One game into your Chicago Bulls’ 2022-23 season, this writer is reassessing his relatively pessimistic prognosis for their outlook.
Chicago was without starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who will miss at least several months as he recovers from his second knee surgery this year, or All-Star starting shooting guard Zach LaVine, currently being rested with “left knee injury management” (uh-oh).
The shorthanded Bulls were facing off against old pal Jimmy Butler and his Miami Heat on the road in the newly-rechristened FTX Arena. Though Miami is without a true power forward right now (they started 6’5” shooting guard Caleb Martin at the position), the Heat are still coming off a year where they finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and were probably one Butler jumper away from their second NBA Finals appearance in three seasons.
Instead of wilting, the Bulls pulled off the upset, beating Miami 116-108, thanks in large part to the still-incredible shotmaking and passing of All-NBA Chicago swingman DeMar DeRozan, and two of the team’s uninjured point guards. Chicago’s transition play and high-volume three-point shooting were also huge factors in the victory.
Let’s get into the three biggest takeaways of the evening.
DeMar DeRozan roundly outplayed Jimmy Butler
Deebo still looks like the All-NBA stud he was last season, getting into his midrange bag often, especially in the game’s second half, where he scored 28 of his 37 points.
The man seems to specialize in taking and making incredibly tough shots, much like Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler, actually.
Rest your defenders, you can't guard him anyway. pic.twitter.com/DYfdfsTbZs— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) October 20, 2022
HOW CAN YOU DEFEND THAT?
DeRozan ultimately finished with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting from the field (including 2-of-3 from deep!) and 7-of-11 from the charity stripe. He also chipped in nine dimes and six boards, plus two steals and a block for good measure.
He also managed to eke out some of his patented elbow jumpers:
As he embarks on his age-33 season, DeRozan is showing no signs of regression from his career-best 2021-22 regular season run yet.
Is Ayo Dosunmu taking a leap?
Ayo rules. The 6’5” U of I alum has far outplayed his No. 38 2021 draft standing already, but it sure seems like he’s taking next steps in his evolution as a player this season.
Ayo assumed lead guard duties for Chicago. He had a fairly efficient night, scoring 17 points overall on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor. He flashed athletic tenacity and matched up well against the Heat’s guards. The second-year standout was +15 for the night, the second-best mark on the club behind... Nikola Vucevic?
Although he did not shoot well from long range (he went just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc), the fact that he was so willing to take a high volume of triples bodes well for his future, if he can steady his shot and approach the 37.6% from deep he shot as a rookie (on just 2.4 attempts), that could really expand his game and help the Bulls compensate for the absence of Lonzo Ball as a shooter.
Dosunmu was aggressive in seeking out his shot last night, often using his superior size against opponents to his advantage on drives. He got up the second-most field goal attempts among the Bulls roster, behind you-know-who. So how good is he going to be? As a point guard with legitimate shooting guard size, if he can remain assertive in seeking out his own offense (and can nail more threes), he might be in line for quite the pay bump this summer.
Is Goran Dragic less cooked than Kyle Lowry?
Do the Heat miss the point guard who had been the third-best player on their 2020 Finals team in the Orlando “bubble?”
Granted, it’s just one game, but one of AKME’s two semi-washed veteran signings looked pretty darn great tonight off the bench (and at least the other one looked way better than Tristan Thompson).
36-year-old Goran Dragic had a massive first half for Chicago, nailing all four of his triples in the game’s first two quarters.
Part of his hot hand may have been luck, as he forced up this insane heave while trying to draw contact, only to watch the ball actually sink through the net.
Dragic’s activity fell off a in the second half. But all told, there was plenty to like about his contributions in his official Bulls debut. Always known as a transition player, “The Dragon” is an excellent fit on a Bulls club whose personnel thrives downhill. He looked to push the pace plenty last night.
Our fingers are crossed that the good vibes from last night carry over to Chicago’s next contest, against Bradley Beal and the perpetually-meh Washington Wizards.