We didn’t see the dominant perfect preseason Bulls in the season opener, that’s for sure. The pace was sub-100, the offense was not very good nor balanced. But what did carry over is a dominant defense! As of today, the Bulls are 2nd in defensive rating after being 1st in the preseason.
So maybe this is how the Bulls win games? Ugly, low-scoring affairs...nah, I think a lot of it had to do with the opponent. And it being just one game and all.
So far be it from the royal we to try and extrapolate trends from the first game, but we can certainly look back at what went right and wrong for the Bulls in this contest.
Zach LaVine saved the Bulls yet again
Another preseason trend that carried over was Zach LaVine’s ungodly efficiency and production.
After the Bulls offense was downright bad in the first half, LaVine dominated the ball in the 3rd quarter to put up 15 of his 34 points and get the Bulls the lead back.
LaVine was only 1-5 from three, and a lot of his makes were of the high-difficulty mid-range variety, including this spicy post-up:
But easy points were also had: in transition, where you could see the benefits of Lonzo Ball (and a running mentality for the team that hopefully comes back after this game). Plus 11 FTAs where he made every one of them.
The crunch-time offense was not very good, and that was supposed to be addressed this year by simply getting more weapons to ease the pressure off LaVine. The team shot 2-of-8 with three turnovers in the last five minutes of the game, and as Jay said in the recap maybe too much of that responsibility was falling on DeMar DeRozan.
This late LaVine possession shows how fickle one-game assessments can be: it conceivably could’ve been a charge call and turnover, a real problem for LaVine and the Bulls last season. Instead, it’s a block call and a trip to the line.
Plus, the big difference in the clutch this game was that the Pistons were even worse on offense, with Jerami Grant playing the LaVine role for them, and not up to that standard like the real LaVine.
an extremely top-heavy (or bottom-light) roster
The Bulls had around 5 productive players last night: LaVine, DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball, with Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams being maybe half-productive.
Defensively, Caruso was not only a terror but captained the unit, Stephen Noh found this cool clip of Caruso captaining the defense and even providing literal hands-on training for LaVine. I still am a bit concerned that his hyped aggression and physicality will result in more fouls calls than he’s used to receiving when he was part of LeBron James’s Los Angeles Lakers, and indeed Caruso racked up 5 fouls in 27 minutes. While Caruso was part of the closing lineup, he was subbed out after getting beat by the much bigger Jerami Grant. Thankfully Williams had a nice stop on Grant late:
But on offense, Williams took only 3 shots, Caruso only made one of his five attempts, and the rest of the team’s sum total of points came by way of eleven roller coaster minutes from Ayo Dosunmu.
This speaks to a potential depth problem with the roster, and though Coby White would’ve surely helped, White is currently the only injured Bull. The offseason didn’t address this beyond a ‘see what sticks’ approach, and for one game nobody really produced.
It was also interesting to see who Donovan used and when. Troy Brown Jr. was in the first-half rotation, but either due to illness (this was a queasy search string) or ineffectiveness was replaced by Ayo.
Did Billy Donovan expect to play Ayo Dosunmu going into today?— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 21, 2021
Donovan: "He's played really, really well in practice ... He's not afraid."
In the frontcourt, Alize Johnson was the backup center while Tony Bradley received a DNP. Derrick Jones Jr. also received a DNP...which does raise an eyebrow but you have to think Donovan is not going to go 11-deep. One of this group will have to step up beyond ‘zero points’ or else this team is in slight trouble now and definite trouble when there’s another injury.
where’s the (fringe) All-Star calls?
There were only two trips to the line by non-LaVine Bulls last night. Other All-Star Nikola Vucevic earned a technical on his way to zero attempts from the stripe, but that’s never been his strong suit.
However, DeMar DeRozan is a FT generating machine, yet only got there once (and missed both, oof). Looking at the digital tape it really wasn’t that many missed calls. DeRozan, like the rest of the team, simply boffed a lot of shots at the rim to an abysmal 7-20 mark in the first half (and, maybe less-simply, were impacted by the Pistons wingspanned-athletic frontcourt).
But I found this DeRozan attempt interesting: I wonder if last year he would’ve launched into the defender, but knows that would be considered ‘a non-basketball move’ this year?
Things worked out, of course. DeRozan hit a huge 3-pointer in the 4th quarter, and Vucevic made his one three as part of the Zach-fest in the third quarter.
But the non-Zach performance is something to watch to be sure, and we’ll have to see if the Bulls simply got away with things because they were facing the Pistons. Luckily they face them again soon with a Pelicans matchup in between, so maybe they don’t have to figure it all out just quite yet.