Falling to a 4-10 record, it’s easy to be down on the team right now. Instead, I’ve found myself chugging down glasses half full with optimism. Here’s why:
Including the loss to the Mavericks, five of the Bulls’ 10 losses have come by eight points or less, three of which coming on the final possession of the game.
Perhaps that’s searching too hard for a silver lining, but given the Bulls were already a team with a thin margin for error, removing four rotational players through injury took away any realistic chance of an early season push toward respectability. And yet, despite their record, the Bulls have actually been competitive. That’s notable.
For two rebuilding teams with losing records, the performance of their young, budding stars is often all that matters. This game was meant to be a showdown between Chicago center Wendell Carter Jr. and Dallas forward Luka Doncic. If Doncic has been the best and most impactful rookie to start the season, Carter Jr. hasn’t been too far behind.
Though neither had memorable games, I’m now unbiasedly declaring Carter Jr. the leader in the Rookie of the Year race basely purely impressive block on Doncic.
LaVine is doing too much, and the Bulls have no choice
Without four rotational players out injured and so few other credible options to rely upon, the Bulls are asking a lot from breakout star Zach LaVine.
Thus far, LaVine has responded, falling behind only James Harden and Russell Westbrook in usage. Considering the context, with limited players supporting him in virtually all possible lineups, an argument can be made that no other lead guard is being asked to do more with less.
In absence of another dependable on-ball creator, LaVine’s volume numbers were likely to remain high. Against the Mavericks, that proved true, with the guard contributing 26 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Beyond the gaudy basic numbers — which have largely remained constant throughout the season — LaVine’s efficiency has declined rapidly as the demand on him increased. This trend continued against the Mavericks.
Forcing up tough, contested jumpers and reverting back to the player from last season, LaVine wasn’t good. Still, it’s hard to be too critical of LaVine. As the lone credible on-ball creator this rotation currently has, games like this should be expected. Frankly, it’s amazing it hasn’t happened more. As the Mavericks did, opposing defenses are starting to smother LaVine, forcing him to give up the ball to a lesser player or, worse yet, turning the ball over.
Seven of the Bulls’ 17 turnovers came at the hands of LaVine. Against a typically porous Mavericks defense, that’s far too much. And yet, it’s largely justified.
The Bulls have pushed the boundaries of what LaVine is capable of. Diminishing returns has set in. Things will normalise when the injured players return, but we’re still weeks away from that. Until then, hopefully LaVine has the stamina to return to the efficient version of himself we saw over the first eight games of the season.
Chandler Hutchison needs more minutes
It may be too early to predict what type of career Chandler Hutchison will forge, but if nothing else, the rookie has a chance at becoming one the best rebounding wings in the league.
A strong rebounder throughout his collegiate career, that skill has carried over in 13 first games as professional. Thus far, Hutchison has had four games with six or more rebounds, and seven games with four or more boards. Considering the limited minutes he plays, these are impressive numbers.
In his best rebounding performance of his young career, the Mavericks couldn’t keep Hutchison off the glass. Along with seven points in 12 first half minutes, Hutchison chased down an impressive eight rebounds from the perimeter. Barely used in the second half, the rookie finished the game with nine points and nine rebounds.
Despite setting a career-high in rebounds, Hutchison only played six minutes in the second half. It’s clear coach Fred Hoiberg doesn’t fully trust his young forward yet, particularly on offense. Opting to give heavy minutes to LaVine (19), Jabari Parker (18), and Justin Holiday (17) over the final two quarters, Hoiberg needs to do a better job of finding minutes for Hutchison on the perimeter. That shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve in games where Parker has more shots (17) than points (16).
Hitting the road on Wednesday to face the Boston Celtics, the Bulls will conclude their week against the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, the two teams who sit atop of the Eastern Conference.
So, about that record...