Things are not good right now for the Bulls. In any NBA season there gets to be ebbs and flows mostly based on the schedule. Opponents strength, injuries, and rest all play a factor. And early on this season, the Bulls were kinda getting screwed with the frequent back-to-backs, especially for them where those meant Zach LaVine would sit one of the games.
But this past week was supposed to be a bit of a respite. They had a home loss to the Pelicans on November 9th, and just two games since. Ample time to rest, reset, and practice while their opponents didn’t have that luxury. I would assess that in an isolated matchup, the Bulls would lose against the Nuggets at home and the Pelicans on the road. But not only did the Bulls have the rest advantage, they were not close contests.
After the demolition at the hands of Denver, much was made from Billy Donovan and the team when it came to their lack of ‘energy’, especially with all the days off prior to that game. So it looked really bad when after 2 more nights off they lost badly again. It wasn’t like they came out flat, and were pretty even for much of the first half.
I suppose that makes it even worse: this team has structural problems that aren’t going to be solved by what Billy Donovan described as a ‘choice’ to play harder.
The biggest problem with this roster, lack of shooting, isn’t going to be solved anytime soon. Coby White coming back will help a little bit, but not enough given how crowded the guard rotation is. And frankly it won’t be solved even when Lonzo Ball returns, as he’ll just be one dude, and someone who is coming off multiple surgeries and nearly a year away from the court.
After Wednesday night’s loss, I was pretty dismissive of a lineup change having much of an effect, but that was more in regards to the overall roster issues, delivered succinctly by Cody Westerlund and leading with the aforementioned lack of shooting. The others:
2) Far less athletic than foe
3) Got torched off dribble
4) Star players don’t seem to care about closing out on opposing shooters
DeRozan and LaVine, the biggest culprits to the above, aren’t going to be removed from the lineup. And if you thought Vucevic was a problem in the middle, look at the cement shoes Andre Drummond wears when it comes to defending a high pick and roll (let alone losing even more shooting when Vuc sits).
That’s just how this team was built, and not addressed in the offseason. There was a lot of pub given to Will Purdue’s quote post-game saying this team needed a vocal leader, but the Bulls best players don’t have the credibility or history to motivate a defense.
But I do think a lineup change and minutes redistribution can help with the other two positions on the floor.
First order of business is to get Patrick Williams out of the starting lineup. It may be convenient timing if the ankle injury suffered on Wednesday keeps him out of action, but Williams has regressed after a few decent games. He’s back to no longer making an impact on the glass or on defense, and way too deferential offensively. This play below was particularly brutal, where Williams actually grabbed a tough rebound but then immediately didn’t want the ball and looked for the safety of DeRozan.
Granted, Javonte Green is even worse offensively, and is a lot shorter on defense. But he has more athleticism to help on the boards and disrupting opposing offense on the perimeter. And there’s merely a marginal difference between he and Williams when it comes to three point attempts and makes, and perhaps Green will let more fly when all the attention is given to the other 4 players on the court versus his usual lineups.
That brings us to Ayo Dosunmu, who kind of gets overlooked when he’s ineffective given the relative lack of expectations he has versus Williams. Ayo’s first 9 games saw him over 40% from distance albeit on still pretty low volume as a team’s starting point guard. Then the next two games he really cranked up the attempts to decent results going 5 of 15 over those two games. But then that was followed with an 0 of 7 stretch, over three total games.
If not shooting better, then you also get to the other deficiencies of Ayo’s game which include a relative lack of athleticism on the perimeter. I don’t think he’s played poorly enough to get benched, but when 3 of the 5 players in the starting lineup are off limits you have to try things with the less established members of the team.
I think it’s obvious the Bulls should start Alex Caruso. Caruso has been even worse shooting the ball this season, to where Wednesday night’s 3-for-4 mark really stood out. But he can stay low-usage with LaVine/DeRozan/Vuc taking most of the shots, and Caruso gives you everything else the starting lineup lacks, and is a huge reason the Bulls bench units have propped up their defensive metrics all season.
Looking at on/off metrics, Caruso is one of the most valuable players in the league. Time to test if he is the unstoppable positive force versus the immovable negative net rating object that is the LaVine/DDR/Vuc triumvirate. And I just don’t think the Bulls have the luxury of having him be a great 6th man ‘energy guy’ when there is a starting spot available and he’s good enough to take that role. I know there is some motivation from the team to try and preserve Caruso, but that can be done just as easily with starting minutes, and potentially he won’t have to play as recklessly if he’s not coming into every game with his team down double-digits.
The alternative, starting Goran Dragic, probably would break the 36-year-old down. And he is more needed in lineups without the Bulls higher-usage players as he can be a facilitator and pace-pusher with more bench-heavy units. And his defense stinks, so it would be dicey to use him with the other starters.
Again, the biggest problem is the lack of shooting, though while Dragic would be a better choice for that, it wouldn’t improve in that area to make up for the downgrade in others.
The Bulls ‘math problem’ will persist until there is a trade, so in the meantime try and improve in other ways. More rest, and a visit from the injury-depleted Orlando Magic will be a soft test case if Donovan does want to try this. Or they’ll keep it the same, still trounce The Magic, and I suppose we learn nothing.