After an impressive victory against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday with a new-look starting lineup, the Chicago Bulls couldn’t close out preseason on a winning streak, losing to the visiting Denver Nuggets 98-93.
Entering game two with Jabari Parker coming off the bench, the Bulls continued with a nice offensive flow from their previous outing, leading early in the first quarter.
Then the turnovers started to pile up.
Throwing the ball away six times in the first quarter, gifting the Nuggets 10 free points off their own careless mistakes, the visitors took a 33-24 lead at the end of the period and never looked back.
Combing for 10 turnovers — and only three assists — Kris Dunn (6) and Zach LaVine (4) deserve most of the blame for the loose ball-handling an erroneous passes that went astray.
Despite the turnovers, it wasn’t all bad for LaVine. In 18 first half minutes, the guard quickly scored 12 points, most of which coming from strong drives to the hoop.
Attacking the rim all half, unfortunately LaVine was a no show for the second half. Neither injured or playing poorly, coach Fred Hoiberg opted to leave his starting shooting guard out for the rest of the game, experimenting with lineups and players who typically wouldn’t play as many minutes — despite the copious amounts of grit, Ryan Arcidiacono, who started in place of LaVine, couldn’t provide the same level of offensive output.
Though it may have been another loss for the Bulls, seeing this version of LaVine consistently show up throughout preseason is a win in itself. Assuming he carries this level of play into the regular season, scoring efficiently and taking good, smart shots within the flow of the offense, LaVine may prove after all that he’s a core piece of the rebuild moving forward.
We can already say that about Wendell Carter Jr.
Playing in his fifth game in the NBA, making only his second start, it’s clear Carter Jr. is the real deal. It’s high praise that otherwise would seem extremely too soon for most 19-year-old rookie big men. Carter Jr., though, is the exception. Already finding himself in the right positions on both sides of the ball, it’s not a coincidence the offense (and defense) has looked more fluid and energized since the Duke product supplanted Robin Lopez in the lineup.
As a defensive-minded center with stretchability from deep, the Al Horford comparisons came thick and fast for Carter Jr. Holistically, they seem apt. More so, the little things Horford does that often go unnoticed is exactly what makes the Bulls’ rookie so complete at such a young age.
10 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes is notable. Less so are the strong screens, constant dribble hand-offs, offensive rebounds, and controlling and protecting the rim.
In an otherwise innocuous set of possessions where no points were scored and no highlight plays made, this is when the true value of Carter Jr. can be seen.
First, it was the decision to leave his man and help a mismatched teammate. The additional pressure forced a turnover, leading to a transition opportunity. Despite being a center, Carter Jr. ran as hard as his perimeter teammates, sprinting down the lane and providing an outlet option. No score came, nor was shot taken, but they did almost turnover over the ball, something that would’ve happened had Carter Jr. not hustled and tapped the ball back out high to reset the possession.
No statistics are recorded for Carter Jr. on this possession. Not that he needed them to justify his worth. Multiple efforts and hustle plays has made the rookie so effective so early, and has completely justified him as a starter coming opening night.
Whether Parker will be joining him remains to be seen.
In his best game since joining the Bulls, Parker finally corrected his wayward stroke, scoring an efficient 19 points on 11 field goals. As good as numbers appears, it must be said that eight of these points came in the fourth quarter when both teams were predominantly running second and third units.
It’s still unclear which version of Parker the team will get heading into the regular season, or if he will be gifted a starting role. If the latter is to occur, with Bobby Portis again continuing his strong preseason (10 points, seven rebounds), it will only be possible at small forward.
Opening the season on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, it’s hard to see how forcing Parker onto the perimeter makes sense against a roster as young and athletic as the one the Sixers boast.