certainly utilized Asik, who worked out at the Berto Center for much of the summer, in the preseason, often pairing him with Noah inside. Playing power forward is new for Noah, but he understands the value of having a seven-footer tandem patrolling the interior for the Bulls.

Its a work-in-progressHes very good at plugging down the middle and I think his best asset is he wants to learn and he wants to get better, but you cant teach that size that he has. Thats a big body and he can really move for his size. Hes somebody who puts in a lot of extra work, said Noah. Hes hungry to become a big-time player in this league. As long as he stays humble and hungry and driven, I think that its going to get real scary.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!