Last night’s game was mostly trash, to be honest. The Mavericks were without their two best players and the other guys had many terrible shooting performances on open looks that could’ve made the game a lot different. But it’s notable that while the Bulls aren’t doing that much differently and haven’t improved much as a whole, they are winning a couple close games here and there.
It’s easy to forget because he was such a boorish moron, but Jim Boylen was also a poor in-game tactician. So not only would last year’s version of this team (...because it’s the same team) look as bad, and especially against quality teams (...because the roster is bad), they were also choking away leads.
And it can perhaps be just as simple as changing things up instead of the coaching version of suicide sprints and push-ups.
On offense, Zach LaVine both received and gave himself a lot of credit against Dallas for ‘adjusting his game’ in that he shot a lot in the first half but less so in the second, including two passes out of the pick and roll under the 3 minute mark. Though only one of which was successful, at least it wasn’t all isolation and step-backs:
Now, to be clear: we can’t really assess that Zach LaVine is ‘adjusting his game’ when it comes to overall play. His assist rates are near a career-low with turnovers trending the other way. And we’ll need more of a string of games like this considering it was just over a week ago when he and the Bulls let a win dribble down their leg.
But at the least it looks like LaVine’s willing to try to run plays to finish games, and that’s likely because a coach is 1) asking and 2) has the respect to have guys attempt what he asks.
Defensively, there is a more pronounced adjustment by Billy Donovan, as noted by Stephen Noh today:
The Bulls were the worst clutch defense in the league last year under Boylen. Heavy blitzing worked in some aspects, but it was way too predictable by the end of the game.
Donovan mixed up the coverages twice in the past week in the last ~3 min, both leading to wins. Both times, he pulled Wendell Carter and went small with Thad Young at center. Looked like they were hedging pick-and-rolls against the Wizards, then switching almost everything against the Mavs.
I like seeing that flexibility and throwing different looks at opponents.
It’s important to note that on the whole the Bulls defense has been a lot worse this season (at 15th in the league versus 12th under Boylen), but not being a trash fire in the final minutes really helps the victory column!
Noh also praised Donovan’s overall philosophy of starting the worse young players and ‘steadying’ with veterans as a way to both develop and win. I’m not quite at that point, because there have been too many games already where the starters are demolished and then there’s extended garbage time instead of evaluation time. But it’s good that Donovan can coach to get a few victories in there, to make the season seem less pointless and hopefully means those young players still buy in to the point where development can even begin.