Trade rumors posts are way more fun than injury update posts, though they are somewhat intertwined: how can the Bulls assess their needs if their top need to not be so injured?
First, the more encouraging news for the Bulls guard corps, concerning likely consecutive All-Star Game participant Zach LaVine. Shams Charania poked his head out of his Reinsdorf-owned office to find out and publish for the Athletic that LaVine may return as soon as Wednesday’s home game against the Raptors. It was already known that LaVine was not a part of this weekend road trip of 3 games in 4 nights in Milwaukee, Orlando, and Oklahoma City, so this is literally the best possible timetable for return.
And it’s critical, as the Bulls received much worse news yesterday concerning Lonzo Ball. It was somewhat under-the-radar but ominous that Ball was not only held out of games due to knee soreness but was headed back to Chicago for a second opinion. Unfortunately the reporting surrounding Ball’s left knee got worse and worse until the team officially announced surgery with a timetable of recovery being 6-8 weeks.
We have to think of this not just in terms of immediate impact but the context of Lonzo’s career. The injury is reportedly to the meniscus, identical to an injury he had addressed in the summer of 2018. This surgery has a lot of variance in outcomes depending on where and how much of what is repaired or removed, and has increased risk of future injury.
But the 6-8 week prognosis at least means that Ball should be able to return in early to mid March, missing something like 20-25 games but still well in time for the postseason.
Thankfully, especially considering that LaVine will not be having surgery and may return as soon as next week, the Bulls do have some depth to absorb this critical loss.
Alex Caruso returned two nights ago and was, as expected, an impact in their big win over the quite good Cavaliers. Even on a playing time restriction of 23 minutes and fourth off the bench in that game, Caruso was a +18.
There was a four-possession sequence in that third quarter in which Alex Caruso buried a corner 3, drew an offensive foul on Jarrett Allen fighting through a screen, drove for a layup, then forced a travel on Kevin Love by pulling chair out in the post— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) January 20, 2022
The Bulls should start Caruso for this Lonzo absence, as he is their best ‘point guard’ (Bulls don’t really have any in the pure sense) and can match up defensively against opposing starters.
And the Bulls have quality backups at the guard position now due to the development of Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. Over the last three games where they started together:
Dosunmu is averaging 18 points, eight assists, 5.7 rebounds, two steals and just two turnovers in 39 minutes per game over his three starts. This is while shooting an impressive, but unsustainable, 76.7 percent and 7-for-10 on 3s.
White is at 17 points, 4.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and just one turnover in 36.3 minutes per game over the same stretch.
In all the talk earlier in the year of whether one was replacing the other, in the wake of so many injuries it has been awesome to see them both thriving with complimentary skills. White is shooting more freely and attacking closeouts with (/Stacey King voice) confidence, and Ayo is the defensive standout and pushes transition opportunities.
[I will pause to say this doesn’t mean neither should be traded, with White being the obvious one out given his contract: when everyone’s healthy, we’re talking about a 5th guard getting potentially a starting forward in return.]
Lonzo Ball will still be missed. His defensive ability is higher and more versatile than Dosunmu, and his 3-point volume is higher than White, and needless to say you can’t have both melded into one player to replace Lonzo’s minutes. For scoring balance, I’d put Coby out there with Caruso in the starting lineup: Lonzo was at 10.5 3-point attempts per100 possessions, and Coby is at 9.7 whereas Caruso and Dosunmu are half that rate. When LaVine is back next week have them come out as a bench pair with DeMar DeRozan for the non-LaVine minutes.
So this news is bad, but it could be much much worse. We could be talking about the Bulls current forward rotation.