Westerlund: 5 Thoughts After Bulls-Bucks
By Cody Westerlund--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Bulls started the Fred Hoiberg era with a 105-95 victory against the Bucks in their preseason opener Tuesday night at the United Center in a game in which Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich sat out of.
Here were the takeaways and observations of the night.
1. Fresh off an offseason in which he signed a five-year deal worth around $95 million, wing Jimmy Butler produced like a big-money player should. Hoiberg recently called his play in camp "phenomenal," and he backed that statement Tuesday, scoring 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and an 8-of-12 showing at the line.
It was great start for Butler, who dating back to last year has displayed an eagerness to become the Bulls' leader. He doubled down on that point after Tuesday's win.
"We got guys that can score, we got guys that can facilitate, guys that can shoot, guys that can drive, rebound," Butler said. "We need a guy that's going to step in and be that vocal guy in this locker room, on the practice court, in the game. I think that's what I'm going to have to be. Growing in this league, I'm here four years now, I got to take another leap forward, and I think that's going to be on the leadership side, not just on the court.
"We just got a couple guys who are quiet by nature, and nothing's wrong with that. Guys lead with their emotions, if it's Jo (Noah); with their play, if it's Derrick (Rose) or Pau (Gasol) – Pau's a leader, he's been around many teams and won some championships. But we need a guy that's going hard every night and that's going to back up what he's talking about. I definitely think it's going to be me."
2. It's one thing for Butler to want to lead the Bulls. It's another for his teammates to accept it.
So does he think they're ready?
"I hope so," Butler said. "We'll find out."
Butler insisted it wasn't his big contract that created this newfound approach but rather all the work he's put in and the void he saw.
"I don't really look at the money aspect, the contract aspect in anything I do," Butler said. "It doesn't pressure me to do anything. It's (leadership) is something I have to do if I'm going to try to take this team to the next step, the next level. Obviously, our goal is a championship, but I got to bring something new every year, and I just think that leadership this year is key.
"We're going so hard in practice. Teammates, they follow what I do. If I'm in practice and put my hands on my knees and I'm pissed off, they look at me like, 'Oh Jimmy's doing it, I can do it.' It's contagious."
3. In a recent interview with NBA.com's David Aldridge, Butler mentioned he needed to balance being a scorer with setting up other teammates as he becomes the focal point of the Bulls offense.
In that regard, it was mission accomplished Tuesday: Butler also had six assists and consistently took quality shots.
A beneficiary of Butler's playmaking was second-year wing Doug McDermott, who shot 0-of-5 in the first half but finished with 23 points after shooting 8-of-14 in the second half.
"For him to come out and continue to shoot, it was a great sign," Hoiberg said. "He might have put his head down a little bit in the past, but he kept his confidence going."
In a sign of him being more vocal, Butler told McDermott in a third-quarter huddle that he would be looking for him, Hoiberg said.
"When he shoots, you expect him to make it," Hoiberg said of McDermott, who was 5-of-11 on 3-pointers.
McDermott will start the Bulls' game against the Nuggets on Thursday in Boulder, Colo., Hoiberg said. Tony Snell started at small forward Tuesday, but McDermott certainly has the inside track to get most of Dunleavy's minutes if he shoots well.
McDermott and the Bulls were at their best when playing quickly, which they did a better job of after a slow first quarter.
The Bulls played faster as the first half went on. There was one second-quarter flurry in which they shot with 20, 13, 18, 13, 4, 16, 12 and 23 (off jump ball tap) left in a stretch of eight possessions.
That's Hoiberg's philosophy at work.
Still, the Bulls shot just 33 percent Tuesday and were at 31.5 percent through three quarters. The night serves as a reminder that it's one challenge to play fast and an entirely different one to be efficient too.
4. So long as only half of the Bulls who will be in the regular rotation are ambulatory, perhaps the most important preseason storyline to follow is the health of big man Noah, who labored through the 2014-'15 after having knee surgery the offseason prior.
On Tuesday, Noah didn't make any "wow" plays, and he struggled from the field in shooting 0-for-4. He was also schooled on one post move by Bucks big man Greg Monroe.
More promising for Noah was that while some of the execution wasn't there, he was active. He grabbed seven rebounds in 20-plus minutes. In a third-quarter sequence, he elevated twice to tip a loose ball back out to a teammate. On another third-quarter play, Noah tightly contested a John Henson hook shot on the on the left side of the lane, then reversed direction and got to the opposite block to be in rebounding position (though Nikola Mirotic grabbed it).
These are mere glimpses, but they're examples of what Noah struggled to do last season.
Without shooting skill, it could take some time for Noah to find his fit in Hoiberg's offense – and it might be a more limited one at that – but the preseason opener at least showed that the Bulls' early season insistences that Noah is moving better weren't empty words.
"Can't get down right now," Noah said. "I feel good physically."
5. In regards to Butler's recent comment to Aldridge that, "Leadership is one of the only things this team has really been lacking," Hoiberg displayed no worry.
Butler was referencing player leadership in past years, and Hoiberg was fine with his star taking a direct approach.
"No, I haven't said anything about it," Hoiberg said. "I've been very happy with the way our guys early on in this preseason have gone about encouraging each other and having each other's back and getting on each other at times and handling it the right way. Nothing's ever personal. Great leaders, great teams, you know, they have the ability to talk to each other without it being personal. I've been very pleased in that area so far, and hopefully we can continue on that path because you have to have that if you want to compete for championships.
"(Butler's) been good, he's been very good about being a vocal leader."
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.
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