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A firsthand report from McDermott-Mania in Omaha

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Paul Zipser (not McDermott) getting up some shots pregame
@Tyler_Pleiss

Have you ever seen old videos of The Beatles back in the 60’s? When they’d enter arenas with crowds going crazy, and girls pulling their hair? Thursday night in Omaha was almost like that for the homecoming for Creighton alumni Doug McDermott and Kyle Korver.

Ok so maybe it wasn’t quite like The Beatles, but don’t try telling the people of Omaha that.

Anyway, as some of you may or may not know, I was actually granted a credential for the preseason finale at the CenturyLink Center. Shoutout to the Bulls PR team! But this was my first experience ever doing something like this, and as you can imagine I was nervous and had no real idea what to do. Thankfully K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times were there so I could just follow their lead.

During Fred Hoiberg’s pre-game presser he addressed the final starting spot at power forward. (Side note real quick, K.C. and Joe ask some very good questions, believe me. Unfortunately, and this may be just an NBA thing, but Fred gives some very milquetoast answers at least from my perspective.) Continuing, he didn’t say who would be the starting power forward, but that Thursday night would be a good indication. C’mon Fred, we all know it’s Taj Gibson, just say it already! But when asked the question Hoiberg said the Bulls would have an inter-squad scrimmage either Sunday or Monday, deciding in the coming days. Sure.

Hoiberg sounded hopeful that Denzel Valentine, who continues to work his way back from a sprained ankle, will be in uniform next Thursday. Valentine has yet to “go through a live-full practice” according to Hoiberg, but said Saturday they are going to get him out on the floor doing some things and ramp his activity up leading to the season opener.

Obviously one of the biggest questions Thursday night was the debut of new point guard Michael Carter-Williams. When asked if Valentine’s injury had any impact on the trade Hoiberg remained mum. However based on his response, although guys like Isaiah Canaan and Jerian Grant (whom he singled out) have played OK during preseason, it was clear they weren’t quite comfortable with them as the primary backup. And in looking at the last couple of games, and Fred’s comments, it would appear that Spencer Dinwiddie is the odd man out, which is kind of weird considering he actually played well and even better than Grant when given the opportunity.

I won’t dive into much detail about the game itself, but: holy cow, that game was dreadful. Being there in person wasn’t any better than watching on TV. The most energy that arena and players had were during introductions.

The Bulls offense is incredibly difficult to watch live in person. There’s just no flow or rhythm to it, especially with that first group. Pass. Stand. Pick. Watching that first group try to manufacture points is like pulling teeth. You could probably see it on TV, but every time one of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo had the ball and were attempting to make a move or attack the basket etc., there were at least three defenders zeroed in on them. Zero spacing, and no lanes to drive, which as you guessed, leads to tough shots and poor shooting percentages like we saw Thursday.

If you’re asking who the crowd was favoring more tonight, McDermott or Korver, it’s definitely Doug. There were so many number three’s in the crowd I’m pretty sure Chance The Rapper would’ve been jealous. Unless you were in Omaha during McDermott’s run, I’m not sure you will ever fully understand the impact he and those team’s had on this city, seriously.

So the game ended in a dud, most of the crowd disappointed the Bulls lost. Chicago was dreadful from three, and as I said before they made it extremely difficult to find easy shots. Hoiberg post-game said the Hawks “packing in the paint affected the offense.”

And OH MY GOD there was Gar Forman. I was slightly caught off guard to see Gar standing outside the locker room, traveling to a preseason game. When I saw him so many thoughts ran through my mind, things I wanted to say, but then I was like “nah, you have a collared shirt on tonight, stay professional Tyler.” Gar slithered into the locker room.

When asked how to mitigate the Bulls starting five’s shooting woes, Hoiberg alluded to pace and getting downhill quicker, beating the defense before they could get set. He continued to emphasize “pace” as a way to produce more efficient offense, and that the Bulls needed to “continue to cut and screen when times get tough.”

Then the moment came where I could enter the locker room to interview players. Mind you real quick, this is my first time ever doing this, not to mention the fact that I’m 26 with a face that makes me look like I should still be in high school. I’ll be honest, walking in there I was a nervous wreck, but tried to portray as much confidence as possible.

I got a chance to talk with Wade, Rajon Rondo and Gibson for a few minutes, in between stuttering over myself with nervousness with each of them. I asked Wade his thoughts on the starting five. “It’s a long season, we’re not going to be ‘Grade A’ by game one. [We] have to continue to work, continue to learn each other.” When posed with the same question, Rondo, who was into what looked like some deep thoughts when I approached him, said “it’s ok.”

Yes, the offense isn’t going to be great with the three alphas involved, but at the same time we do have to give it some time as Wade mentioned. This is a roster with only six returning players. Guys are still learning each other’s tendencies, chemistry is still building and Jesus I’m being way too optimistic here.

Earlier this week I wrote about Hoiberg and Wade being on the same page as far as managing his minutes, staggering him through quarters. When asked how he felt about this (my question probably could’ve came out a little better than it did), Wade said “my job as a player is to be on the court when the coach puts me out there.” Wade went on to say that he did enjoy playing with second unit, having the ability to not only score but to be a playmaker for those groups as well.

One of the biggest issues during preseason was the Bulls transition defense, or lack thereof. Thursday night you could probably say was their best performance when it comes to that aspect. I mentioned this to Rondo, and how they were working on it and he stated that they’ve been “learning from film, guys are seeing their mistakes and holding each other accountable.”

For the younger guys on the team, specifically Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio as they head into their second years, a lot is going to be expected of them. Gibson when asked how they were progressing said “they’re not shy,” to which I had a small chuckle. I was little nervous in how he would respond considering Felicio was sitting right next to him, but he continued by saying “they know where they are going to get their spots now.”

I proceeded to ask about how him and new Bull Robin Lopez have taken them under their wings in sort of a “big brother” role, “it comes easy” Gibson said. Continuing, “when you got guys that come in and do the work it makes the job easier, because they make you better but at the same time you trying [to do] the best to make them better.”

By all means the preseason for the Bulls was rough, and it couldn’t have been more evident Thursday night. However one thing that must be understood is that this team is a work in progress, the players know that, as to do the coaches. Let’s just hope things come together sooner rather than later.