The Chicago Bulls are Simply Amazing

After an offseason that saw the Chicago Bulls revamp their roster, they came into this season locked and loaded to make a run at the east. Within the first week of the season, they’ve lived up to and even surpassed expectations, going 4-0 to start the season. In addition to All-Star Zach LaVine, who has been with the franchise ever since the Jimmy Butler trade, the Bulls have lots of other All-Star talent, including All-Star Nikola Vucevic, former All-Star Demar DeRozan, and a borderline All-Star in Lonzo Ball. They also added Alex Caruso for depth off the bench. Many speculated that these moves were to keep LaVine, the team’s only All-Star talent, from leaving the franchise in free agency. Because of this and how the Bulls got these All-Stars, many teams, fans, and analysts speculated that the Bulls were overhyped, and wouldn’t do well this season.

Credit to The Chicago Tribune for Picture

Most of these thoughts came because of the DeRozan deal, in which DeRozan was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Bulls in exchange for Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a protected first-round draft pick, and two future second-round picks. That’s five players for a four-time All-Star who is at the end of his prime and is 32 years old. However, what many ignored was this: DeRozan may be nearing the end of his prime, but it’s not like he’s the age of the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. DeRozan is still 32 years old, and is more versatile than ever. Once known for his high-flying athleticism, DeRozan has become a much better playmaker, as last year with San Antonio, DeRozan played power forward, and averaged a career high 6.9 assists. Being able to play three positions (shooting guard, small forward, power forward) is useful for any team, and while the Bulls may have overpaid a little bit for DeRozan, it really doesn’t matter. Young and Aminu were good players, but they had nowhere near the impact on the game that DeRozan is having for the team so far.

Almost everyone agreed that Lonzo Ball and Vucevic (traded at last year’s NBA Trade Deadline) were good fits for the team, but there were some questions about Alex Caruso, who was arrested during the offseason for drug possession. However, Caruso is a lot better than many people know, and impacts the game in multiple ways. He and Ball already have some chemistry from their days of playing on the Lakers together, and like Ball, Caruso is a fabulous passer. He thrives in transition settings, feeding his teammates who are some of the best scorers in the world. Caruso has this one move he does where he is able to freeze his defender in place coming off of a pick and roll, and he’s learned how to manipulate his hips and arms to create one of the deadliest no-look passes in basketball. Caruso has a high Basketball IQ, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and while he won’t get a ton of shots due to how incredible his teammates are, he’ll make defenders regret sagging off of him, making him one of the most valuable 6th men in the entire NBA.

Their first game of the season was against the Detroit Pistons. Everyone chipped in, and although the team only played 10 men in total, DeRozan had 17 points, Vucevic had a 15 point-15 rebound double-double, LaVine scored 34, and Ball recorded 12, 6, and four. Second year stud Patrick Williams also proved that the Bulls made the right choice in drafting him with the fourth overall pick last year by playing out of his mind in summer league and chipping in six points in this game as a starter. The Bulls would win 94-88, and two days later, on October 22nd, they would play their second game against the New Orleans Pelicans. While the Pelicans don’t have their franchise star in Zion Williamson on the floor, they still have All-Star Brandon Ingram, and one of the best big men in the NBA in Jonas Valanciunas. In this game, Ingram would have 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists while carrying the Pelicans on his back, but it wasn’t enough. The Bulls looked incredibly cohesive as Ball recorded his first triple-double in a Bulls uniform (this was made all the more sweeter when you consider the Pelicans were his old team) and LaVine scored 32 points, making the final score 128-112.

