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What we can expect from the new Chicago Bulls Nikola Vucevic, Daniel Theis, and Troy Brown

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all of a sudden it’s a very good center rotation

Chicago Bulls v Orlando Magic Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

I believe I covered “what it all means, man” yesterday when it came to the Bulls monumental 2021 trade deadline. But relatively less time on how these new acquisitions should work on the court for the rest of this season.

It’s a fortunate coincidence that the Bulls had yesterday and today off. No word yet on if the new Bulls will be in San Antonio for Saturday night’s game against the Spurs, but at least Billy Donovan gets some time to think things through on how he wants to use them.

Vucevic is the headliner of course. And in his age-30 season is having one of the best campaigns of his career. A lot of it is helped by 40% shooting on threes this year, at a gaudy 6.5 attempts per game. It’s been a remarkable rise in volume the past 3 seasons (3.3 3PA per-36 in 2018, rising to 5.2, then now 6.9) while also improving his make percentage. He almost exclusively shoots from above-the-break versus the corners, going from 36.6% -> 32% -> 40% in the past three seasons. Even if this year turns out to be an unsustainably high percentage, the amount of attempts at even close to this level from his position means the threat is always there to spread out an opposing defense.

And remember, he was playing on the Orlando Magic, where there weren’t many other threats and the best one (Evan Fornier, also traded yesterday from Orlando) isn’t close in caliber to Zach LaVine. Friend of the blog Mark Karantzoulis is just giving it away on Twitter dot com:

Vuc can also be seen as a plus passer from the center position, as pointed out by another friend of the blog Stephen Noh:

LaVine has been one of the most blitzed players in the league, mostly because the Bulls didn’t have a good release valve for when teams sent two defenders at him. That has changed a bit with the renaissance in Thad Young’s play, but Vucevic is a super-charged version of what the Bulls can do with Young...Vucevic is also great in the short roll and can make the extra pass to find open teammates.

Vucevic has always been a capable ball mover who won’t hesitate or make too many mistakes, and the Bulls surely needed an upgrade in that facet.

One limitation in Vucevic’s offensive game is he does not get to the line much. And despite all his skills and ways he can enhance an offense, his Magic teams have been in the bottom-ten overall for the past three seasons. Though, again, look who he was playing with.

Where the Magic team structure benefitted Vucevic was on the defensive end. He’s a big, lumbering guy who doesn’t protect the rim very well. But while once seen as a sieve, Vucevic was indisputably the anchor for some top-10 defensive teams in Orlando. As Noh points out, both them and Donovan’s Bulls play in a drop scheme so that should help limit exposure out on the perimeter. Though as I was reminded today on Dunc’d On, it’s possible that improvement in Vucevic’s defensive performance is a lot of the Steve Clifford effect, the Thibs-acolyte who has coached up the Orlando defense.

That brings to mind the new backup center in Daniel Theis, who looks to be overqualified for that role but will not offer much rim protection either. But he should be solid on defense, though undersized he is ‘tough’ in a charge-takey kind of way. He also brings similar, if lesser, capabilities on offense to Vucevic, so it’ll be nice in that the Bulls can play the same way for 48 minutes out of the center position.

So the Bulls are relatively stacked in the frontcourt now (rim protection aside) but may have dropped off a bit at wing. Patrick Williams is going to be asked to do a ton, and though Otto Porter ate his way out of a starting job he was still a capable minutes-filler. Satoransky is now the starting point guard and both Garrett Temple and Denzel Valentine have fallen off after hot starts to the season.

That’s where Troy Brown can hopefully seize a role. Remember, while Theis is the better player acquired in that three-team deal yesterday, he wasn’t involved at first and his movement was more financially motivated anyway. That means Brown was a true targeted acquisition by Karnisovas.

At the very least it’s a good bet, here’s Noh again:

great buy-low candidate that looked like he was getting squeezed out due to factors outside of his control. He had a nice sophomore season and looked like he was breaking out in last year’s bubble but was buried this year by coach Scott Brooks...an interesting prospect that probably should have been playing more in Washington.

Indeed, the Wizards are a good place to look when it comes to this kind of talent. For all we know, Brown is actually better than 2020 lottery pick Deni Avdija, but as we have seen in the Bulls post-Butler rebuild sometimes the higher picks get minutes just because.

At the very least, Brown should be able to hold his own defensively and isn’t so raw or incapable in other areas that he’ll be unplayable. That’s for the rest of this season, he’s still very young and under contract to where it makes sense as a long-term play as well.

If Brown doesn’t seize the role, Al-Farouq Aminu could soak up some wing minutes off the bench. However while Brown is more of a 2/3 wing on defense, Aminu is larger and slower and more of a 3/4 type.

It’s tough to judge Aminu currently as anything more than filler. He parlayed a resurgent season in 2018-19 into a huge contract 2 years ago and unfortunately has had major knee problems ever since. And he was never a good shooter, but in 4 seasons with Portland he was at least > 35% on threes. In his 30-some-odd games in Orlando over 2 seasons he was < 24%.

But he is available and not hurt at the moment, having played in Orlando’s last 16 games. Again, the Bulls are pretty slight in that bench wing spot at the moment, and Aminu is more likely to play than Chandler Hutchison would’ve been. We could also seem some Thad Young at small forward, which isn’t ideal but would address the positional shortage.

Altogether, this ending stretch of the season is a useful referendum on Donovan as an on-court tactician. His team this year has had some outright awful performances, major choking down the stretch of games, and some flailing at lineup combinations. A lot of that could be blamed on the youth on the roster. Now he’s getting what he wished for, and that includes the spotlight to operate under. The Bulls are trying to make the playoffs, so his in-game decisions now matter a lot more.