The Bulls and Nuggets were somewhat mirror images of rosters in last night’s game. With so many players unavailable on both sides, the top-end talent looked somewhat even with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic playing for Denver yet the Bulls still having Zach LaVine starting, with Aaron Gordon and Will Barton and Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball also playing and this comparison is getting a bit thin.
But anyway, the two stars produced. Jokic posted a triple-double and his team was +7 in thirty-six minutes in a game they lost by 12. LaVine was out there for 39 minutes and went into takeover mode with crazy shotmaking in the second quarter onwards, finishing with 32 in a game where no other player exceeded 20.
Especially with DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso out, you’d think this Bulls team would look like the post-deadline 2020-21 Bulls, though it was a rare occurrence in that time when both LaVine and Vucevic were playing.
That team likely loses this game. Maybe LaVine has a good shooting night - though it should be mentioned he did a lot more, with the 8 assists to 3 turnovers AND some solid defense - but there isn’t enough help and the team defense is trash.
But AKME didn’t just bring in Caruso and DeRozan this offseason, he churned out a lot of chuds and brought in actual basketball players. There has (what I found to be) a weird interpretation of AK’s words that he ‘valued shooting’ in his role players, but that turned out not to be the case. He’s instead filled out this team with defensive-first players who can run the floor and play with discipline on both ends.
So, gone from this banged-up rotation are the unimpactful and inconsistent types of Tomas Satoransky, Lauri Markkanen, Denzel Valentine, Ryan Arcidiacono, Coby White (not off the team obviously, just out of this stretch of games with COVID), and Patrick Williams (understandable given his age, but Williams was more potential than production).
In are Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones, Troy Brown, Tony Bradley, and Matt Thomas (whose skillset doesn’t really fit my story here, but he did play 19 minutes) who combined for a paltry 3-10 from three point range but otherwise totally outplayed the Nuggets deep rotation counterparts.
Dosunmu in particular was outstanding, getting his first career start and playing 42 minutes to put up 11 points, 8 assists, and 6 boards (once again these undersized Bulls controlled the glass).
Below are all his plays, where yes there are some mistakes peppered in there but he’s playing smart, hard and aggressive: both with the ball on offense and on the ball defensively:
Jones, Brown and Bradley did less by comparison but were still providing solid minutes, which is more than you can expect given their spots in the rotation when the team is at full strength. Jones was the other replacement starter at power forward, and filled the role well defensively:
Derrick Jones jr & Lonzo Ball with The Block pic.twitter.com/bcEgMVpV6X— Gustavo (@iamvega1982) December 7, 2021
Stephen Noh was commenting during the game in the difference these guys, and especially Ayo, made in the second half:
This Ayo / Ball / Troy Brown Jr. / Matt Thomas / Tony Bradley lineup ain’t it [in the first half]...To start the 4th an extremely impressive stretch from Ayo, who lifted up this unit . Had two assists (one for a 3, one for a dunk), a made 3, and a beautiful finger roll off a drive. Added 3 points to the lead and bought 4 minutes of rest for LaVine/Vucevic.
Donovan has gotten flak over the years for not being great at adjustments. From what I’ve seen, he’s been willing to improvise in-game all year. Tonight he took the double off Jokic when he saw it wasn’t working, rode hot players.
Billy Donovan indeed deserves credit for his ability to know what players to use and when. But also, Donovan is more properly equipped with better plug-and-play options versus last year.
Or maybe it’s all Lonzo Ball?
It is seriously impressive that the Bulls can be missing half the rotation and still play the same brand of ball. I credit Lonzo for injecting the spirit of Chino Hills— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) December 7, 2021
I’ll tack him on this post as a shout-out. He’s not a bench player, but if I’m mentioning Lauri and Sato, Lonzo is in a similar role and a distinct upgrade over last season as Lonzo rules:
Wild Lonzo defensive possession— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) December 7, 2021
- Starts POA on Campazzo
- Stunt toward Barton after Campazzo clears out
- Stunts from weak side low man to strong side wing
- Switches onto Green
- Switches onto Marshall
- Steps over to protect the rim on the drive pic.twitter.com/QMpHEVA5zo