In a rematch against the Pistons the day after the Pelicans game, the Bulls would once again win, this time by 15 points. A few days later, they would play the Raptors in Toronto and escape with a three-point win as Vucevic, Ball, DeRozan, and LaVine accounted for 80 of the Bulls 111 points. However, not all of the success can be attributed to the players. Bulls Head Coach-Billy Donovan-has had experience working with stars (as he coached Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis), and he is a highly qualified candidate to coach the Bulls, as he led the Thunder to many deep playoff runs during his tenure there. He is easily a better coach than Jim Boylen, who I said was one of the worst coaches in the NBA a few years ago and needed to be fired (he was soon afterward; thanks to the Bulls Front Office for reading that!)

Credit to NBA.com for Picture

The Bulls 4-0 start is the franchise’s best start to a season since the 1996-97 season, in which Michael Jordan led the Bulls and they went 72-10 (they would also win the NBA Finals that year). Obviously, they are not going to match the talent of that Bulls team, but I do believe that people are sleeping on just how good the Chicago Bulls are. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that they could be a top three team in the East, right behind the Nets and the Bucks. This next statement is going to sound very outlandish, but if Kyrie stays out and players on the Nets roster get injured (like last year), and the same thing happens with the Bucks, then the Bulls could be playing in their first NBA Finals since 1998. Congratulations Chicago Bulls fans. You finally have something to look forward to, 10 years after Derrick Rose became the youngest league MVP and had his career derailed by injuries.

Make sure to tell everyone you know that Chi-town could actually have a good basketball team again, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!

 

 

A Preview of the Controversial Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls made a lot of noise this offseason and acquired some good and great players, enough that they have hopefully pleased All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine into re-signing with the team. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that if a star player doesn’t like the amount of wins his team has, he will request a trade or leave by the end of the year. But, despite picking up great assets, not everyone believes the Bulls will be all that they stacked up to be this year. Can the Bulls be a playoff team, and advance past the first round for the first time in LaVine’s young career? Today, we break down the pros and cons of the Bulls’ offseason, and take a look at their roster and what we can realistically expect from them this season.

Credit to The Chicago Tribune for Picture

Just a few minutes into free agency, the Bulls made their first major signing, which was point guard Lonzo Ball, brother of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball. Ball signed a four-year $85 million deal, and was acquired by the Bulls in a sign and trade, in which the Pelicans received Tomáš Satoranský, Garrett Temple, and a second round pick. This was a great move considering the low production of Satoranský and Temple, and considering how Ball wanted to be in a bigger market and has All-Star potential. It’s clear to Bulls fans that he will be the starting point guard over the 2019 sixth overall pick, Coby White from UNC. In fact, there have been a lot of questions about whether or not a more ball-dominant point guard like White can coexist in the backcourt with LaVine. Needless to say, this move was heralded and loved by just about everyone.

In addition to adding Ball at point guard, the Bulls signed Alex Caruso in free agency, who became quite a meme during his time with the Lakers (with many fans calling him the GOAT despite his averaging 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game). However, he has made some incredible jaw dropping dunks and is a good three-point shooter (his free throw shooting could use some work). The fact that the Bulls signed him makes me even more sure that White will find his way out of Chicago. Even though Caruso was arrested for weed possession, he is still loved by almost everyone, and I don’t think anyone disagreed that it was a good move for the Bulls to pick up Caruso.

The same thing, unfortunately, cannot be said about DeMar DeRozan. A four-time All-Star and two-time member of the All-NBA Team, DeRozan was an athletic freak in his prime, appearing in the 2010 and 2011 NBA Slam Dunk contests. Unfortunately, DeRozan’s prime was in Toronto, and while he still had a few monster dunks while playing for the San Antonio Spurs, he’s a shell of his former self. As a 6’6″ shooting guard, DeRozan has transitioned to playing small forward and even power forward for the Spurs, where he logged a large percentage of his minutes in 2021. DeRozan can be a great locker room guy and has lots of experience, but he is now 32 years old. Even though he’s averaged 20+ points per game every year since 2013 (his fifth in the league), it’s clear that will change this season.

