2020 has a little bit more urgency to the preseason it seems, especially for the teams who weren’t part of the NBA’s bubble restart like the Bulls. Chicago’s guys haven’t played in an NBA game since March 10, so give them a pass if there was a little bit more of a pep to their steps this preseason than in ones in the past.
And if there was indeed an extra sense of urgency, perhaps we can learn more from exhibition play this year than in others.
Then again, maybe preseason is still just preseason. Either way, here are some trends that I noticed in the Bulls games.
Sweet Life of Zach and Coby
Is Zach LaVine and Coby White duo one of the best pure-scoring backcourts in the NBA? .
Zach and Coby led the Bulls in scoring average this preseason knocking down 19.8 points and 16.5 points per game respectively. LaVine shot at a 55.8 percent clip overall from the field while White hit 48 percent of the 3-point field goals he attempted (he shot six per game so there is a large sample size).
We know these two guys can score, the question we’ve all been asking is do these two guys complement each other and how well rounded are their games?
Per NBA.com, the two guards had a -9.9 net rating when they shared the floor together last season; combining for a 115.0 defensive rating as well.
If the Bulls want to be successful this season, they need these two key players to be a net positive when they share the floor.
To LaVine’s credit, he’s looked better defensively this preseason which should help.
Pat Williams Looked Fantastic
In a normal NBA season, Patrick Williams would have been drafted in June, played in several Summer League contests in July, then gone through a full training camp in the early fall.
Throw that timeline out the window this year. The Bulls drafted Williams on November 18 and less than a month later he’s playing in NBA preseason games....and he’s looked fantastic.
Despite a poor showing in the last preseason game, Williams averaged over 11 points per game overall while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and scoring from every level. He’s also showed situational awareness and maturity beyond his years on the defensive end. He’s impressed friend of the blog Stephen Noh on that end and realistically could be the Bulls third best defender already in his rookie season (behind Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter).
Remember, Williams is doing all of this on an accelerated timeline in a year unlike any year before it. It’s been beyond impressive so far for the Bulls lottery pick.
Is Chandler Hutchison Improved?
I think in previous articles I’ve described Hutchison as the guy you can easily forget is still on the roster. But Hutchison made sure we didn’t forget he was a Chicago Bull during the preseason this season. The young wing really did outplay the veteran Otto Porter Jr. in this small four-game sample.
This is a big development. Wing depth was an issue the last couple of years. The Bulls nabbed Williams in the draft to address this. Add Williams to Otto Porter Jr., and then add a guy like Hutchison and suddenly the Bulls have some depth at these positions.
Hutchison playing with some swagger too.
Billy Donovan Using Markkanen and WCJ The Way We Wanted Boylen To
One of the criticisms of former head coach Jim Boylen was his usage of both Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen.
Pundits felt like he was stagnating the growth of both players offensively. Carter’s production mostly came from offensive rebounding and bully ball close to the basket. People wanted to see him explore a 3-point shot that showed glimmers of potential at Duke and for the offense to run through him at times so he could display his savvy passing skills.
Meanwhile, last season under Boylen Markkanen’s usage percentage hit a career low. Almost half of his shot attempts came from 3-point land as he was mainly used to stretch the floor as a long-range shooter, but wasn’t able to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket or explore his mid-range game.
For better or for worse, new Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is giving both young big men opportunities to do things offensively that we wanted to see them be able to do under Boylen.
To say Carter’s 3-point shooting hasn’t worked out so far would be a gross understatement. He shot an unsightly 1-for-16 from 3-point land in the preseason.
He also has been able to take over the point-center role on occasion, punctuated by this awesome pass from the elbow to Lauri Markkanen who was streaking down the baseline.
Extraordinarily cool stuff here pic.twitter.com/DGUDDAFRU2— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) December 19, 2020
Preseason is a time for hope, but Wendell Carter has given us very little reason to have it. This was supposed to be his year to show that he could pass and shoot. Instead, he’s been missing cutters left and right, as shown by Will Gottlieb over at his Bulls Patreon page. He looks petrified when he catches the ball on the perimeter, and Al Horford was camping the lane all night against the Bulls as a result.
But also remember Carter Jr. was injured throughout last season so in this calendar year before the preseason he only played in nine games. Hopefully this can explain away some of the rustiness he has shown.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have been running plays early on in the game to get Markkanen going this preseason. He’s been allowed to explore his offense at all three levels. The other big change is how the movement in the offense has benefited him.
“I feel like it’s night and day from last year,” Markkanen said of his role. “Being in down-screens and being on the move the whole time… I’m really liking the offense so far. We just got to keep getting better at it.”
Both Markkanen and Carter Jr. are being used the way we want them to. For Carter Jr., the new usage has been mostly a disaster. For Markkanen, he’s shown much more promise in his new role. Keep an eye on how their roles evolve throughout the season.