The Bulls officially tipped off their 2019-20 preseason slate on Monday night against a Bucks team playing basically nobody, with The Brothers Lopez instead taking on a starring role (there was even a RoLo tribute video!). Despite facing a depleted Bucks squad, the Bulls couldn’t buy many stops when Milwaukee wasn’t turning the ball over in a 122-112 loss at the United Center.
With Wendell Carter Jr. out of the lineup due to a bruised tailbone, Jim Boylen went with Cristiano Felicio in the starting center spot alongside Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. Felicio had a few nice finishes to start the game, but he was a clear minus on the defensive end, struggling to guard Brook Lopez out beyond the 3-point line. The Bulls’ starters struggled as a unit for the most part on defense, giving up plenty of dribble penetration and good looks from 3 despite the absence of Giannis, Khris Middleton and other key Bucks.
The Bulls did make a concerted effort to push the ball and get up 3-pointers, with Lauri Markkanen launching eight triples in just 23 minutes of action. He hit four of those and wound up with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. LaVine jacked up six triples in 22 minutes and stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. He did shoot only 5-of-13 and also missed three of his six free-throw attempts, and he was wearing a wrap on his shooting hand that may have bothered him a bit:
Boylen mentioned this for 1st time this AM at shootaround. Said he has small bruise on hand. https://t.co/Ah3cnGQryY— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) October 8, 2019
The Bulls took 38 3-pointers on the night (12 makes), and while that was still eight shy of the Bucks’ 46, I did like that they weren’t hesitant to take them when they were open. Even Dunn didn’t hesitant on a wide-open triple early in the game when his defender dropped way under a screen, and while he missed that one, he did knock down a contested look from deep later.
Dunn put up a respectable stat line of 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with three, rebounds, three assists and three steals. He also had a few nice finishes at the rim, which has been a major issue for him. Boylen is planning to test out different starters at point guard throughout the preseason, but Dunn at least acquitted himself decently in this one (the broadcast interestingly made it a point to hype him up after not really doing so as last season went on).
Off the bench, the Bulls got a spirited effort from rookie Daniel Gafford, who was dunking and blocking shots and grabbing offensive boards and diving all over the floor. His energy was apparent throughout, and he finished with 12 points, five rebounds (four offensive) and three blocks in just 18 minutes. If Carter can’t go Wednesday against the Pelicans, I’d like to see Gafford get the call as the starter after a strong debut effort.
The other rookie, Coby White, was a mixed bag. White showed plenty of aggression on both ends, pushing pace offensively and playing hard-nosed defense. He did force things a bit on offense and shot just 3-of-10 overall, but his hard-charging ways did earn him eight free throws and helped him finish with 12 points. White being inefficient and overzealous as a rookie should be expected, but he showed some nice flashes.
Denzel Valentine also had notable minutes off the bench given it was his first action since the 2017-18 season. Valentine knocked down two early 3-pointers in his 19 minutes and made his share of nifty passes (even took four free throws), but he struggled to the tune of 3-of-12 from the field and showed his athletic limitations on drives to the basket.
As for the two key new guys, Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky both shot poorly, combining to go 3-of-14 from the field and tossing up some ugly misses. They did both show why they should help the Bulls, though, with Sato racking up seven rebounds, five steals and three assists and Young making some nice hustle plays and handing out three assists of his own.
But overall, despite forcing 25 turnovers and scoring 36 points off those turnovers, the Bulls just couldn’t stop the Bucks enough, and they got smashed 60-44 on the boards. They also shot under 38% and were essentially losing the entire night, going down by as many as 16 points in the 3rd quarter.
There’s obviously no reason to panic after a preseason game, even with the Bucks playing nobody. We know the Bulls’ defense is going to be a work in progress, and they didn’t have their anchor in the middle in Carter. Boylen is experimenting with lineups, even using three point guards at times. I was happy to see them pushing pace and taking open 3-pointers when they were there, and we saw how explosive their offense can be when they find their rhythm.
If these guys stay healthy, it should at least be an entertaining season.