To get DeRozan, the Bulls had to give up Thaddeus Young, a solid veteran big man who still has a lot of athleticism, Al-Farouq Aminu, a protected first-round pick, and two second-round picks. While that may not seem like a lot, assuming those draft picks all play in the NBA, that’s five players for DeRozan! Even if the Bulls became one of the best teams in the NBA, there’s value in a protected first-round pick, as the Lakers proved with the Nets’ late first-round pick in 2017 by drafting Kyle Kuzma. So, five players for an out of his prime former All-Star? While DeRozan can bring a lot to the table and is very versatile, it’s clear why so many people did not like this move.

Credit to Jonathon Daniel of Getty Images for Picture

It was also very clear from early on in the 2020-21 season that Lauri Markannen, the Bulls power forward ever since the Jimmy Butler trade, was not fitting in well with the team, and that it was time for him to move on. The opportunity finally came around, and Markannen was traded in a three-team deal to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also in this deal, Larry Nance, Jr, goes from Cleveland to Portland, and the Bulls picked up Slam Dunk Contest champion Derrick Jones, Jr, and some draft capital. Whether or not Jones, Jr, deserved to win the dunk contest is a story for a whole other blog, but he is a very athletic forward nonetheless, and will be a valuable asset to the team. I personally don’t think Markannen will fit in very well with the Cavaliers either, as they have centers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the roster… and somehow, Kevin Love hasn’t been traded yet! He’s been unhappy for nearly three years, and he’s still not gone?

These are the most notable offseason additions, but we also have to look at what the Bulls already have. We’ve mentioned that they have an All-Star scorer in LaVine who sometimes looks like a clone of Bradley Beal, and White, who the Bulls decided to keep with their fourth-year option on his contract but may be leaving soon. In March of 2021, the Bulls acquired Nikola Vučević from the Magic, giving the All-Star big man a contender and giving the Magic some more assets, which you can read about here. It was wonderful that LaVine got an All-Star partner and the Bulls suddenly had a chance to make the playoffs, but the Bulls finished the year as the 11th seed, one spot out of the play-in tournament. It was during this time when some started to believe that Vučević was one of those great-numbers bad-team players. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Andre Drummond is a perfect example. On the Detroit Pistons, Drummond put up great numbers, and was an All-Star center. However, as soon as he left Detroit to go to the Cleveland Cavaliers, people realized that his efficiency was horrible, he had almost no offensive game, and his basketball IQ was severely lacking. He went from an All-Star to a shell of his former self on the Lakers, and this upcoming season will be Joel Embiid‘s backup on the 76ers. From an All-Star to a backup in just a few seasons!

It’s not an understatement to say that the Magic were barely a playoff team, and while Vučević is still putting up All-Star double-doubles, his shooting percentage has dropped in every part of his game, save for free throw shooting. If Vučević truly was overrated on a bad team, I’m afraid that’s going to show next year with so many better players around him.

The final key piece of the Chicago Bulls for next year is Patrick Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. At first, many thought the Bulls were crazy for taking Williams so early in the lottery. However, during the 2021 NBA Summer League, Williams showed how much he improved both defensively and offensively. He averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game his rookie season, although I’m expecting him to take a big leap and become a sophomore stud next year. His performance will end up contributing a lot towards the Bulls’ success.

While the Bulls had one of the more active free agencies this offseason, and have a lot of new talent to be excited for, I simply don’t think they can compete with the powerhouses and All-NBA players in the Eastern Conference, such as NBA titans Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Embiid. Even with the new look roster, there’s no way the Bulls are the 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed. The highest I could see them being (and this is assuming everything goes as planned) is the fifth seed. Realistically, I think the Bulls will be in the play-in mix, and win around 35 games in 2022; a slight improvement but not by much. How well they do depends on how much the team gels and how well the younger players develop. However you spin it though, the Bulls are going to be a very fun team to watch during the 2021-22 season.

Where do you think the Bulls will land in the win spectrum? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!

 

Who’s More Successful: Three-Point Champions or Dunk Contest Champions?

