Get Excited Bulls Fans

If it weren’t for the horrendous contract of shooting guard Zach LaVine, 23, for $78 million for the next four-seasons I’d be inclined to grade the Bulls off-season an A-Plus for what they were able to accomplish. While not a certified playoff team, the Bulls did not fall for any quick fixes that so many teams in their position usually look for. They drafted responsibly, passing on Michael Porter Jr. for Duke big forward Wendell Carter, who killed it in Summer League. Later they choose fourth-year sharpshooting Boise State guard Chandler Hutchinson.

If the Bulls did not sign LaVine, their starting lineup would be a defensive monster. Kris Dunn at the point, Hutch as your versatile two-guard who can play the three, Jabari Parker, who won’t be as much of a liability at small forward as so many believe, Lauri Markkanen and either their version of Al Horford or the reliable, smart Robin Lopez to play center:

Now I expect Lopez to be traded. He absolutely should be. After an overlooked solid season, where Lopez shot 53% off 10.1 shots per game, nearly averaging 12 points. He’s on the last year of four-year, $55 million deal he signed with the Knicks back in 2015, he could help teams trying to make it to the postseason (Detroit, Philly, Washington). Given the situation I’d start WCJ at center on Opening Night, though I’d understanding shifting the rookie to the bench to begin his career as a way to showcase Lopez for future trades. Lopez may not be as skilled as Clint Capela, but he knows what to do and can occasionally stretch the floor. He also beats the opposing teams mascot to a bloody pulp on a nightly basis. So that’s a plus.

WCJ and Hutchinson impressed many in SL. Carter showed off his defensive prowess, able to leap tall bounds off just one foot, and can nail a short pull-up and get the ball inside. Every facet of his game (besides passing) screams AL HORFORD whenever I watch him. The Bulls found themselves a keeper.

Hutchinson can defend and shoot. A gross generalization on my part, glossing over the complexities of his game which spent four full years cooking in college. But at the end of the day, those were things LaVine could not do last year. Hutchinson can drive wherever he wants in the paint, is a fairly crafty ball-handler and there is no reason why fans of Chicago shouldn’t be excited about him as well… which is why the LaVine contract continues to make NO SENSE.

As for Markkanen, set a franchise record in threes made by a Bulls rookie (145), and looks to be the legit real deal on offense. On defense, well, not so much. But it isn’t for a lack of effort. Like Lopez he tries, and has shown brief flashes of being able to guard smaller players off of switches. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Lauri needs to bulk up a bit if he doesn’t want to continuously get bullied inside. If not for having Lopez by his side, Markkanen would probably have not lead the league in rebounds per game amongst rookies… (Ben Simmons grabbed 8.1 boards versus Markkanen’s 7.5, but as you know: he’s not a rookie).

Critics poo-pooed the signing of disgruntled forward Jabari Parker on a very team-friendly 2-year, $40 million contract; team-option for 2019-20. Much of the shine must’ve fallen from Parker after suffering his second ACL tear in 2016-17, prior to that he was posting 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. The blossoming of the Giannis Antetkounmpo pushed the second overall pick down in relevance. Of course, Parker didn’t make life easier for himself in Milwaukee. Showing blatant disinterest in playing defense and not willing to accept his minimized role, his noticeable pouting cost him many suitors.

But Parker is just 23. While the Bulls aren’t the first organization I’d entrust with his rehabilitation, a Dunn/Parker Pick-and-roll could be deadly. And considering their are just two teams in the East that have dynamic scoring small forwards, it isn’t a stretch to believe Parker will survive playing the three for the majority of the season.

I like this Bulls team. They’re inability to defend has possibly been overstated. Chicago will probably rank in the middle of the pack in both offense and defense. I still don’t know about Fred Hoiberg, whether he’s a dead man walking. Outside of that glaring question, the Bulls rebuild is off to a fine start. Dunn can perhaps grow into an above-average starter, showing great strides last season in his jump shot.

One more time: that LaVine contract is the turd in the punch bowl. He’s a year-and-a-half removed from an ACL tear, someone who can only score because of his freakish athleticism. He has no jump shot or on-ball skills, I don’t think people are talking about just how bad this contract will look this time next season.

