When Zach LaVine hoisted an off-balance, midrange jumper on the Bulls first possession of their opening night loss to the Charlotte Hornets, I knew we were probably in for a rough night.
If the Bulls are truly hoping to reach the playoffs this season, they can’t afford to drop games like these. Their schedule for the final month of the regular season isn’t kind, and if they find themselves in a tight race for the last spot in the postseason, games like these can come back to bite them in the ass.
While it was only the first game, the loss did feel a little dispiriting to say the least. Especially watching a Hornets squad with such low expectations shoot 23-44 from three with little resistance. This isn’t meant to be an overreaction to one game, but here are a few of the big takeaways from the Bulls loss.
Defense is optional, apparently?
There were times Wednesday night where it felt like I was watching the greatest shooting performance of my life, maybe offensive performance in general. Kudos needs to be given to the Hornets first off. Head coach James Borrego had those guys ready to go, and they played a fun, fast paced style of offense and executed it well. Hats off to them.
But Jesus, if the Bulls didn’t make it so damn easy for them at the same time.
On 39 of the Hornets' 44 3-pointers last night, the Bulls' closest defender was at least 4 feet away (the NBA considers that "open"). They shot 51% on those attempts.— Mark Strotman (@markstrot) October 24, 2019
20 of those were "wide open," meaning the closest defender was 6+ feet away.
They looked like a team that just didn’t know what they needed to be doing or where they needed to be. I’m not sure what new assistant Roy Rogers did during preseason, but it doesn’t appear to be effective to this point.
In transition, there were an unbelievable amount of times where Bulls’ defenders weren’t communicating, locating the ball or shooters leading to wide open looks. And this is a big reason for Charlotte’s final push late in the fourth quarter. Because the Bulls were unable to find the ball and run shooters off the three point line it led to critical three’s by Dwane Bacon and Devonte’ Graham throwing a dagger into the Bulls.
In the half court they looked like fish out of water. With Charlotte’s ball movement, it left the Bulls in constant scramble mode. Guys weren’t communicating with each other, over helping on drives, closing out to the same person, or being late getting around screens (looking at you, Zach LaVine).
As an example:
Bulls are bleeding 3s. This time Wendell steps over correctly, Coby correctly gets inside to step in front of a dump off pass, but Arch cheats too close to the corner and Monk makes a nice read to the top pic.twitter.com/46UnurDOxJ— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) October 23, 2019
And another example:
This defensive set sums up the Bulls' first half. No communication, too much help, no rotation, wide open three given.— See Red Mark (@mkhoops) October 24, 2019
They need to clean this up quickly, in this game but for those that lie ahead. pic.twitter.com/naDye1grtQ
At the end of the day, I don’t think the Bulls will have too many issues offensively, but if they hope to contend for a playoff spot, things really need to be cleaned up defensively.
Lauri Markkanen will be OK
So, there was some concern during and after preseason about Markkanen and his role within the Bulls offense moving forward. Safe to say we can put that to rest, yeah?
Lauri made a statement Wednesday night putting up 35 points and 17 rebounds and was really the one person who kept the Bulls in the game. He scored 12 of the Bulls first 16 points, all of which coming inside the arch, and ended up shooting 13-25 from the field.
While his outside shot wasn’t falling, he was still getting great looks. But for the majority Markkanen was aggressive in other areas; bringing the ball up the floor in transition, on the offensive boards resulting in put backs and trips to the stripe. More importantly, he was getting to the basket within the flow of the halfcourt offense which was the biggest concern heading into the season. It was great seeing Markkanen involved in more actions other than picking and popping; working out of the mid-post area and getting downhill using his size and mobility to his advantage. Big question is, can we get this version of Lauri consistently?
Will Zach LaVine be OK?
For someone who had a lot of “hype” about a potential All Star bid this season, LaVine fell flat in the opener. I’m going to do my best not to be too critical after one game, but as a guy billed as the team’s primary scorer it wasn’t an encouraging start, especially after a terrific preseason.
As mentioned, his first shot of the game was horrific, and he coupled that with getting in early foul trouble. LaVine quickly found himself out of any type of rhythm offensively, struggling the entire game to get something going. He sparked up a bit in part of the third and fourth quarters, but his decision making down the stretch was not what it should be for someone in his position. [we’ll have more on that later -yfbb]
In the end, I’m going to chalk this up to a one game blip, but Zach can’t afford to have nights like these moving forward.
Bulls get one day off before heading to Memphis Friday on the first night off a back-to-back.