Throughout NBA history, we have been blessed to see some of the greatest players and dunkers ever to win the Slam Dunk Contest, including players such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, and Vince Carter. However, we have also seen some incredible three-point contest champions, such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving, Ray Allen, and Larry Bird. However, the question has to be asked; of all the greatest dunkers and three point shooters in NBA history, who ends up having greater careers? Today, we’re going to break it down, starting with the dunkers.

Credit to John Mabanglo for Picture

Many of the greatest players have become Slam Dunk Champions, but not all Slam Dunk Champions have become great players. Having a vertical leap of over 40 inches makes it incredibly easy to dunk, as well as win the contest. When the dunk contest as we know it started in 1984, the first-ever winner was Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns, father of Larry Nance Jr. However, a few of the most legendary dunkers ever would proceed Nance, such as Wilkins, Spud Webb, and Jordan’s two titles in ’87 and ’88, most notably with his dunk from the free-throw line. After the reign of Wilkins and Jordan, the dunk contest became less interesting in the 90s, with players like Dee Brown, Kenny Walker, and Cedric Ceballos. However, in 1994, Isaiah Rider won the contest with the first-ever between the legs “Eastbay Dunk.” Although Rider’s career was only nine years long, he was incredibly underrated, averaging 20+ points per game in 1995 and 18.5 points per game throughout his first five seasons. Although certain teammates considered him a jerk, he is best known for his dunks, and this crazy shot he made while on the Timberwolves.

Credit to Andrew D. Bernstein of Getty Images for Picture

I already talked about this in another blog, but after Bryant’s 1997 dunk contest win, everyone disliked the other horrible dunks so much that the league shut down the Dunk Contest until Carter revived it in 2000, putting on an absolute show. Following that, Jason Richardson would win the contest in 2002 and 2003, before the era of Nate Robinson, in which the 5’9″ guard would deliver jaw-dropping dunks. Soon after, there would be Gerald Green, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin‘s dunk over a car. After John Wall won the second-worst dunk contest ever in 2014 (if you need proof, watch this), LaVine won his two titles, followed by a bunch of role players on different teams and Donovan Mitchell. Recent dunk contest winners have lacked star power that previous winners demonstrated as in 2021, Anfernee Simons won the contest, and in 2019, it was Hamidou Diallo of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Credit to USA Today for Picture

Next up we have the three-point contest. Larry Bird would win the first three contests in NBA history, 1986-1988 (this has already been discussed in another blog). After Dale Ellis in 1989, Craig Hodges of the Chicago Bulls would win three titles, beating out Jordan in one of those contests. Mark Price would then win two titles, followed by Glen Rice, Tim Legler, and Steve Kerr, former Chicago Bull and current coach of the Golden State Warriors. After Kerr, the next five years were dominated by Jeff Hornacek, Ray Allen, and Peja Stojakovic, two of whom were some of the greatest shooters ever. After a few sub-par performances, Dirk Nowitzki won the contest in 2006, followed by Jason Kapono winning the contest in 2007 and 2008. Paul Pierce would win in 2010, followed by Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Marco Belinelli, and the reign of the Splash Brothers.

 

One of the key things you could argue about the dunk contest in 2021 is that no big names entered the dunk contest, because of fear it would hurt their brand if some reserve player completely destroyed them. Why do you think LeBron James never entered? Another reason why the Dunk Contest has become “boring” to some is that as fans of the NBA, we’ve become spoiled. We’ve seen almost every dunk that can physically be done, whether in a dunk contest or online. Free throw line dunk? Yup. Double-between the legs? Right here. 360 windmill? Vince Carter did that in 2000, and Zion Williamson did it in high school. Between the legs from the free-throw line? Zach LaVine did it in 2016. We have witnessed some of the greatest dunk contests in NBA history, but now, it looks like the league might have to shut it down again until some superstar like Carter can revive it.

