With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Absence often creates opportunity, which means there will be a lot of opportunity for a few Bulls Tuesday night with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade out against the Washington Wizards.

The Bulls’ two leading scorers will be out, with Butler still recovering from the flu and Wade on a scheduled rest.

“Coach said I’m out tomorrow,” Wade said at his locker following the Bulls’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night at the United Center.

With two more sets of back-to-backs this month, Wade and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg have agreed to a plan for his usage. Sitting Wade for the second night in this first set — while also having a game Thursday night in New York for a three-game, four-night set — seems to be the prudent approach for a man who turns 35 this month.

It just so happens to coincide with Butler being all but useless against the Thunder Monday, barely able to muster up much of an athletic effort while fighting off illness. Butler didn’t make the trip to the nation’s capital but the Bulls hope he’ll join the team in New York.

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“When you see guys fighting through stuff, you really appreciate it,” Wade said. “’Be smart’, that’s my message to him. We need him to be healthy. We need him to take care of himself.”

While the Bulls are without 43 percent of their scoring, it means Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan will see opportunity against a Wizards team that used strong second halves from John Wall and Bradley Beal to beat the Bulls by 10 in Chicago.

“I’ve been telling the young guys, just be ready,” Taj Gibson said. “Next man up. Just giving them as much encouragement as you can. Jimmy played his heart out, tried his best. But we have to be better.”

As for Rajon Rondo, Hoiberg didn’t dismiss the possibility of playing him but never really dismisses the possibility of playing him — but Rondo hasn’t played in the last six games, with the Bulls going 4-2 in that stretch.

The front office has a lot invested in some of the younger players, so it wouldn’t be surprising for them to get an extended look.

“That’s the first thing when young guys look at me,” Gibson said. “We have more than enough to win. We always thugged it out. If you go in with the right mindset, first you’ll learn from it and then confidence will come.”

Bulls: Jerian Grant shines after early-season inactivity

Bulls: Jerian Grant shines after early-season inactivity

PORTLAND--There’s no great motivator like inactivity.

Jerian Grant arrived in Chicago through the Derrick Rose trade before draft night, and had done little to impress those watching him since—as Robin Lopez was crowned as the chief piece in the Bulls trading away a former MVP.

As a 2015 first-round pick, Grant found himself among the clutter in the Bulls’ roster and on opening night, couldn’t even put on a jersey for his actual debut. The feeling was probably something like no other he’d felt in his entire basketball career, even if the intention wasn’t to embarrass.

“When you’re inactive you feel like you’re the last guy on the team,” said Grant, who was on the Bulls' inactive list the first three games. “Everybody else is out there suited up, so I wanted to prove to myself, to everybody out there that I’m not the last guy. I’m a guy that can contribute to this team.”

Fast forward to 11 games in the season, and Grant found himself center stage in the Bulls’ wire-to-wire win over the Portland Trailblazers as a surprise starter when Rajon Rondo couldn’t go with an ankle injury.

It didn’t matter that Damian Lillard, the league’s third-best scorer, was on the other side. All Grant saw was opportunity and he seized it as quickly as it appeared at his doorstep.

“You talk to people that have been in that position, and they just tell you stay ready,” Grant said. “Your opportunity is going to come. Eighty-two games in this league, things happen, so just stay ready. That’s been my mentality.”

Grant introduced himself to the Bulls fans who stayed up late to watch the romp, barely letting Lillard out of his sights while also scoring 18 points and getting five steals in 30 minutes.

He knew he had help defensively but his long 6-foot-4 frame was the first line of defense in making Tuesday the second-worst night of the season for Lillard (he went one for 10 against the Clippers a week ago).

“Keep the ball out of his hands, once he gets the ball he’s dynamic,” Grant said. “So really keep it out of his hands.”

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Playing next to Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler eased the burden on him having to be a primary playmaker, something he struggled at in the preseason, leading to his inactive status for the opener.

“Yeah, it’s great playing with those guys. They give you a lot of confidence,” Grant said. “When I was named the starter they came to me, sat me down, and said, ‘You’re the point guard, so let’s go.’ That gave me a lot of confidence to just go out there and play my game.”

