It was fun to read the reactions to the Bulls preseason opening night statement from the beat writers. The ones who were contractually forced (the rest of us need to take it up with themselves and their gods) to watch so much miserable Bulls basketball the past five years seemed the happiest.
Both Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic and Jamal Collier of ESPN.com (previously with the Tribune) used the word ‘fun’ to describe their day at work last night. KC Johnson, who’s suffered the most in terms of duration, didn’t quite let out that exclamation but it was notable in the change of his lead/deficit alerts:
Yes, things were good. But perhaps more importantly they were different. We were watching a new group of players that we hadn’t grown to resent! In actuality last night, some of those guys were on the other team.
Years after promising to be ‘younger and more athletic’ the Bulls showed it. Years after hearing Jim Boylen proclaim he wanted to average an impossibly-high number of assists per game, the Bulls actually hit that mark. Instead of squinting to see improvement from nascent lottery picks, we have fairly finished products exhibiting production and skills that we know is sustainable.
Yes, it’s preseason. And it’s the Cavaliers. But pummeling bad teams like the Bulls did last night is a leading indicator of being good. And it all has the air of raised expectations. The era of patience and complacency is over, from the front office down to Stacey King:
Longer version that includes Chi Slama Jama from Stacey King pic.twitter.com/97RpKUV5qO— Ⓜ️ ▶️ (@_MarcusD3_) October 6, 2021
that’s your point guard, right there
Oh, so that’s why a team should look to address arguably the most important role in the offense! Lonzo Ball had a great debut on both ends of the court. Even considering he didn’t shoot that well, Ball had 5 assists to 1 turnover, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 26 minutes.
And more noticeably he established a style of play that led to so many highlights: ball movement, sharing the shots, forcing turnovers and running. Both Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan raved post-game about Ball’s IQ and unselfishness.
Javonte Green, aka David New-aba
Green received the first start as a Patrick Williams replacement, a fairly surprising move that paid off for Billy Donovan. The starting unit was humming with Green not needing shots and instead playing active defense.
This play by JaVonte Green from the get-go really set the tone for the Bulls defense.— Mark K (@mkhoops) October 6, 2021
Yes, the play ends in a foul, but after Lonzo was beat, forcing Vucevic to help, Green is right there to cover Allen.
That's a missed rotation last season.
Love this possession. pic.twitter.com/83dBMB9TSl
Green is listed at a mere 6’4”, but it was a reflection of NBA trends that having him out there alongside DeRozan and LaVine looked far more effective than the Cavs trotting out multiple 6’10” players. Clearly, there are better frontcourts out there that can more effectively punish a size-deficient lineup than ::coughs:: Lauri Markkanen, but Green looks to have earned that chance for the next preseason game at least.
Other candidates played decently also: Troy Brown Jr. hit 3 threes, Alize Johnson had 11 rebounds in 17 minutes. The player with the best pedigree is perhaps Derrick Jones, but he was unavailable due to injury.
Alex Caruso is not a mascot
Of the Bulls acquisitions, I was most skeptical of Alex Caruso. It’s an inherent bias against ‘grit’ (a yin to Gar Forman’s yang), to start. While acknowledging that he has performed well enough to be an NBA rotation player, I was still seeing that performance in context of being on a famous team with all-world players to cover his faults and a dipshit fanbase to inflate his positives.
But in his Bulls debut as a $9M player, Caruso was fucking awesome. He had 10 assists in just 20 minutes! He also shot 2-3 from three and delivered his trademark on-ball defense.
Even when Williams returns, Caruso may be in the closing lineup a lot. And that lineup with the starters last night was what blew the game open, which is a great sign.
Caveats a-plenty, here, but the Bulls last night were a refreshing watch. It’s not fair to assess their big-picture direction or in-season vulnerabilities (the defense wasn’t tested because it’s the Cavs, lol) based on this one doesn’t-count game. But to assess them as an entertainment product: 10/10 would see again.