But, the Bulls elected to put themselves in this position. The duo of GarPax made too many good moves consecutively, a horrendous one was coming down the pike no matter what.

The Most Important Stretch in Greg Monroe’s Celtics Tenure

Written By: Vinny, @sailboatstudios

Reasons for the Celtics recent struggles are many. For one If was expected Jayson Tatum would hit the rookie wall one of these days; the grind of an NBA schedule is harsh on a rookie. Tatum’s played well past the thirty-seven games he worked in his lone season at Duke. In the first 37 games Tatum splits were a Rookie of the Year worthy 51.5/50/82.4%, averaging 14 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.6 Stocks (Blocks + Steals); since then: 42.1/30.3/82.5% splits, 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 Stocks. Add to the exhaustion, defense was never Tatum’s calling card, the Warriors on both occasions showed his vulnerability on zipper action and one-on-one situations.

As a team the Celtics hit their stride after October 24th, the team catapulted to No. 1 in defense posting a league-leading 101.1 DRtg; the Spurs, for the entire season, are second with 104.74. Opponents eFG% was at 48.6, well-below the league-average of 52.1%; opponent’s three-point percentage went capped out at 33.9%; compared to the league-average of 36.1%. This was why people tagged Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, until recently. The loss of Gordon Hayward didn’t only limit their offense severely, Irving and Horford together can only up Boston’s ORtg to 108, not even close to elite level, it also cost Boston a solid defender on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown is still too skinny to guard many athletic wings (Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo); Jayson Tatum is too young; Terry Rozier is undersized; and you can only scheme around these hinderances so many times until you finally get beat.

Soon the cracks started to show. Smart creating a laceration in his hand after punching a picture frame, derailed Boston’s elite defense to somewhere just below league-average. While a 105.2 DRtg, since the loss to the Lakers, isn’t horrible, the 240 points given up at home to Cleveland and the L.A Clippers right before the All-Star Break is. We can point to the simple subtraction of Smart, one of the best on-ball and team-defenders in the NBA, as the cause for this gigantic step back, but the pieces seemingly were in place to prevent the Celtics from missing Smart. The Clippers, Raptors and Cavaliers, scoring 361 points in the three games played against the Celtics, neither of them (besides Cleveland) didn’t have a body to bully starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown or even Tatum. Yet, they still ran rough-shot over the worn down Celtics. Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and the aforementioned, high-effort Rozier were healthy for all those games. In all reality, this shouldn’t have happened. It’s not crazy to suggest all the Celtics need is some downtime to return to their previous form.

But even if that’s not the solution, it may lay on the bench, twenty-seven-year old center Greg Monroe’s been a solid 5 points, 5 rebounds per game in the four contests he’s suited up in green, since joining the team a week before All-Star Break. After logging in nearly twenty-minutes in his debut against Washington, his time dwindled to 10, 11 and 9 minutes in the final three-games. In those very games, established big forward/center Daniel Theis played nearly 28, 17, 11 and 10 minutes, seeing as he’s a better fit for the modern NBA and was on a good run since December 31st, 56.1%, 40.7% from three, and an offensive rating of 126.

But the following opponents for Boston are exactly why Ainge signed Monroe, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Charlotte, and Chicago. Teams with an established center and Monroe played and had some success against in the past. Like former teammate Andre Drummond, the nine games played Monroe hit 56%, averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 stocks. Traditional back to the basket centers like Robin Lopez, Enes Kanter, Cody Zeller, Dwight Howard and Jonas Valanciunas are the ideal matchups for Monroe; even though Theis on his best night could create more havoc. But the slow-moving Monroe still proved his worth in a game against the Wizards, a team who’s frontcourt consists of Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahimi, Monroe snagged 6 boards and 5 points in the overtime victory.

Like Terry Rozier when Smart was sidelined was the most important two-week stretch of his career, defining his role in the rotation as a trustworthy contributor; Monroe can earn the same if he produces in five of the next six games after All-Star Break comes to a close.