Six Things We've Learned About the Bulls

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Six Things We've Learned About the Bulls

Thursday, October 15th

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, what have you observed about the Bulls' play so far in the preseason?

The regular season opener against San Antonio is two weeks from tonight, and it's pretty obvious, the Bulls need to get Derrick Rose back on the court as soon as possible to work on offensive execution for those early season games against the Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Cavs. It's also become apparent the Bulls' desire to have a better defensive team on the floor this season is very much a work in progress. The injuries to Rose and Tyrus Thomas, coupled with Brad Miller missing games because of the flu, has forced the coaches to give minutes to the rookies and free agents in camp. And while the play of James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Chris Richard and Derrick Byars has been encouraging, we won't get an idea of what kind of team the Bulls will have this season until they can settle into their regular rotation, which means Joakim Noah, Tyrus, Luol Deng, Rose and John Salmons starting, with Miller, Kirk Hinrich, GibsonJohnson and Jannero Pargo as the guys off the bench.

So, in the spirit of the Bulls' 6 championships, here are 6 things I've observed through 3 weeks of training camp.
1. JOAKIM NOAH'S SUMMER WORK IS PAYING OFF
As I wrote in an earlier column, Noah told me before camp he worked very hard in the summer with coaches at the I.M.G. Basketball Academy in Florida to improve his low-post offensive game, and get some consistency on his jump shot. The early returns are encouraging. Did you see the 2 lefty finishes in last night's game at Minnesota? Noah rarely looked to attack in the low post during his first 2 NBA seasons, but now that his confidence is up, he's looking for opportunities to score. Improving his left hand finishes at the rim, including a nice jump hook, will make him a more versatile offensive player. No one's predicting he'll be an All-Star, but he certainly could be a guy who averages 12 points and 8 rebounds a game.

2. CAPTAIN KIRK IS STILL A KEY TO SUCCESS
With Rose forced to watch these pre-season games from the bench, we're getting a reminder why the Bulls gave Kirk Hinrich that 5-year, 45 million dollar contract extension a while back. He's looked sharp running the team from the point guard spot and he's showing an improved shooting touch from 3-point range. Hinrich's ability to play both guard postions will be invaluable this season, and there's no reason to think he can't give the Bulls 30 quality minutes. Last season was wrecked by the thumb injury that sidelined him for two months, but he showed in the playoff series against Boston he can be a real asset on both ends of the floor.

3. BULLS ROOKIES WILL CONTRIBUTE THIS SEASON
I know I was one of the few media guys who campaigned for the Bulls to select Taj Gibson with the 26th pick in the first round, and so far, he's been even better than I expected. Gibson is 24 years old, and that maturity is apparent in so many ways on the court. He has a well-rounded offensive game, with the ability to make a perimeter jumper and drive to the basket. But he's even better on the defensive end, with an understanding of rotations and good judgment on when to go for the blocked shot, and when to get good position for a defensive rebound. Johnson is more of a work in progress. He lost the weight that was slowing him down in summer league, and looks very active on both ends. He has the ability to handle the ball from the small forward positon, but he has to be careful not to force his offense with other good scorers on the floor. Down the road, Johnson has more potential, but I think Gibson will get more minutes initially because of his defensive mindset and high basketball I.Q.
4. DWYANE WADE IS THE 1 FREE AGENT TARGET NEXT SUMMER
Because of the potential shown by the Bulls' rookies so far, John Paxson and Gar Forman probably aren't as concerned about finding a low post scorer in free agency. Wade is one of the top 5 players in the league, and a difference maker on both ends of the floor. He's also from the Chicago area and spends most of his summers here. Paxson wanted to draft Wade back in 2003, but Pat Riley surprised a lot of NBA observers and beat him to the punch. Knowing Pax, I'm sure he'd like to rectify that situation and do everything in his power to bring one of the league's most popular players back home.

5. BULLS DEFENSE STILL NEEDS TO IMPROVE
The coaches have talked about getting better on the defensive end since the Boston series ended last spring. They will have more size this season with Salmons at the shooting guard spot and 6-9 Luol Deng at small forward, but TALKING about getting better on defense and actually doing it are two different things. Having Rose sidelined because of injury also hurts because he was the weakest individual defender on the team last season, and certainly needs the extra work.

6. COACHING STAFF CHEMISTRY SHOULD BE BETTER
Vinny Del Negro appears to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his 2nd season as an NBA head coach, and he should have better chemistry with his assistants now that veteran Del Harris has retired. Both Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff are former NBA head coaches, and I'm sure they butted heads with Vinny at times last season. Pete Myers now takes on an expanded role, and Pete is very populuar with the current players. Plus, the Bulls have added Randy Brown and Sidney Green to work with players on individual skills, Green with the big men and Brown with the perimeter guys. Having that extra attention should pay off for everyone involved.

The regular season schedule is brutal, with the Bulls facing a number of playoff teams early on, and then making the dreaded "circus" road trip in mid-November. If they can be close to .500 going into December, they should be able to make a run at the 4th seed in the East. But if they get off to a bad start, making the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference could be a struggle.

