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Bulls vs. Hornets recap: totally different story in Charlotte as Bulls give up 135 points

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let’s squeeze out a couple positives though

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Well, that wasn’t as amusing as the last one.

It was probably never going to happen, but a repeat of the Cameron Payne Game didn’t materialise. Though Payne did follow-up his career-best performance with an 11-point first quarter helping the Bulls to a 2-point lead after that period, the Bulls were then summarily blown out, ultimately finishing with a 135-106 drubbing.

In that last game, it was high comedy watching Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono beat out Kemba Walker and Tony Parker. Tonight, however, we came back to reality and received a glimpse of what the next 4-to-6 weeks will look like without Kris Dunn. It didn’t look good. Without an answer for the All-Star guard, Walker went off, scoring 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting whilst dishing out seven assists and pulling down six rebounds. Tony Parker had an 18 point, 8 assist performance off the bench.

This is a pretty amazing quote to sum up the Bulls defense:

Jabari Parker was decent?

Without Bobby Portis, coach Fred Hoiberg could’ve opted to run with the easy call of inserting Parker back into the starting unit. Instead, rookie Chandler Hutchison shifted up to the power forward position, a move done in order to preserve Parker as the focal point of the second unit.

In theory, this move makes sense — splitting Parker and Zach LaVine’s minutes ensures this rabble of a squad at least has some modicum of offense on both units. It was the right call, Parker was probably the Bulls’ best player in this one. In this case, best is a relative term and not necessarily a compliment. But his 19 points on 50 percent shooting is somewhat noteworthy, I guess?

Watching this game, though, I had this thought: How do you judge the effectiveness of a player when he’s placed into lineups that consist of Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Cristiano Felicio, and Chandler Hutchison?

That’s the difficulty in grading the impact of Parker, not only against the Hornets, but more generally this season. Of course, there will always be several isolated defensive possessions where he gets completed cooked. Those plays are absolutely on him. But cast as the leading scorer and playmaker in five-man reserve units that feature several third-string options who’ve been propelled into meaningful roles, it’s hard not to empathise with Parker some, flaws and all.

We’ll see if this rotation change holds over the coming weeks. If it does, don’t be surprised if frustration ramps up. I would probably be pissed if I was being forced into playing in junk lineups, too.

Wendell Carter Jr is a defensive beast

By now — typically via video — I would’ve pointed out several nice plays that deserved a second or eighth look. In this game, though, with the scoreboard reading as filthy as it did, highlights were few and far between.

The only one worth mentioning was this emphatic block from rookie Wendell Carter Jr.

For those fortunate enough to have missed the game, reading the box score and seeing your new rookie, a top-10 pick and with much promise, only put up seven and four rebounds, you may feel slightly underwhelmed. Fine, but here’s why you shouldn’t. Go back and watch that play. Now watch it again. And again. And a few times after that. Soon enough, you’ll start to notice that shit isn’t normal for a 19-year-old center.

Wendell Carter is good. As is the case with Parker, he’s forced to operate in otherwise-awful lineups. How do honestly expect the dude to go out there and put in 15-plus points a night despite the defense collapsing in all around him?

Please.

It may have been one play and one blocked shot, but not all blocks are created equal. Had it been a weakside rotation where the offensive player had already been guarded by his own man, and Carter Jr. came over to help and swat away the attempt, as nice as that would’ve been, it wouldn’t have matched this.

In this example, what makes this play so special is Carter Jr. is both quick of mind and foot to stop a transition score, despite being the last line of defense with zero support near him. Keeping the ball-handler square and in sight at all times, then leaping toward the shooter and meeting him at rim, he does all this in a split second, all whilst going straight up. The block itself prevented the Hornets from scoring, but also created a fastbreak opportunity for the Bulls, one LaVine capitalised from.

Again, the kid is 19. This level of defensive nous and instinct is extremely rare in players still so fresh to the league. And yet, these types of plays are becoming routine for Carter Jr. For a team like the Bulls, with so few good defensive players and so many blown coverages, the fact their young center is good enough to cover for others mistakes has him first among rookies in blocks per game. That is damn impressive.

In time, when he’s more comfortable and surrounded by functional offensive pieces, his own offense will come. Until then, let’s appreciate what the rook is doing, even if the points he is contributing to aren’t directly for himself.

Game Notes

  • Down late in the third and on a back-to-back, Hoiberg didn’t feel the need to throw Zach LaVine back onto the floor. It was the right decision, but in an otherwise terrible game, seeing LaVine try and force his way to his fifth consecutive game of 30 or more points would’ve been mildly amusing.
  • The Bulls are trying anything they can to lift their defensive output, so much so that it appears Felicio has well and truly gone past Robin Lopez in the rotation. As was the case last game, the Brazilian center was the first big off the bench and was decent again, putting up nine points and seven rebounds.
  • Starting two rookies at power forward and center, the Bulls got smoked on the glass, outrebounded 50-34. Charlotte also shot 57 percent from the field, so grabbing non-existent rebounds is, well, not possible. But they allowed a nearly 30% offensive rebound rate, having eight less shot attempts against a team committed to smaller lineups.
  • The Bulls are back at it tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. Given how the schedule will shape up over the coming weeks, win No. 2 best come from this game, otherwise they may be waiting some time.