As for the three point contest, it’s the same format it’s been since its creation. However, knowing the score you have to beat while you are shooting is mentally fatiguing, and makes it very interesting for the fans. There’s also lots of star power in most years, making it interesting for the fans to tune in. One change I would make if I was the NBA commissioner would be two players shooting at the same time, because of how much tension there would be, just like they did with Hodges and Jordan back in the day.

Never did I think we would reach the era of the NBA where watching a guy shoot threes is more impressive then dunks, but here we are. So, let’s look at the 10 most impressive Slam Dunk champions, followed by the 10 most impressive Three Point Contest Champions.

 

Most impressive dunk champions:

Michael Jordan

Kobe Bryant

Dominique Wilkins

Dwight Howard

John Wall

Blake Griffin

Donovan Mitchell

Zach LaVine

Jason Richardson

Nate Robinson

 

Most impressive Three-Point Champions:

Larry Bird

Stephen Curry

Dirk Nowitzki

Paul Pierce

Ray Allen

Kyrie Irving

Kevin Love

Devin Booker

Peja Stojakovic

Steve Kerr

 

If you had a choice, which of these two groups of players would you rather have? This is honestly a really close call for me. The Slam Dunk champions are better players, but they would have little to no floor spacing. With the three-point shooters, you have the best shooters ever and some of the most difficult to guard. I would pay good money to see every player on these two teams in their primes go at it. However, in the end, I think that if you compare all the three-point champions and all the slam dunk champions, the three-point champions have had better careers so far than the dunkers. While very few have had better careers than Jordan and Bryant, Wilkins suffered one of the worst injuries in basketball with a torn Achilles, Howard has had back problems since 2012, Wall missed in essence two seasons from his own torn Achilles, and Griffin missed considerable time with the Pistons. Meanwhile, Bird is a top ten player of all time, Nowitzki has an MVP and a championship under his belt, Curry has two MVPs and three titles, Pierce is a champion and Finals MVP, Allen is a 10-time All-Star and Hall-of-Famer, Irving has a championship and the best handles in the world, Love has a championship and was an MVP candidate in the early 2010s, Booker just made his first Finals and is an All-Star, Stojakovic is a three-time All-Star and won a chip with Dirk, and Kerr amassed 5 titles as a player. All in all, the three-point champions are winners and have much fewer injuries, so I would have to take them.

Do you think dunkers or shooters are better? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!

 

What’s the Deal With Team USA?

For fans of Team USA Basketball, this year has been a rollercoaster. After losing multiple exhibition games, and an 83-76 loss against France in the preliminary rounds, everyone was freaking out over American basketball. The US was 54-2 in exhibition games, and hadn’t lost games in the Olympics since 2004… how come that record ballooned to 54-5 and the 2020 team was doing so badly? Many speculated that it was because of how different the international rules were from the NBA. Some said that teams were actually playing defense which the current NBA players weren’t accustomed to. Others said that it was the lack of a true big man, as before JaVale McGee arrived, the only big men on the team were Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo. More said that the players hadn’t gelled with one another, as so many were suiting up for Team USA for the first time, and that they weren’t used to playing in coach Greg Poppovich’s system. Whatever the case, Team USA’s fortunes have changed… for the better.

Credit to The Athletic for Picture

Almost everything listed above has changed. Team USA got another true big man in McGee, and it has paid off on the court. Players started hitting their shots while taking advantage of a shorter three-point line, and new arrivals Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Devin Booker came to the team straight from the NBA Finals. The team cracked down on defense, and when the games mattered, Team USA stepped up their game. Against Iran, Team USA had their first blowout win, 120-66. Damian Lillard hit seven three- pointers for a total of 21 points, Kevin Durant played and looked like Durant with 10 points, and Devin Booker added 16 points, Jayson Tatum contributed 13, and Khris Middleton also had 10. Lillard said about the team’s first win, “I think we came out with a lot more urgency,” Lillard said. “Our energy was higher, we played at a faster pace. We were more aggressive, and we played like ourselves. We didn’t come out here and think that it was just gonna happen, we made it happen, and that’s the way that we got to play if we want to be successful in these Olympics.”

