Another game against a bad team, another strong performance for a young Bulls squad learning to win.
Defeating the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the week and picking up another road win against the Washington Wizards has pushed the Bulls record under new coach Jim Boylen under to 5-7.
More important than the win-loss record — remember, the team isn’t being judged on that — is the play of the younger players as a collective.
At least for one night, against a hapless Wizards team teetering on the edge of self combustion, the signs were good.
The Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen combination
For the first time all season we had ourselves a game where all three of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen started a game together. Progress?
A spate of injuries has limited opportunities for this core group to play extensive minutes together, and when they have, it hasn’t been good. Against the Wizards, however, in their 21 combined minutes, the 3-man lineup of Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen outscored their opponents by 24.4 points.
On the surface, even if the sample is overly small, that’s as good as one could hope for.
Still, while it’s far too early to take a substantive stance on how effective this combination will ultimately be, there’s much that needs to be resolved, most notably how LaVine and Dunn co-exist in the backcourt.
While the box scores reads well for both LaVine and Dunn, their integration, particularly in the first half, was somewhat concerning. Playing more off the ball and allowing Dunn to control the flow of the offense, LaVine was passive, only attempting three field goals — it certainly wasn’t the defense taking him out of it.
In the second half, though, the script was flipped. Coming out of the break as the aggressor on offense, LaVine scored 11 of his team-high 24 points in third quarter, leaving Dunn in a secondary role.
Again, trying to draw any vast conclusion on how these two can fit and develop alongside each other from on singular game isn’t wise. That said, they will need to find a path that allows for both to share their ball among between each other — and their teammates — while being effective in their shared minutes, rather than taking turns in owning the lead guard role.
Wendell Carter Doing It On Both Ends
Did the Bulls recently discover their rookie center may actually be good and can help their league-worst offense actually score points? That was the prevailing thought in watching the opening quarter.
Actively looking for Wendell Carter on offense, the young big was weaving through and scoring on any opponent the Wizards put on him. Scoring a team-high 11 points (5-for-6 shooting) in the first quarter, Carter secured his fourth double-digit scoring game since Boylen took control of the team.
Then, for whatever reason, he only was given one shot attempt in the second quarter.
After starting the game so well, it’s odd the team went away from him, particularly as the offense stalled heavily in the second quarter. Some of that Carter needs to own himself — he remains far too passive. However, when a player who dominated a quarter happens to go missing, the coach and his playmakers need to take more ownership in forgetting Carter.
Despite only scoring six points over the next three quarters, Carter was still the best and most influential player in the road win. Finishing the game 17 points, 12 rebounds and two assists, it was Carter’s three blocked shots that reminded us all that he can influence the outcome of game, even when his scoring disappears.
More than anything else, it’s the small things that truly highlight Carter’s worth. An example of this came in the first quarter, in which Carter was on the end of a botched alley-oop attempt. Catching a pass thrown too far behind him, the rookie gathered, kept his head up and called for a teammate to run to the three-point line for a shot attempt from deep. Flashing to the corner, Justin Holiday obliged.
Carter may only be credited for an assist on this play, but it was so much more than that. Most bigs on such a possession, particularly those who rim run and get so few shot attempts, gather the ball and try to go up and score themselves. Here, however, Carter opting to take the ball out and create a play for a teammate ensured the Bulls got an efficient shot.
Remember, this guy is only 19. Stuff like this isn’t normal.
Boyball Got The Win But It’s Still Bad
Jim Boylen was right. Even if the rest of the league is trying to add more possessions to their offense, the Bulls should slow down the pace of the game, particularly if they plan on botching fast-break opportunities in such ridiculous fashion.
New team rule: Holiday is never allowed to pretend his passing skills rivals Chris Paul’s in transition.
Not so new team rule: Put together offensively inept lineups that have no prayer in scoring.
Though the Bulls got the win, Boylen couldn’t help but make some odd lineup choices.
With 8:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, the new coach opted for an all bench unit that featured Holiday, Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, and Robin Lopez. With no real playmaker among them, the offense predictably morphed into a sluggish, post-friendly malaise.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Lopez delivered on the block, scoring six points in three minutes, giving this 5-man unit a plus-4 advantage over their counterparts.
While such an outcome may appease the coach — and Stacey King and his commentary schitck — playing lineups which feature none of the key, young starters, all while playing through the post, is a concerning trend for how the rest of the season may play out.
In this instance, perhaps we give Boylen a momentary reprieve: LaVine was on a 30 minute restriction and both Carter and Markkanen had five and four fouls at that point, respectively.
Already displeased with how the style of play has shifted under Boylen, I’ve only got so many free passes to hand out. Hopefully against the Raptors on Sunday, we don’t see such a unit take the floor.