Bulls still waiting for young players to step forward

 
 
Updated 12/14/2016 3:35 PM
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  • Minnesota's Zach LaVine (8) scores over Bulls center Cristiano Felicio, as Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Cole Aldrich (45) watch. The Timberwolves won 99-94 Tuesday, with LaVine netting 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

    Minnesota's Zach LaVine (8) scores over Bulls center Cristiano Felicio, as Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Cole Aldrich (45) watch. The Timberwolves won 99-94 Tuesday, with LaVine netting 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Associated Press

The Bulls' major problem right now can be easily summarized with a look back at Tuesday's 99-94 loss to Tom Thibodeau's Minnesota Timberwolves.

Specifically, look at Timberwolves shooting guard Zach LaVine, who hit 10 of 18 shots for 24 points, to go with 6 assists and 6 rebounds, while playing a very Thibodeau-like 43 minutes. That's a slightly above-average performance by the two-time dunk champ, who is averaging 20.5 points on the season.

Now, we could make this about how the Bulls would be better off with LaVine than Doug McDermott. In the 2014 draft, McDermott was chosen 11th and LaVine 13th. It seems logical the Bulls could have asked Denver to select LaVine at No. 11 when they agreed to swap draft picks that night.

But the reality is LaVine is blossoming into a star in his third NBA season and the Bulls sorely need one of their young players to do the same.

The two obvious choices are McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. McDermott continues to show some good signs. In Tuesday's game, LaVine tried a few times to take McDermott one-on-one and wasn't always successful.

McDermott has been back for just three games after missing 11 with a concussion, but he should be making more of his impressive offensive skills. McDermott's 9.9 scoring average and 31-percent shooting from 3-point range might be the most obvious spot where the Bulls could receive some rapid improvement.

Mirotic's peaks and valleys are difficult to accept. In the last nine games, he's averaged 6.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, shot 34.4 percent overall and 20.6 percent from 3-point range. There's no way to put a positive spin on that stat line.

The Bulls (13-11) have a chance to be a playoff team this season, but when things go wrong like they did against Minnesota, coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have many places to turn for help.

"Obviously we have to improve on our execution," Hoiberg said after Wednesday 's practice. "We scored 38 points in the first quarter, we scored 38 points in the second half. What was working for us early on in the game, we didn't continue to do that."

Hitting a 3-point shot would be a good place to start. Tuesday's bench crew of Mirotic, McDermott and Isaiah Canaan combined to go 0-for-8 from long range. Over the past nine games, the Bulls have shot a putrid 22.5 percent from 3-point range. The next worse team in that span is the Lakers at 30.5 percent.

Canaan was supposed to be a quality 3-point shooter, but he hasn't delivered. Hoiberg talked about rookie Denzel Valentine and second-round pick Paul Zipser getting a chance in the coming days.

"Denzel will see more time as we move forward, there's no doubt about that," Hoiberg said. "A lot of it has been based on what he's doing out here, the amount of time and effort and work he's putting into it.

"There will be a time again when Bobby (Bobby) gets that opportunity. Cris (Felicio) has played very well for us as a young big. Paul Zipser will get an opportunity at some point from what he has shown. Even that game he played for Windy City, he showed a lot of promise and has a bright future.

"We'll continue to keep those guys ready, and hopefully they'll help us win some games and produce."

That's the state of the Bulls right there. Unless they make some sort of trade, they can only hope one of the young guys figures it out soon.

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