With the college game's Final Four approaching and the NBA regular season winding down, there's another level of basketball that always captures my attention this time of the year.
The McDonald's High School All-American Game, which happens to be in Chicago again--hence the Bulls and by default, yours truly, vacating the United Center and being on the road this week--and while I won't see it live (praise the gift of DVR), it's been yearly staple for me since I was a kid, from the year Kevin Garnett was a participant.
Another Chicago Public Schools product, Simeon's Jabari Parker, will be playing in the annual all-star showcase this Thursday, and given that I've known his father, former NBA player Sonny Parker, even prior to relocating to Chicago, and covered Jabari's debut high school game, I won't deny that I take a little pride in seeing the Duke-bound forward be successful.
There's plenty going on across the basketball landscape these days, but if you're like me and want to track the development of likely future NBA players, either head down to the game itself or tune in.
On to the mailbag:
Will the Bulls look to repeat their physical style of play they showed Wednesday in the playoffs?
Daniel, if Thibs had his druthers, they'd probably play like that all the time. The Bulls are regarded as one of the league's most physical teams on a regular basis, but obviously they took it up a notch against Miami.
I don't know if they would have to take that same approach against every opponent, but I think it reaffirmed to them the tone they have to set against upper-echelon foes, especially when short-handed, as has often been the case this season. But while it demonstrated that on a given night, the Bulls can compete with anybody, that level of effort and motivation will be hard to sustain over a seven-game series. Not that they won't come to play in the postseason, but Bulls-Heat games, even during the regular season, are a special case.
Is Jimmy Butler next season's starting two-guard?
Steve, I still don't know if Thibs views Jimmy as a true shooting guard--when asked about using Jimmy and Lu on the wing together, he says that Lu plays the two in that lineup offensively, though it can be argued that positions are somewhat interchangeable, depending on the set--but he has an outside chance. I think the preference would be to bring back Marco or sign a free agent--if Marco's price tag is too high or the front office simply believes they've found a better fit, whether that's financially, a talent upgrade or both--and continue to use Jimmy as a versatile, big-minutes reserve, but he's certainly making it a tough decision.
I believe Jimmy can be a starter, but having the luxury of being able to bring him off the bench with Taj as a top-reserve tandem is appealing. I've also received some other Jimmy questions, two of which I'll briefly answer here. As far as Jimmy continuing to start when Rip and/or Marco return, it's hard to imagine Thibs doing that, but I wouldn't rule it out. Regarding who I'd compare Jimmy to, I think calling him a combination of Dwyane Wade and Paul George, as one reader suggested, is jumping the gun a bit, but he definitely has a higher ceiling than anyone imagined when he first arrived in Chicago. I struggle to come up with a present-day comparison for his game, but since he's still a developing young player it's not a bad thing to leave it open for now.
Would Derrick Rose's return to the team right now help, hurt or not change the on-court chemistry of the team?
Brannon, Derrick coming back would only help the Bulls, certainly from an emotional standpoint, but also in having a true go-to scorer. He's played with enough of the core players that the adjustment, if not seamless, at least wouldn't be fraught with the tension of unwilling welcoming an alpha dog into the pack, and the guys he hasn't played with have a healthy respect for his game, both from watching him before they came to the Bulls and from practicing with him.
It's not like anyone has filled the void he left, so while he'd need to work off some rust, in this hypothetical scenario, I don't see it as being an issue that detracts from the team's chemistry. To answer another Derrick-related question, while his potential return would add some firepower to the lineup, it's hard to envision the Bulls truly challenging the Heat in a playoff series, as we can assume that Miami will again tweak their defense to make him the primary focus, something that's tough at 100 percent, let alone just returning from a long layoff.
When are we going to see Malcolm Thomas?
Josh, you mean the 20-plus seconds of playing time he got against Miami wasn't enough for you? Seriously, I don't see Malcolm seeing much or any action, through no fault of his own. I think the organization likes him, but as I've written before, Thibs isn't big on throwing mid-season additions into the rotation before he's confident that they fully understand his system.
Daequan's minutes are more out of necessity, but he's also more experienced than Malcolm and has been with the Bulls for a longer period of time. I do think we could see Malcolm around next season, though I'm sure he'll have other interest and will consider his options, especially if he plays summer league. But to give you a more definitive answer, he could get some time in an early-blowout situation, if more injuries somehow pile up, again as a situational sub or maybe in the final two games of the season, but only if the Bulls are already locked into a playoff seed, and even then, I wouldn't bank on Thibs sitting his regulars.
How do you think the effect of Danny Granger being done for the season helps the Bulls if they meet the Pacers in the playoffs?
@MikeJenkinsCSI, at the beginning of the season, I thought Granger's absence would hurt the Pacers a lot more, as evidenced by their slow start. But they've become All-Star swingman Paul George's team--with him playing small forward, both his natural position and Granger's, and former reserve Lance Stephenson becoming a very nice surprise as the team's starting shooting guard--and they haven't missed a beat.
Indiana will still have a defensive mentality, play through David West and Roy Hibbert in the post, and honestly, sometimes Granger settling for quick threes hurt them, although he was definitely their biggest outside-shooting threat. Aside from Miami, I think the Pacers would be the toughest playoff matchup for the Bulls, and while Granger would certainly give them a lift, they're now used to playing without him, so a potential postseason meeting between the two teams will likely come down to defense, toughness and whoever can make shots, given their familiarity with each other.