The Bulls returned to the court for game action for the first time in nine months over the weekend, opening their 2020-21 preseason with two games against the Rockets. After an atrocious showing in a 125-104 loss on Friday, the Bulls took home a 104-91 victory on Sunday thanks to a dominant fourth quarter against the Rockets’ scrubs.
While the Bulls were trailing by six points entering the fourth quarter, they were at least more competitive throughout the game on Sunday. Though some of this was just the Rockets going 12-of-47 on 3-pointers, the Bulls forced 19 turnovers on Sunday, and there were better closeouts and just more inspired effort overall. Friday was a wretched defensive showing as they get used to their new scheme, forcing only six turnovers all game as it saw them go down 14-2 right off the bat, with the Rockets blitzing the Bulls with 24 3-pointers even without James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Christian Wood in the lineup.
Chicago’s offense was especially sloppy Friday, with Houston scoring 35 points off 21 Bulls turnovers. And they weren’t particularly good on Sunday either, shooting under 40% and racking up 18 turnovers. However, Zach LaVine (23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 3-of-7 on 3-pointers) and Coby White (20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 4-of-7 on 3-pointers) both shot the ball well and had the offense looking better at times. The Bulls had 26 assists on 37 baskets, and they would have had 30 if Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. could hit a shot (combined 4-of-21, but Carter did finally hit a 3-pointer).
The Bulls missed Tomas Satoransky’s presence on the second unit in Sunday’s game after he showed some spark on Friday. The Bulls were also without Thaddeus Young (leg infection), Garrett Temple (recently tested positive for COVID-19), Denzel Valentine (hamstring), Luke Kornet, Noah Vonleh, Adam Mokoka and Devon Dotson on Sunday, and there was some confusion about a few - possibly COVID-related? - of the absences.
Here are some takeaways from the weekend’s action.
White’s 15 points and six assists in 23 minutes on Friday looks fine, but Wall had his way with the young guard and the Bulls’ offense was an all-around failure. White getting his typically won’t be a problem, but as Billy Donovan recently said, he should be judged on how effectively he can run the offense. The guard missed his share of plays, like this one:
These are the reads Coby needs to learn this season. Lauri WIDE open in the corner pic.twitter.com/IX2ddIPosb— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 12, 2020
Though he did hit Markkanen with a nice crosscourt pass just moments later:
Here's a good example of what I was talking about earlier. Nice patience/cross court vision here from Coby pic.twitter.com/45W7rCPREZ— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 12, 2020
White played better in Sunday’s game. While Wall finished with 21 points, White got him frustrated at points with solid on-ball defense and even took multiple charges. The young point guard had a few ugly turnovers, but he did make a few nice pick-and-roll reads, such as this one:
There we go Coby. Nice patience, nice pass pic.twitter.com/HzrvCJwHYj— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 14, 2020
White is a work in progress at point guard, and we shouldn’t expect him to be making high-level passes on the regular just yet. Whether he’s ever able to do that is a legitimate question. For now, baby steps, and the Bulls’ offense did operate more effectively with White on the court Sunday (near-109 offensive rating).
The rookie has had his issues with turnovers (seven total), but he has made his presence felt on both ends of the court. Williams had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting on Friday and then 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting on Sunday. While he struggled to finish inside the arc and at the foul line (3-of-6) on Sunday, he hit a pair of 3-pointers and has shown little hesitation while launching jumpers:
Patrick Williams is going to be a player. Knows where to be on defense, great at getting deflections, great athlete, confident offensively with a nice little shooting touch. pic.twitter.com/iXq8HapTia— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 14, 2020
His first NBA basket was a smooth mid-range shot:
Patrick William's first bucket. Smooth transition middy pic.twitter.com/64YGZiLv8m— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 12, 2020
These buckets from Friday were nifty:
That jab is pretty devastating. Also the baby hook. I love it pic.twitter.com/mxDH8H05G5— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 12, 2020
This is officially a Patrick Williams fan account now pic.twitter.com/p9oFEpgiOj— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 12, 2020
I also really liked this cut from Sunday’s game to get him in position to score:
Talked about this before but Williams seems to have a knack for carving out space on these cuts. pic.twitter.com/JMlpr4Aslt— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 14, 2020
Defensively, Williams had three steals on Sunday and had several other deflections. Stephen Noh did an excellent breakdown of Williams’ first game and highlighted the solid job he did playing team defense and on switches against Wall. He’s obviously still raw and was overzealous biting on multiple pump fakes in Sunday’s game, but it looks like he should be a player.
The starting frontcourt
It’s clear Carter is more comfortable taking jumpers this season. It’s just a matter of making them. He’s now 1-of-9 on 3-pointers after going 0-of-5 in the opener and 1-of-4 on Sunday. He took 61 3-pointers total over his first two years, so this is progress. Teams are going to give him that shot, and he needs to keep shooting those open looks. He’s almost certainly never going to be a knockdown shooter, but if he can get to around league average on this type of volume, that would be nice.
Carter also needs to finish around the rim better. He’s 3-of-9 on 2-pointers so far in preseason, and he missed a few contested bunnies around the bucket on Sunday.
On a more positive note, this pass from the elbow is exactly the kind of stuff we want to see more often:
This is exactly how I want Wendell used. And Zach frankly. Great pass, great cut. Love this pic.twitter.com/dDkNDBmkOi— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 14, 2020
Markkanen had a nice shooting game on Friday, going for 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting overall and 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. Sunday was a disaster, though, as he shot 1-of-10, missed all five of his triples and had a couple bad turnovers. Plus-minus in preseason means almost nothing, but he was minus-27 on Friday and minus-12 on Sunday. The inability to make a positive impact is worth noting, but at least he was involved in one of the highlights of the night:
4/5 PnR with Lauri and Wendell leads to an oop. This is everything pic.twitter.com/JNed1n1dGr— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 14, 2020
More of this please.
The big man left Sunday’s game in the third quarter after banging knees with David Nwaba, but he seems to be okay.
Otto Porter Jr. added 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes on Sunday after scoring nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in 19 minutes on Friday. He’s shooting the ball well and at least looks pretty healthy.
Cristiano Felicio’s beard
Eight Bulls saw 20-plus minutes on Sunday (the starters plus Patrick Williams, Ryan Arcidiacono and Chandler Hutchison), while Daniel Gafford also played early rotation minutes and had two nice blocks.
Felicio didn’t play in Friday’s debacle, but he got garbage time minutes on Sunday with Vonleh and Kornet out of action. Felicio does look a bit slimmer. Also, his beard is ... something:
The Bulls’ next preseason game is against the Thunder on Wednesday.