The new-look, franchise-actually-trying-for-once Chicago Bulls had an awful debut on Saturday night. It may have been the most anticipated game in 5 years (every post-Thibs plan was half-assed, so why should fans give a full ass of care?) but it was a quick thud, down 30 in the first half after the Spurs went on an 18-0 run.
A common refrain in these parts (I was so amped, I actually participated in the game thread!) was that the team just needed practice and we should have expected such a disjointed performance. This is likely fair: this entire second part of the schedule is so grueling the Bulls really won’t have much time for a full practice, but they can at least do some film and shootaround stuff in preparation for tonight. And as nearly an entire half of gameplay was glorified practice time (the Bulls did get the deficit to 9, but it was silly session) Billy Donovan has some tape to chew.
Debut of the Vooch
Let’s get the good stuff out there first. Vucevic looked solid in his debut. He only had 4 points on 4 shots in the first half, but gobbled up some buckets in the 2nd to finish with 21, reportedly asking Donovan to play in the 4th quarter just to get some acclimation time with his new team.
His first bucket was so indicative of his skills upgrade at the position it could’ve been scripted.
First set of the game for Vucevic. Can run action around him and then get it to LaVine after. You see the spacing, has plenty of room to operate with and scores. pic.twitter.com/Nmn7ovbvHu— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 28, 2021
We also saw how he can help teammates with his gravity and passing ability.
Vucevic with a dribble handoff here and you see the value. LaVine coming off, goes to the other side with Patrick Williams. Defense slides under, big stays with Vucevic popping, good drive by Williams to finish. pic.twitter.com/MZw1R3t2wJ— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 28, 2021
Lauri needs to be benched
I feel it’s just a very coach-y thing to not make the obvious move and thus look like you’re coaching. So it wasn’t surprising when Donovan warned us all via KC Johnson pre-game that he was gonna do the obviously incorrect thing and start Lauri Markkanen alongside Vucevic. But fret not, it’s all ‘fluid’. Also, Daniel Theis wasn’t available to play and that somehow makes a difference in this decision?
We all can clearly see why starting a poor-man’s Vucevic next to Vooch himself is a defensive problem. And it’s not like the organization should care about Lauri’s standing in the franchise going forward or his confidence or whatever. Plus it’s not even like he’s been playing well lately to ride any momentum: after Saturday night in Lauri’s last 9 games (so, being petty and throwing out his flamethrower-game return from injury) he’s at 40% overall and sub-30% from three.
Markkanen is just a big lumbering guy, and putting him alongside another one is poison to a defense. The Spurs went small, and either put Lauri in screen actions or were able to run and take advantage of the Bulls not matching up defensively.
This is why the Markkanen-Vucevic pairing isn't going to work.— Mark K (@mkhoops) March 28, 2021
Vucevic can only guard 5s, which means Markkanen has to guard 4s.
Smart teams are going to force the Bulls to switch -- like the Spurs do here -- and it's going to leak points for days. pic.twitter.com/GRgRtc8Pgl
We’ll see what Donovan does tonight here. It may work itself out as Markkanen was added to the injury report with a calf strain.
Play Troy Brown
Another ancillary benefit to the Bulls actually trying to win is that we can hammer the head coach for rotation decisions!
On Saturday, newly acquired Troy Brown Jr. was the 11th man to play. He was behind fellow new-Bull Al-Farouq Aminu, Garrett Temple, and Denzel Valentine. The Valentine decision was especially egregious and cost them: in 5 minutes he was a -9 and shot 1-5 (so, yes, he had more first half shots than Vucevic). Valentine’s hot start suggesting a Denzel-aissance is long over. He sucks again, it’s not Boylen’s fault, it’s not worth figuring out.
Thankfully, Donovan seemed to realize this at halftime, where Denzel didn’t play and Brown had 13 and a half minutes to close out the game. I’m not going to post his highlights and analyze much as it was garbage time, but he looked capable. It shouldn’t matter how he played: he’s someone there should be a commitment to developing, and at worst can at least defend on the ball which the team sorely needs.
Follow through on the end of the roster
With the deadline over it’s now buyout season. So even more players are in the free agent pool that are better than Cristiano Felicio and Ryan Arcidiacono. Likely better than Denzel too. It only costs money for the rest of this season, not really an excuse not to look for an upgrade. It’s only be emergency minutes, but emergencies are more likely this year than others.