Although it’s only the preseason, it feels good to start off the new basketball year with a win. Despite being down after the end of the first, the Bulls exploded offensively the rest of the game, capping it off with a 37-19 fourth quarter. Chicago was able to walk away victorious in the preseason opener 128-116 over the visiting New Orleans Pelicans. There was a lot to like from this Bulls offense as they scored nearly 130 points. A lot of players had solid performances and gave some sort of optimism when the final buzzer sounded.
I know it’s only one game, and it doesn’t count, but there are some good things to take away from here.
Starting young players all contributed
With Lauri Markkanen to due a right elbow injury, there was a new big three in Chicago’s starting lineup. Kris Dunn racked up 8 points , 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 22 minutes of action. He looked solid and a bit more confident offensively, including a play where he was posted up against Jrue Holiday, spun him out and flushed it down with two hands.
Zach LaVine looked great, scoring 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He was more explosive off the dribble and displayed a better version of the offensive game he had all last season.
Jabari Parker, who ended playing the most minutes of any Bulls starter with 24, nearly notched a double double with a 15 point and 8 rebound performance. He also added 4 assists.
Parker showed off some versatility offensively, being able to stretch the floor and knock down a three. In transition he was able to grab the rebound and start the break on his own. This was where Parker really played well, he was able to catch the Pelicans defense off guard at times, leading to easy baskets.
Jabari's best skill right now is his transition scoring. Froze the defense with the in and out dribble and finished with a finger role. Good way to get himself going pic.twitter.com/aCT3BOLLIV— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) October 1, 2018
Now, defensively this lineup was another story, however. But overall it was a good debut.
Bobby Portis and Antonio Blakeney were gunning off the bench
As you would expect in a preseason game, the Bulls bench got a lot of time. Portis had a typical night from his standards, with the large number of shot attempts, scoring 21 points on 19 field goal attempts. Portis re-enforced the notion that he’s embracing a role off the bench as it allows him to operate the way he does offensively.
Blakeney, now on an NBA deal, was more efficient than his teammate, scoring 21 on 6 of 10 shooting while also knocking down a triple. He also did a fantastic job drawing contact and getting to the line in this game, hitting all 8 of his free throw attempts. Blakeney has less of a defined role than Portis, but this game was a step in the right direction for him.
Rookies have solid outings too
The preseason opener also marked the debut of Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. Both were one of the first guys off the bench and played over 23 minutes each. WCJ notched 11 points and 7 rebounds in his debut. Hutchison had a slightly more modest opening game with 7 points and 4 rebounds.
Carter’s defense looked terrific in Summer League but it had to be proved again in the preseason. Given a tough initial assignment in guarding Julius Randle, WCJ held battled well which was a very positive sign. He still showed signs of being a rookie defensively however, especially later when Jahlil Okafor came into the game and got a couple of buckets on him. But this was a really good first step for WCJ. He’s not going to get everything all at once. It’s going to be a learning process.
Carter Jr. didn’t look out of sync in the Bulls offense either, set good screens, and had his first bucket in the NBA but a nice drop shot off a Parker pass.
Struggles shooting from three
While the Bulls offense scored 128 points, it was all surprisingly not from the three-point line. Chicago had low volume and percentage from distance, going shot 4 of 18. It definitely helped that they were instead getting to the line so much.
Coach Hoiberg: "I did like our pace. We never really got it going from the three point line, but to still be able to attack, get to the paint and get to the free throw line 27 times, that's what you need to do."— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) October 1, 2018
The Bulls didn’t seem to be willingly to take them either. One of their makes came of semi-transition when Parker got the ball in the corner and drained it despite a man right in his face.
Improving on their three-point accuracy and taking more attempts, especially in Markkanen’s absence, should be something to look for as they travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks on Wednesday.