An outlier shooting performance or a sign of things to come?
The answer to such question depends on what you listen to, your head or heart.
Despite coming up short in an overtime thriller that was decided on a heave in the final second, perhaps both can be right?
A strangely brilliant first quarter
Ok, where did this come from?
Bucking recent trends, the Bulls opened the game with a series of possessions that would typically resemble a modern offense (rejoice!). Let’s take a look at the opening sequences:
Possession 1: Ignoring the fact the Bulls immediately went to a Kris Dunn post-up to open proceedings (as they did against the Magic), an incoming double-team wasn’t enough to stop Dunn finding Lauri Markkanen open for a 3.
Possession 2: In an otherwise ugly half-court set piece that was headed nowhere fast, Zach LaVine saved the possession by cutting hard to the rim, where Dunn again found his teammate. Note — Markkanen playing the same side off the floor as LaVine while Carter roamed weakside pulled protection away from the rim, allowing a lane for LaVine. More of this please.
Possession 3: A superbly timed pick-and-pop play leads to another Markkanen 3-pointer. Once more, Dunn is the man dishing to his teammate.
Possession 4: Again, playing on the same side, a two-man game between Markkanen and LaVine results in a 3 for the guard. If Jim Boylen must feature post play within his offense, using his bigs as passing hubs for the perimeter is the type of action that should be encouraged.
Since Nov. 15, no team has a better record or defense than the Pacers. With that in mind, against a formidable opponent, to open the game with consecutive possessions that led to an 11-2 run is notable considering how poorly the Bulls’ offense functioned only nights earlier against the Orlando Magic (and has functioned in general).
More impressive, though, were the quality of looks the Bulls generated: two clean 3-point shots for Markkanen and a 3 and free throws for LaVine. These are exactly the type of high-percentage shot attempts that should be prioritized in a modern offense, something that the Bulls have been lacking all season.
Continuing to find good, quicks shots within the natural rhythm of the offense, the Bulls closed the opening period shooting 61.1 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from 3, hitting five from distance en route to a 30-18 lead.
Perhaps more importantly than the score itself was the cohesion of the starting unit. Dunn was fantastic all game in orchestrating the offense, while Markkanen and LaVine picked their moments in lighting up from deep. Over the course of the game, the five-man combination of Dunn, LaVine, Hutchison, Markkanen and Carter outscored the Pacers by 14.2 points per 100 possessions.
A memorable game from Dunn
It’s fair to question if the Bulls are even in this game without Kris Dunn arguably having the most complete game of his career.
As seen in the above highlights, Dunn was instrumental in organizing the offense early, a trend that continued throughout the night.
Using the first three quarters to actively find his teammates, Dunn tallied 11 assists while playing with poise and complete control. Then, in the fourth quarter, he began working on his own offense, connecting on two timely triples to keep the Bulls close, before coming up with the play of the game in overtime, viciously dunking on Pacers center Myles Turner:
If the dunk wasn’t enough, diving for a loose ball and forcing a jump ball typified his two-way presence.
Finishing the game with 16 points (6-of-9 shooting), 17 assists (2 turnovers) and five rebounds, remind again how this dude had his application for the leadership committee denied?
A wild Jabari Parker appears
If the Bulls playing a near flawless opening quarter wasn’t strange enough, Jabari Parker returning from exile certainly was.
In some ways it should’ve been expected. After trading Justin Holiday to the Memphis Grizzlies and promoting Chandler Hutchison to the starting unit — who had previously spent most of his time as the backup power forward — a hole in the rotation had to be filled by someone.
Without any other viable solution, Boylen had no choice but to play Parker, who replaced Markkanen with 3:49 remaining in the first quarter. Seeing his first game action since Dec. 15, Parker was non-existent in his eight-minute first-half stint, scoring only two points on 1-for-3 shooting.
Things didn’t get much better for Parker in the second half, virtually repeating the exact line he had in the previous two quarters: two points on 1-for-5 shooting.
While Parker reemerging from his banishment was an early-game novelty, don’t expect it to be something that maintains over the next few weeks. Bobby Portis is progressing from an injured ankle and should return soon. Wayne Selden will also be an option for the Bulls on the perimeter, allowing Hutchison to spread his minutes over both forward positions.
Did Boylen forget about Hutchison?
In a fourth quarter/OT where both teams were trading clutch 3-pointers, it’s understandable if you weren’t paying close attention to lineups — that’s not your job, it’s the coach’s. But was Boylen doing so?
Through three quarters, rookie forward Chandler Hutchison had logged his fifth-highest single game minute total, playing 25.5 minutes. Sadly, in a game that went to overtime, he never appeared again.
Post the trading of Holiday, the only small forward left on the roster is Hutchison — that in itself should allow significant playing time for the No. 22 pick.
Boylen had other ideas, though, choosing to run the final 15 minutes of the game with Shaquille Harrison as his makeshift 3-man.
One has to wonder why this was the case. The only reasonable answer for using Harrison over Hutchison is to have another ball-handler on the floor with Dunn and LaVine. Such an approach is understandable if Harrison was having himself a night, but in a game where he only had four points and a team-low minus-23, playing the guard out of his customary position over Hutchison, who was a team-high plus-12, is hardly justifiable.
This comes only two games after Boylen chose to sit Hutchison for the entire fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors, another game in which the rookie had a strong showing but barely played when it mattered most.
With Holiday headed to Memphis, these moments late in games should be reserved for younger players to fully experience. One could argue Harrison (25) is exactly that. While true, he’s also not the prospect who was promised, one the Bulls effectively traded Nikola Mirotic for.
But, hey, just as Carter did against the Magic, perhaps Hutchison needed time on the sideline to introspectively search within his soul?
Second Unit Woes
In a game decided by a last second 3-pointer, small rotational decisions can be the difference.
As good as the Bulls’ starters were, the second unit remains a problem — bad players getting extensive minutes equals bad results. Go figure!
While such a simplistic view is largely right, under no circumstance should we be forced to sit through opening minutes of second and fourth quarters that feature all three of Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison and Antonio Blakeney.
This three-guard lineup ain’t it. In the 10 minutes they shared, the Bulls were outscored by 48.5 points per 100 possessions, including a 14-6 run to open the second quarter.
Small sample aside, that’s a disastrous return for a young team battling hard in a tight game. It was also entirely predictable that such a combination of players would struggle: Arcidiacono and Harrison provide little to no shooting resistance while Blakeney has no intention of passing the ball to anyone but the rim.
To avoid such a scoring disparity, Boylen needs to be more creative with how he samples his lineups.
In this instance, the obvious solution is to stagger the minutes of LaVine and Dunn. For a host of reasons, such an approach makes sense. But for a team with so few playmakers on the perimeter, ensuring at least one of Dunn or LaVine is on the floor for the entire game is one option the Bulls can utilize to combat the obvious delta in identities that exists between the starting and bench units.
Note to Boylen — let’s try this against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.