What do you think? As always, your comments and e-mails are welcome...enjoy the hoops...we've got the last 3 preseason games for you on Comcast SportsNet.

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

This story originally appeared on Big3.com. Hear from Kendall and Ice Cube as they give their opinions on the Aug. 26 fight in the video above.

Timing really is everything.

When I went to Las Vegas for the BIG3 combine and draft back in April, I liked my chances. Sure, I was one of the oldest guys there, but my training as a boxer (I fought professionally after my NBA days) keeps me in great shape.

So I was pretty shocked when I didn’t get drafted.

I tried to be positive about it. I figured maybe the man upstairs was saying, “Just sit tight. I gotta put you on the right team.”

So there I was, sparring in the gym the other day. I get out of the ring and there’s a text waiting for me from Corey Maggette, asking me if I want to play for Power.

He didn’t have to ask twice!

Next thing I know, I’m getting a call from Power’s coach, Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. I looked up to Clyde my whole career, looked at him as a big brother. To play for him in the BIG3 is the perfect scenario.

So it was great to be in Philadelphia last Sunday and help Power defeat the Ghost Ballers in my BIG3 debut. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Cuttino Mobley, DeShawn Stevenson, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and Paul McPherson.

I was a bit rusty on the offensive side, but my defense -- which has been a staple for me throughout my career -- my rebounding, passing, that was all on point. I found Cuttino and DeShawn for a couple of shots when we forced them to double-team down on me. I had Mike Bibby on me in the post, and they knew that he probably couldn’t guard me down there.

So it was a pretty good first day. Now that I’ve got that under my belt, here comes the fun part. Everybody was excited when I was finally added to a team, and when they found out we were playing in Chicago they got twice as excited. When I got off the plane from Philadelphia on Monday, I had about 50 messages waiting for me – friends and family asking for tickets to the UIC Pavilion for Sunday’s games.

And since I work Chicago Bulls games for CSN Chicago, the network is excited, too. They want to mic me up and follow me around for the day, go behind the scenes. Radio stations have been calling me for interviews about the BIG3 coming to Chicago. It’s exciting. But when it comes time to play, I’ve got to forget about all that and go out there and play.

A lot of people think I’m biased because I was born and raised here, and still live in Chicago, but if you look at the number of pro players that we’ve produced, there’s really nowhere else that can compare to Chicago as a basketball town. You look at all the number one picks in the draft. Look at the top five picks in the NBA Draft throughout history. I think you’d have to say Chicago is probably the number one producer of NBA players – and college basketball players for that matter.

Only a few fortunate kids make it up the ranks to college and the pros. For most kids growing up in Chicago, at least basketball can be an important recreational activity that helps keep them off the streets and out of trouble. But there’s so much more we can do. When I was preparing for the BIG3 draft, I was practicing with Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education. Duncan, who has played competitive 3-on-3 with USA Basketball, is doing some great work with underprivileged kids in Chicago.

For my part, I donated a home in Champaign-Urbana (home of my alma mater, the University of Illinois). It’s the Cunningham Children’s Home and it helps disadvantaged kids in the region. We just had our annual golf tournament last week. We’ve been doing it for 28 years and have raised more than $1 million for the home.

While Arne Duncan is doing great work with Chicago youth, I’m grateful for the work he put in with me on the basketball court. He showed me a lot about how to cut, do a lot of pick and rolls away from the ball. In 3-on-3, those aspects of the game are very undervalued. Some guys have a tendency to play too much one-on-one, which I saw in some of the other games I was watching Sunday. The 3-on-3 game is very easy if you do it right, like we did. I think that’s why we won that game. We did a lot of cuts, and it worked well for us.

So after the disappointment of not being drafted, I’m thrilled to be where I am now – playing for a Power squad that is 3-1 and looking good for the playoffs. Which got me to thinking…

I really love boxing – not just training and sparring myself, but watching it. Boxing is the sweet science.

If we are fortunate enough to make it to Las Vegas for the BIG3 championship game on August 26, there just happens to be a pretty big boxing match taking place that night, right down the road. You may have heard:  Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor.

Personally, I don’t think McGregor has a chance. I’ve seen Floyd train in person and I’ve seen all his fights at least 10 times. He’s one of the greatest fighters to ever live. Now a guy who has no boxing experience whatsoever is going to get into the ring with him? Not happening.

But it’s gonna be an event. Believe me, I’m planning to buy the Pay-Per-View.

Unless I’m in Vegas that day and get to see it in person. You know, right after we win the BIG3 title.

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Thursday: 

Is #TheReturn getting a reboot? Report says there's a possibility Derrick Rose comes back to Bulls

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

That escalated quickly: Cubs just a game back of Brewers, could be in first place as soon as this weekend

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

Joe Maddon's prime-time message: 'Help or die'

Report: Derrick Rose is considering teaming up with LeBron James, Cavs

Cubs Talk Podcast: State of Cubs-Cardinals rivalry and what lies ahead

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since