Your surprisingly deep Chicago Bulls will get a chance to build on a pretty great win (third quarter hiccup notwithstanding) against the Indiana Pacers Wednesday with another tanking team, the San Antonio Spurs, tonight at their soon-to-be-rechristened arena.
San Antonio is off to a better-than-intended 3-2 start this season, identical to Chicago’s record, but the Spurs are hardly trying to win, and lack the depth or experience of this chippy Chicago roster.
Gregg Popovich’s club will be without one of its two top scorers tonight, 6’5” starting shooting guard Devin Vassell, who has been sitting since Wednesday with a sore left knee. Vassell is averaging 19.8 points on .409/.394/.750 shooting splits, to go along with five rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals. Journeyman Josh Richardson replaced Vassell Wednesday in the starting lineup for a 132-124 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and seems likely to be the choice again tonight. San Antonio’s “best” player, 23-year-old small forward Keldon Johnson, will be leaned on even more to generate offense tonight. He’s been pretty great at doing that thus far this season, averaging 21.8 points with a .449/.400/684 slash line, plus 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.2 steals a night.
The nice thing about this game is that the Bulls will have an opportunity to check out some intriguing pieces that, should San Antonio still manage to cobble together wins this fall, will very likely be floated as trade possibilities so that the Spurs can fully engage in their Tank-O-Rama For Wembanyama. A fun backup big man option (sorry Andre): starting center Jakob Poeltl, a solid two-way player earning a very reasonable $9.4 million this year on an expiring deal, is averaging a robust 14.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists this season. Old pal Doug McDermott is now the team’s highest-paid player, making $13.8 million. Probably a bit too pricey for the Bulls’ tastes, considering he’s a one-way guy.
Chicago looks to be mostly healthy heading into the bout, outside of, you know, its very well-compensated starting backcourt (more on that in a sec). But DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, and Nikola Vucevic have been absolutely electric to start the season. DeRozan is hoping to become just the 54th NBA player ever to score 20,000 points or more tonight, and needs just nine points to get there. For a guy who’s averaging 24.8 points a night and will be facing off against his old team, this seems like a pretty sure thing.
Even though Contract Year Vooch has not been converting his triples at the rate we’d like (he’s stumbled to a 28.6% mark on 4.2 looks), his aggressive rebounding and above-average facilitating for a big have proven to be clutch so far. Starting power forward Patrick Williams had his first decent output of the season against the Pacers, getting into double-digit scoring and dishing out assists for the first time this year! Granted, those are low bars to clear, and swarming 6’4” dunk machine Javonte Green is probably the better player at present, but head coach Billy Donovan is clearly hoping to develop the kid.
This writer has to concede that AKME’s very minimal offseason moves have been shockingly effective thus far, as ex-All-Star reserves Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond have flashed an exciting two-man game together, and both have played pretty well within their expected roles. Dragic has been so good as a downhill option, passer and shooter that he’s made the shooting of Coby White more or less expendable once again, while Drummond is almost gobbling up double-digit rebounds in limited minutes (he’s averaging 9.4 boards across just 15.6 minutes!) and has, for now, curbed the days of Derrick Jones Jr. at center thanks to his basic competence at the position.
The Bulls seem to have really stumbled into something cool with their Zach + bench lineup (Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Andre Drummond) they’ve been trotting out in second quarters lately — unfortunately, they may have to revise that rotation tonight, with LaVine looking very possibly like he will be sat for the first night of a back-to-back.
With Zach possibly sidelined, Donovan seems likely to start defensive stalwart Alex Caruso, who once again looks like he did to start the 2021-22 season, at shooting guard next to Dosunmu.
The Spurs want to lose this game, despite their best efforts to be decent this season. The Bulls are doing their darnedest to win. Chicago has an opportunity to pick up two straight victories tonight in San Antonio and tomorrow against the miserable 1-4 Philadelphia 76ers at home, although Joel Embiid does always manage to give Nikola Vucevic fits.
Zach LaVine is questionable due to “left knee management” tonight.
On the Spurs side, Devin Vassell (sore left knee) and Josh Primo (sore left glute) are both sitting tonight.
7:30 p.m. Central, NBC Sports Chicago.
The Bulls are -5 favorites tonight. The two teams’ combined scoring total is set at 230.5 (via the Action Network).