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Bulls-Cavs takeaways: Chicago’s young stars not shining

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The Bulls failed to get stops and get production from their stars in another ugly loss

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The loud playoff buzz the Bulls entered the season with has officially been silenced. The Bulls dropped to 1-4 on the season with a 117-111 loss to the Cavs, with three of those losses at the hands of teams that playoff-caliber rosters should comfortably beat. While five games is far from a significant data pool, the trends from the first four games held true throughout an ugly night in Cleveland.

The Stars Did Not Shine

Zach LaVine failed to leave his mark against a Cavaliers team that is not exactly deep in wing defenders. In a team-leading 32 minutes, the aspiring All-Star mustered just 16 points on 42.9% from the field. He managed to connect on half of his eight attempts from 3-land, but attempted just three shots within the restricted area and made zero trips to the free-throw line.

Playing alongside capable shooters for the first time, this was supposed to be the season LaVine became the best version of himself. But Wednesday night, LaVine never got into a comfortable rhythm with the ball in his hands and took only six shots inside the arc. LaVine severely limits the ceiling of this offense if he is not constantly attacking the defense and drawing help, giving those newly acquired teammates open shots to take advantage of. LaVine finished the game with only two assists. He did not record a single rebound. He allowed Collin Sexton to burn him on a cut off the ball for what essentially was the game-sealing dunk in the fourth quarter, a sequence that has become as synonymous with Zach LaVine as high-flying dunks.

LaVine was not the only young Bull to disappoint against the Cavaliers. Lauri Markkanen also scored 16 points on a lowly 33% from the field and shot 2/6 from 3-point range. Lauri at least showed some aggression and was rewarded with eight foul shots, four of which came after posting up smaller players after the Cavaliers found themselves in a switch.

However, Markkanen’s defense was just not good in this game. Nobody on the Cavaliers had issues getting by him and through him in the paint for easy layups. Lauri did not provide any resistance on the back line and seems to have somehow regressed on the defensive end. With his shot looking unreliable and his defense sub-par, Lauri did not close the game for the Bulls in a decision that was unfortunately justified by Jim Boylen, whose decisions I hate agreeing with.

The excitement surrounding the additions of Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young this summer was not fueled by the belief that these players would come in and make a tremendous offensive impact for the Bulls. Rather, they were meant to serve as cogs in a machine powered by the young stars the front office assumed were already on the roster. Through five games, those assumptions have looked foolish.

Lack of spirit, loss of paint

Jim Boylen loves to talk about toughness and spirit and energy. Those seem to be the things he believes he can will out of a team better than your average coach. While I don’t see where exactly in the box score those three metrics are tracked, I do see that the Bulls again were dominated around the basket.

The Cavaliers outrebounded the Bulls 47-32 and offensive rebounded 10 of their own misses. Kevin Love pulled down a whopping 20 rebounds of his own, while Tristan Thompson finished the game with an even five offensive and defensive boards. In the early portion of the game, the Bulls were effective pushing the pace after Cleveland misses and created easy looks before the defense could get set. It’s hard to consistently create offense this way when the team has such a hard time ending defensive possessions with a rebound.

Worse to me than the rebounding desparity was the number of easy shots the Bulls allowed inside. Wendell Carter Jr. did his best to guard the rim, even after getting into early foul trouble. The rest of his teammates put up far less of a fight inside.

Luke Kornet in particular really needs to have his role in the rotation reconsidered by Boylen. The Bulls were outscored by six points in the three minutes he played in the fourth quarter as Sexton and the rest of Cleveland’s guards salivated at the opportunity to drive through Luke The Friendly Ghost for easy layups. Kornet did have a nice stretch on offense in the first half rolling to the rim and knocking down a 3 in transition. But the value he provides on that end of the floor is severely diminished by his defensive deficiencies.

Bench is in bad shape

Coby White is going to be one of those players who just needs to play his own way to find NBA success. Since his hot start, he has looked completely overburdened carrying extremely limited bench units that rely on him to create efficient offense. White shot just 3/12 from the field and rarely looked to pass the ball in his 20 minutes of game time. He did have one assist on a nice pick-and-roll with Carter, but otherwise displayed no point guard instincts in this game.

It’s hard to blame White for looking for his own offense so much. Kris Dunn is certainly not doing anything to make the argument he deserves more time with the ball. Dunn, who has made zero of his nine 3-point attempts this season, does nothing to frighten a defense when he’s on the ball, and actively makes life harder for his teammates when he’s off of it.

White needs to get some time alongside Satoransky, a player who can make the game easier for the rookie and put him in situations where his shotmaking doesn’t need to seem so heroic. White and Dunn were both a team-worst minus-11 in the 21 minutes apiece they played.