“We were a bit too unselfish and that bit us before, but tonight I think guys came out there and were super aggressive to look for their shot but also keep everybody involved, and we were able to make some shots,” Durant added afterward. “Damian came out, got it scorching for us, so we’re gonna need that going forward.”

USA fans blew a collective sigh of relief, and hoped that their good fortune would last. It did seem so, as in their next game against the Czech Republic, Team USA had another blowout, with the final score being 119-84. In this game, Tatum would score 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, and the squad looked incredibly cohesive. Their next game is on August 3rd, against Spain, so it will be intersting to see how Team USA does against them.

While Team USA has come together and proven to people that they are not going to be a horrible team this year, I think that these losses were desperately needed. Americans are so used to winning gold that it is the expectation. Anything less than the gold medal is a failure of a year, and Americans have become spoiled by this. In 2004, when America won the Bronze Medal, people were talking about how it was so horrible, and that they had to make a better team next year, thus spawning “The Redeem Team.” In the rigged 1972 Olympics, when the US won silver, they refused to accept their medals (although there was good reason for this). Do you know how many countries fail at winning even a bronze medal every four years? What I’m trying to say is that Team USA needed a wake-up call, something to show them that overseas talent has gotten better and they can’t cruise through the games without trying like they used to.

Despite fixing all of the weaknesses that I previously mentioned, there is one weakness that Team USA hasn’t yet fixed, and might not be able too. This weakness is their hunger to win. For other countries, winning a medal of any kind is incredible, and to represent their country is an honor they will never forget. While I believe that Team USA believes that this is an honor, I also believe they have heard too many times that the NBA is the best basketball league in the world (which it is). However, when people say that the NBA Finals is the biggest stage in the world… it’s a lie. Viewership in the NBA Finals has been declining in 2020 and 2021, and no sports stage is bigger than the Olympics, when the whole world tunes in to watch. Some players, such as Luka Doncic, understand this, as he personally said a gold medal means more to him than an NBA Championship. It’s that hunger for a medal that will propel teams like Slovenia to the top.

Credit to Jesse D. Garrabrant of Getty Images for Picture

However, even with all of this, I still think Team USA is one of the best basketball teams in the world. Yes, I said one of, not the definitive best. If I’m being as honest and accurate as possible, I think Team USA will win either the silver or bronze medal this year. There are two teams that I believe could bring them down:

France

France is anchored by NBA All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. They also have NBA level wings, such as Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics, Nicholas Batum of the Los Angeles Clippers, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot of the Brooklyn Nets, and Frank Ntilikina of the New York Knicks. France has already proven they can beat Team USA, doing so earlier on July 25th, with a final score of 83-76. The other team that I think can beat Team USA, and frankly think will win the gold medal this year is:

Slovenia

Let’s be honest, Slovenia is a one-man show, orchestrated by Doncic. However, their undefeated record speaks for itself, as well as Doncic’s near 50-point and triple-double performances. They’ve proven they have the keys to winning, and I think they can do it. They haven’t played Team USA yet, but I would equate a potential matchup to that of the 1988 Chicago Bulls vs the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. The 1988 Bulls were led by Michael Jordan, who had potentially the best season of his career that year, winning MVP and DPOY honors. Slovenia’s Jordan is Doncic, but there is no clear Scottie Pippen. On the other hand, the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers failed to live up to people’s standards, winning three previous championships (sound familiar anyone?). While they had all the talent to succeed and win the championship, with multiple Hall-of-Famers on the team, they simply couldn’t do it, and finished second-best, which is exactly what I think will happen to Team USA.

Who do you think will take home gold, and what do you think of Team USA this year? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!