Butler said he saw some type of success coming for Grant, simply because he put in the work by being “constantly in the gym, asking the right questions, wanting to do well”.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg noted the inactive status didn’t deter the second-year guard, monitoring Grant during the competitive 3-on-3 games following Bulls practices.

It was a blow to Grant’s ego but not his competitive spirit. Dwyane Wade said he was glad Grant wasn’t just a player happy to be on a roster to start the season.

“It’s definitely tough. At first you’re shocked, but then it makes you work harder,” Grant said. “It puts things into a reality check, and makes you get back into the gym and work that much harder. As disappointed as I was, it makes you work harder, and I stayed ready.”

Staying ready meant staying attached to Lillard, being ready to knock down open shots and also, picking and choosing the right times to attack defenses when the ball swung to him from Wade or Butler.

“I just feel like I’m out there trying to make plays,” Grant said. “Today I felt like they were kind of playing me as a guy that is going to be out there trying to pass, so it helped me be more aggressive.”

The chatter about the Bulls being a better unit without Rondo will certainly begin over the next couple days, but the revelation that they’ve found a dependable option who looks comfortable in the most critical of settings—playing next to Wade and Butler—should be the grandest one of all.

“He wasn’t intimidated at all. He went out there and battled,” Hoiberg said. “Lillard, you could argue he’s as good as we have in this league at that lead guard position. Just to play with that poise that he played with really for his first meaningful minutes and to guard one of the top players in this league, I thought he handled it great.”

Bulls' Doug McDermott to miss at least a couple games with concussion; door opens for Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant

Bulls' Doug McDermott to miss at least a couple games with concussion; door opens for Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant

You knew it was pretty serious when Doug McDermott couldn’t even take his free throws after landing on his side and banging his head on the unforgiving United Center hardwood Saturday night.

McDermott entered the NBA’s concussion protocol for the second time in a young season after his attempted dunk resulted in McDermott hitting his head, putting his status for the Bulls’ six-game circus trip in doubt.

He initially got banged on a play against the Brooklyn Nets, causing him to enter the concussion protocol and he missed the Bulls’ close loss to the Boston Celtics on Nov. 2.

“He’s not gonna travel on the initial part of the trip,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s still having symptoms, so we’ll leave him back. Took a heck of a fall and banged his head on the floor. He’s still a little groggy.”

McDermott has played more consistently to start the season, especially with his role as the first reserve off the bench midway through first quarters to spell Dwyane Wade and giving the Bulls a more floor-balanced, conventional lineup.

He hasn’t yet matched last season’s 42.5 percent 3-point clip but scoring in double figures in five of the nine games he’s played has shown a certain comfort level. Safe to say, the Bulls have come to depend on what McDermott can provide in terms of shooting.

The NBA doesn’t have the same spotlight on it like the NFL does, as football is inherently more violent. But Celtics All-Star center Al Horford has missed seven straight games with a concussion he suffered in practice before the Bulls and Celtics played in Boston—the game McDermott initially missed.

According to the protocol, McDermott, like any player who suffers from a concussion, “will have to complete a series of steps to confirm that he's healthy enough for competition,” the NBA rules states. “Once he is free of symptoms, the player must make it through increasing stages of exertion - from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills - while ensuring the symptoms don't return after each one. Then the neurologist hired to lead the NBA's concussion program needs to be consulted before the player is cleared.”

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With that said, Hoiberg termed McDermott “doubtful” for the first couple games on the trip, as the Bulls will play Portland on Tuesday and go to Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz Thursday.

“That’s the way it works. He was seen by our team doctor this morning.” Hoiberg said.

With his absence, players like rookie Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser along with Jerian Grant could get opportunities—in fact, it’s likely one if not all will get a fair shot at decent minutes.

“Prime example of keeping yourself ready and being ready when your name is called and going out and making a contribution to help your team win,” Hoiberg said.

Valentine missed games in the preseason after spraining his left ankle in the preseason opener, while Zipser and Grant are itching for a chance to make an imprint.

“Denzel, Paul with certain matchups on this trip…,” said Hoiberg, citing Thursday’s matchup against Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, an athletic wing player Zipser can match up against. “Denzel was really good in practice today. Excited to see him get an opportunity. Their time is coming. Denzel is a prime example.”