Bulls second-year forward Patrick Williams was slated to start at power forward this season, but his ankle injury means he’s going to miss all of the preseason and perhaps the start of the regular season. This means Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has a decision to make regarding Williams’ spot in the starting lineup. While there’s a chance it doesn’t matter much if Williams is back healthy for the regular season, the Bulls have to be prepared for him to be out when the games start to matter.
There’s no clear-cut answer to take Williams’ spot, so it’s no surprise that Donovan has been testing out a number of options in practice:
Billy Donovan doesn’t typically reveal his starters until game night. Bulls’ first preseason tilt will likely be same.
Donovan said today that, without P-Will, they’ve tried a bunch of guys with Lonzo/Zach/DeMar/Vooch in practice: DJJ, Caruso, TBJ, Javonte. Also mentioned Stanley Johnson as a name he’s looking at, and that staggering minutes will be part of consideration. But still deliberating.
The one constant, of course, per Donovan: “You’re probably going to be dealing with an undersized power forward. That’s what you’re really gonna be dealing with.”
It’s interesting that Alize Johnson wasn’t mentioned here yet Stanley Johnson was, but either way, it has been clear that Donovan is expecting to play small and fast a lot. He talked about it on Media Day and specifically mentioned a need to play smaller and be more versatile, with the possibility of playing four-guard sets and DeMar DeRozan playing a good amount of power forward like he did with the Spurs.
Let’s look at Donovan’s options for replacing Williams.
Caruso replacing Williams could very well wind up being a popular closing lineup even when Pat is healthy thanks to the guard’s elite perimeter defense and ability to capably shoot the 3. Caruso played a bunch of big minutes for the Lakers over the last few years and will be relied on to keep the Bulls’ defense respectable.
There’s an argument to be made for just starting your five best players (yes, Caruso should be considered the Bulls’ fifth-best player for right now), but I could see Donovan preferring to keep Caruso as a bench spark plug, especially with Coby White out until November.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Jones is an athletic freak, but I always forget that he’s only 6-foot-5 and has played at small forward the majority of his career. He’s a bad shooter who carries a relatively high 3-point rate for somebody who shoots under 30%. He’s also just an okay rebounder.
Having that athleticism and defensive potential on the wing could be intriguing, though, and Jones did start a good amount of games with the Blazers last season.
Troy Brown Jr.
Brown showed some flashes, especially defensively, with the Bulls after the trade deadline last season, but he’s another guy who isn’t much of a shooter. He’s better than Jones from outside, though, and has been a more prolific rebounder. Brown has shown some playmaking juice in the past, giving him some versatility.
Green is another non-shooting wing (sensing a theme here) who brings a ton of effort on the defensive end. He played his ass off in limited minutes for the Bulls last season, but there’s little upside here and he probably shouldn’t be playing too much.
Stanley Johnson came into the NBA as a highly touted wing but has spent more and more time as a power forward in recent years, while also even playing some small-ball center for Toronto. While he’s just 6-foot-6, he’s a robust 242 pounds with a near-7-foot wingspan. He brings very little to the table offensively (outside of his career game against the Bulls last season) but is another defense-first option.
Donovan didn’t mention Alize Johnson, and that could be because he’s more of a traditional big men than the others. Johnson is only 6-foot-7, but he’s a monster rebounder who can help finish possessions and turn defense into offense.
The Bulls have a lot of similar players on the bench in the form of rangy, non-shooting wings. They do have three other legit 3-point shooters in the starting lineup, so perhaps that won’t matter much offensively, especially considering how talented DeRozan is despite his lack of 3-point shot. There are some legitimate concerns with rebounding and defense, but the proper effort and buy-in should keep them at least semi-competent no matter who’s in in the lineup.