The wing rotation was always going to be a problem for the Bulls this season. That has been exacerbated by Otto Porter sitting the last five games, something we are just learning today will keep Porter out for the next two weeks at least.
And after 14 games into the third year of the rebuild, one in which playoffs was the goal set by those who orchestrated this roster overhaul, I surely did not expect Ryan Arcidiacono to be closing games.
And there may not be a bigger Arcidiacono supporter than me. I was on this train early. This post should be about tooting the horn on a pompous victory lap. As much as I wish that were true, to my surprise, I sit here instead dumbfounded by the latest update in the Arcidiacono story.
Hell, Arcidiacono hasn’t just been closing games, he’s been inexplicably playing entire quarters up to the final 16 minutes, just as he did in the Bulls’ loss against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. This, after playing the majority of the fourth against the Bucks in yet another loss only last week.
This was while being tasked with trying to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo. Despite the obvious barriers that would typically prevent a ground-bound 6-foot-3 player having to guard a 6-foot-11 behemoth in the post, as expected, Arcidiacono battled his arse off, earning praise from the reigning MVP in the process.
There’s no greater testament to Ryan Arcidiacono’s scrappiness than the prospect of him battling the much taller Giannis Antetokounmpo for not one but two jump balls, and the United Center crowd showed its appreciation.
Antetokounmpo, who is 6-foot-11, was asked whether he was surprised to find himself going toe to toe against the 6-3 Arcidiacono.“No, actually I wasn’t surprised,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think he’s the only one from the Bulls that’s going diving for the ball on the floor.”
Yikes. Perhaps he meant to single out Arcidiacono rather than call out the rest of the Bulls. Sure, let’s go with that.
Indeed, for anyone else connected to this broken team, at best it reads like a back-handed compliment.
That a player who was once lucky to even earn a two-way deal is now closing games and catching the eye of Antetokounmpo is a damning statement on the shape of the rebuild.
Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen deserve their share of the ire. But while it would be entirely justified to lambast both for their regression this season, we shouldn’t only assign blame to players we’ve seen perform at a higher level.
And, of course, neither control lineups or rotations.
For whatever reason, coach Jim Boylen has opted to run undersized units late in games, despite the Bulls being one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. And I understand that Arcidiacono plays hard and rarely makes a mistake. But his time on the floor should only come in early second and fourth quarters within reserve units.
Instead, the opposite is happening, with Boylen fully leaning into his bench for nearly as many minutes as he does the starters. In that last game against the Bucks, The Bulls starters played 121.25 minutes.
The Bulls reserves played 118.75 minutes.
In a game where the margin of lead or deficit was within single digits for most the contest, this was one of the weirdest rotations I’ve seen in a long time.
Perhaps that logic makes sense to Boylen given he has made it very clear despite logic suggesting otherwise that part of his job is to develop a bench and all 15 players on his roster.
Even if believing this is a noble goal, here’s an idea: Why not given these crucial clutch minutes to the lone wing in the rotation that the team drafted in the first round last June?
In Porter’s absence, Chandler Hutchison has been promoted into the starting lineup, but he has only been seen in 22 minutes per game over the last five. Of those minutes, only four have come in the final quarter. Meanwhile, Arcidiacono is playing 9.3 minutes in fourth quarters since Porter’s injury, trailing only rookie Coby White who is just ahead at 9.4 minutes.
It is beyond explanation why Boylen is leaning so heavily on multiple guards to close out games when Hutchison’s best traits are as a rebounder and defensive option against bigger perimeter lineups. But it’s also a flawed roster design to only give a coach two playable small forwards while loading up with five point guards (sorry Denzel). Should we really be surprised that the Bulls find themselves in the bottom third of the league in defensive rebounding percentage when it’s asking undersized players to make rotations and clean the glass against bigger, more athletic opponents?
Perhaps once Porter is back in a few weeks this whole thing will blow over. But even upon returning he will be on a minutes restriction. Inevitably, the Bulls will remain undersized on the perimeter, hoping the breadth of Arcidiacono’s spirit can manifest into an actual, credible solution against the league’s most dominant physical specimens.
As a trivial in-game mismatch, the oddity of watching Arcidiacono successfully guard Giannis should be the purist moment of joy for disciples of the master of Grit. For an instant, it is. But that moment quickly fades when you realise this is actually part of a plan.