Addition of players don’t always mean an addition of production, as the Bulls and Billy Donovan found out in their embarrassing blowout loss to the Embiid+Simmons-less Sixers in their first game out of the All-Star break.
The extra time off meant both Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. returned from injury, giving Donovan some top options in the frontcourt. I applaud the Bulls coach for putting Lauri right back in the starting lineup. I don’t think it should be assumed, there are undoubtedly other coaches who’d say “well we beat all those turd teams in February with Garrett I’m rolling with Garrett”.
Unfortunately, while facing very-much-not-Joel-Embiid Tony Bradley, the starting frontcourt of Markkanen and Wendell Carter didn’t get out to a good start, instead of a clear positive it was a -2 opening stint.
That obviously isn’t backbreaking, but Carter’s return in the 2nd quarter was a minute-and-a-half disaster: 2 fouls, a turnover, a missed three, and the team dropping 4 more points behind. Then the second half starting lineup was another negative affair.
The lack of positive starting play had Donovan scrambling in his substitutions. Porter came in before the Bulls 2nd best player Thad Young. Luke Kornet was the 9th Bull to play in the first quarter. Daniel Gafford was the 10th man, his four minutes was a +8, but then in the 2nd half it was Kornet getting the call again, weirder still it was alongside Markkanen. That configuration put the Bulls in such a hole that Donovan basically tanked the finish with another game less than 24 hours away.
Here’s nearly everyone mentioned getting bullied by 35-year-old Dwight Howard.
Here's every Dwight FGA. To my eyes, at least, none were on Wendell. pic.twitter.com/2xj4d92IE6— Mark K (@mkhoops) March 12, 2021
The Bulls allowed 78 points in the paint and a 30.2% offensive rebound rate, altogether a 125.2 defensive rating against the Sixers supporting cast.
Donovan correctly spread the blame around to not just the frontcourt:
“I didn’t think our guards did a very good job of getting into the ball and I didn’t think our bigs protected the rim very well. It wasn’t all like Wendell’s fault or (Daniel) Gafford’s fault or Luke’s (Kornet) fault. There are going to be times where our guards are going to get screened. But there has to be communication when the guard can’t get back on the ball and the ball gets deeper to the paint and closer to the basket. You have to break those plays off. And our big needs to rim protect. And our guard needs to take the big. We didn’t do any of that.”
We know the Bulls don’t have good perimeter defenders, especially in the starting lineup. Even the potential of Patrick Williams there is more theory than practice at this point.
But I don’t see that changing: the Bulls front office, through inaction and scant few words to the fanbase, are not committed to ‘goals’ yet and instead want that evaluation.
But the frontcourt can be adjusted, and needs to with so many options suddenly available. Pretty shockingly, Carter finished the game with only 15 minutes played. It sure doesn’t look like he or Lauri are afforded the same leeway as Williams or Coby White.
I don’t think the answer is to trade for and start Andre Drummond. But some moves (please....please...something) either at the deadline or in the buyout market afterwards could provide a less is more scenario for Donovan: get a reliable backup center to both push Carter and, well, back him up when he falters like in this game last night. I think the team knows what they have with the rest of these guys, or at least they should.