The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
4:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. As much as Roses offensive game is lauded around the league, his individual defense has also improved under the guidance of Thibodeau, known for his expertise on the side of the ball. His defense looks a lot better to me. I think he's been very consistentI think he's much better on the ball, getting back in front of the ball and the way he's challenging shots right now, he's up on every shot and he's a hard guy to score over if he's up on the shot. He's getting better. His weak-side awareness is much better. Just his overall defense is vastly improved, said Thibodeau. It's not only individual, but it's team. It's tying everybody together. I think his individual defense has improved, but also his team defense and him giving help has improved alsoI think he's taking a lot of pride in it. I think he's really worked at it. Each day, he's come in and he's really worked at it. You can see it in practice. In practice, he's working extremely hard on his defense. Rose says the keys to his improvement have been Just making sure I get into the ball, fighting over screens, not giving up and contesting everybodys jump shot when they come off, although his perfectionist head coach holds him to an even higher standard. Its always, Try harder. It could be where the guys coming off a pick-and-roll and I just contest the shot, and they hit the shot. Ill look at him, hell look at me. Ill say, I contested it. Hell say, Try harder! Im like, Man, you come out here and try. Hes always making sure that Im always out there, giving my all, especially on the defensive end because thats where we really need to get it going, he quipped. One specific area in which hes used his athleticism to become a force is defending his man in pick-and-roll scenarios. Every time people come off picks, theyve got to look for me, especially when they have a little bit of room. Im making sure that Im getting out there, contesting their shot without fouling. Its kind of hard sometimes when theyre in front of you, but Ive j
ust got to find a way to make sure I dont foul them and send them to the line, said Rose. When guys game are usually coming off pick-and-rolls and shooting, when they do that only a couple times during quarters, that tells me Im getting to them.

2. In Luol Deng, while he doesnt garner the same attention as opposing defenses commit to Rose and power forward Carlos Boozer, the teams top two scorers, the Bulls have a luxury with a third scoring option capable of big offensive outputs, as evidenced by his last two games. Obviously Deng and Rose have developed on-court chemistry in their years together, but now Deng has a post-up threat in Boozer to deflect even more pressure away from himnot to mention much-improved effectiveness from 3-point range. Its been a while for me since Ive played with a low-post presence like that. I think the last guy I could say that about is really Eddy Curry, when I had him here my rookie year and my second year. Just getting back to the cutting game, the spotting up and just reading when Booz is being Booz and when the other team is double teaming him. I just feel like its going to come. Were going to get better as a team and were going to get better playing off him, said the small forward, who described playing with Boozer as really easy. He continued: Ive always had my 3-point shot. I always felt like spacing-wisea lot of times in the past, I was in the cornerbut now, Im finding myself floating into it. Im shooting it more in transition. I just know with Derricks penetration, I can widen out the floor for him and its something thats worked well for Derrick this year. Spacing out the floor, hes been able to attack. Teams just have to pick. Take out the threes and spread out the floor, Derrick will attack. A night like tonight, they tried to take it away and we hit shots. Rose acknowledged that when Deng is in his offensive groove, the team functions more smoothly on that end of the floor. We're great, knowing that he's got his flow going, got his game going and he's been doing a great job attacking the basket, where he's trying to get to the line, getting the rebounds. He's big for this team. Everybody comes into the game looking to stop me or Booz. Lu, you see where he'll have a couple of games where he'll score 20-something points or 30 points. That's huge for our team, said Rose. He's doing good, man. He's balling. He's comfortable, I'll say and that's the only thing he should be worried about, being comfortable. Thibodeau added: Lu has been terrific. He's averaging almost 18 points a game and again, I don't measure over one or two games, if a guy isn't making shots. I look at more the total season and 10 or more games, what's going on, but Lu has proven he can score in a lot of different ways for us, whether it's his post-up, the catch-and-shoot, slashing-cutting type game and he's a very efficient scorer, and adding the three, I think has made him even harder to guardYou want your team to play to its strengths and when you look at the strengths of our team--Carlos inside and in the pick-and-roll with Derrick, and of course, Luol has proven that he can score in the pick-and-roll also or catch-and-shoot--the important thing is to play to your strengths. When you look at the top teams in the league, most of them are broken down that way. Three primary scorers get the majority of the shots and often times, it comes down to your ability to get your three primary scorers better than your opponent can get their primary scorers.

3. Rose also discussed his ever-improving chemistry with Boozer, who has been a juggernaut since getting acclimated to his new squad. The duo has been extremely effective in pick-and-roll scenarios, as opposing defenses must choose between Roses devastating penetration ability and Boozers inside-outside offensive capabilities. It will be very tough for teams to stop it because their bigs have to make a choice whether to stop me with the ball and by that time, I'm close to the rim or Booz is going to have a jump shot, or if he's rolling, he's going to have a dunk, said Rose. He kind of rolls like Lakers star Pau Gasol. Gasol doesn't really go too far...usually, when you hit a big rolling, he's close to the basket, but Booz wants the ball a little bit off, so that he could shoot the shot or dribble--one dribble--and get to his left hand. So, it's kind of weird. That's the first big I've ever played with like that, but he's doing a good job at itIt's kind of weird where he catches it because there's a lot of commotion right there--a lot of people moving--but he finds a way to score. Thibodeau believes that the pair also benefits their teammates because of the attention they draw. When you put two primary scorers in the pick-and-roll, it also creates a lot of easy opportunities for others because if they commit to the double team, they put two on the ball and they're rotating quickly to Carlos, that means one guy's open. We have to make quick decisions, hit the open man and sustain our spacing, but I think they've gotten more comfortable with each other, I think it's a hard play to guard and Carlos does a lot of clever things on the pick-and-roll. Sometimes he's going all the way, sometimes he's rolling halfway and sometimes he's popping, so he knows how to read open areas.

4. After their last matchup with Clevelanda too-close-for-comfort affair in the midst of a snowstorm, the Bulls wont take the Cavaliers lightly. However, in the throes of a downward spiral that began with LeBron James return to his home state last month, the visitors have been struggling mightily. With a lineup devoid of a top-tier go-to scorerveteran forward Antawn Jamison appears to be past his prime and point guard Mo Williams is more of a complimentary playerand injuries also proving to be a major issue, Cleveland head coach Byron Scott might have bit off more than he can chew with his newest reclamation project. Still, its a Central Division rivalry game and although the Bulls are clearly superior, they havent been playing up to their potential lately, so another close call could be in order.

5.Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.