Is this 2022-23 Chicago Bulls season already over, just 29 games into the proceedings?
The Bulls looked absolutely miserable tonight while letting the Minnesota Timberwolves get whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted during a 150-126 drubbing, Minnesota’s highest-scoring game of their season. With the loss, Chicago falls to an 11-18 record on the year and suddenly finds itself hovering around Orlando Magic territory in the loss column (Wendell Carter and company are 11-20).
Did I mention the Timberwolves did all this without the services of their All-Star starting frontcourt?
Like the New York Knicks before them, the Minnesota Timberwolves got to look like the Golden State Warriors from deep tonight thanks to some ineffective Bulls defense on the perimeter. Also, you know, everywhere else.
It was a game of runs in the first quarter. The Bulls got out to a 16-10 start, then the Timberwolves went on an 18-4 tear, followed by a 14-4 run by Chicago to close out the frame. The Bulls headed into the second period leading by a possession, 34-32. Eight Bulls players chipped in for a balanced scoring attack.
The only element of the team that really represents some long-term hope might be third-year power forward Patrick Williams, who reminded fans that yes, he can get up when he feels like it with this emphatic dunk:
The Paw got the starting four gig with sometime-starter Javonte Green out again as he struggles with a sore right knee.
Maximum-salaried non-All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine led the way for Chicago in the first quarter with eight points and two dimes, while overpriced non-All-Star center Nikola Vucevic contributed six points, three boards and two steals.
Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell and Bulls small forward DeMar DeRozan accounted for a lot of their respective clubs’ offense in the second quarter. Russell, a good three-point shooter, went wild from deep tonight, starting in this period. DDR, a bad three-point shooter, did lots of his damage from the midrange and around the rack. Accordingly, Chicago quickly fell behind.
Russell was particularly lethal, eventually getting off to full heat-check status.
Chicago’s help defense around the paint looked fairly atrocious tonight, even with the Timberwolves missing both Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns (LaVine and Williams were particularly bad in this regard). The Bulls couldn’t even stop little-used third-year Minny big man Nathan Knight, who got whatever he wanted inside on pick-and-roll actions during the quarter.
NATE WENT FLYING pic.twitter.com/qcQl9rJgj5— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 19, 2022
NATE CAME BACK FOR MORE— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 19, 2022
I predicted that a then-questionable Gobert would attack the rim without mercy. I didn’t really expect some rando to do it, too.
The two sides played relatively even basketball through the first few minutes of the second quarter. Minnesota then went on a 17-6 run, before DeRozan almost singlehandedly chipped away at the Timberwolves’ advantage. Minnesota led by a more marginal 71-65 entering the half.
Though the Bulls shot fairly well through the game’s first two frames (25-of-44 from the field, including 8-of-19 from three), the Wolves shot way more efficiently (26-of-41 from the field, including 12-of-21 from deep), led by the Herculean efforts of Russell.
At the break, Russell led all scorers with 20 points — 14 in the second quarter alone — on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor (6-of-7 from beyond the arc), and chipped in six assists to boot. For the Bulls, DeRozan shot 7-of-10 from the floor in the first half (including 2-of-3 from three!) for 16 points, pulled down four boards, served up two dimes and swiped a steal for good measure. LaVine (12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor and 3-of-4 shooting from the charity stripe) and Vucevic (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, five rebounds) were the only other Bulls in double figures through two quarters.
Minnesota wasted little time in the game’s third quarter trying to shake Chicago’s best player off his game. Accordingly, the Wolves knocked DDR around with a series of hard fouls beneath the basket.
Anthony Edwards nabbed a buzzer-beating trey by picking off an inbounds Goran Dragic pass attempt to pour some salt on the open wound that was this third quarter:
ARE YOU KIDDING ANT!??!? pic.twitter.com/MOO3y2yZJk— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 19, 2022
At the end of the period, the Wolves led comfortably, 113-97, thanks to a 42-32 advantage. That 113-point sum through three periods represents a season-high for Minnesota, thanks to just some terrible, disengaged Bulls defense.
Look at total lack of effort here:
Backdoor cuts in particular were hurting the Bulls all night, something that apparently Billy Donovan didn’t consider important enough to adjust for coming out of the half:
Another bungled defensive possession.— Mark K (@mkhoops) December 19, 2022
Bulls in zone, Zach is out of position, puts defense in rotation, Pat gets backcut and Vooch ends up on the poster.
Nothing working right now. pic.twitter.com/o0iP0g9rme
Though Chicago kicked off the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run to shrink the Wolves’ lead to within single digits (115-106), I never for one second thought this Bulls team could close this game out, as the Timberwolves seemed liable to get hot from deep at any time.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Minnesota would go on to outscore Chicago 35-20 the rest of the way, accounting for a slight majority of that final burst of offense through six triples. Even Austin Rivers got in on the fun at the Bulls’ expense, off some crisp ball movement:
Anthony Edwards, who enjoyed a particularly strong second half, put the finishing touches on an absolute offensive clinic:
The game got comically out-of-hand by the time the Timberwolves ran out to a 139-121 advantage with 2:13 left in regulation. Billy Donovan finally, mercifully waved the white flag at that point, and we got “treated” to our second straight garbage time Tony Bradley appearance.
For the game, the Timberwolves shot a sparkling 65.5% from the field (including going 23-of-43 from deep!), including 53.5% from long range (23-of-43). Chicago shot a decent 46-of-88 from the floor (52.3%) and 16-of-38 from long range (16-of-38). That disparity in made treys accounts for a 21-point Minny swing. The Bulls’ terrible defensive miscommunication throughout the evening was absolutely bewildering. Minnesota outworked Chicago in almost every aspect of the game, from points in the paint (62-48) to fastbreak scoring (13-2) to bench scoring (58-34).
Edwards finished with 37 points on 13-of-25 shooting from the floor (4-of-11 from deep) and 7-of-7 shooting from the line. He also had 11 assists, seven rebounds and two steals. D’Angelo Russell had 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting and eight assists. He registered an absurd +33 on the night.
I don’t really care about what the Bulls’ counting stats might look like on a postgame box score (respectable for the “Big Three,” decent for Derrick Jones Jr., Williams and Coby White, trash for everyone else). They didn’t exactly contribute to a winning effort. Meanwhile, and far more importantly, the team’s defense has become so awful that it kind of eclipses anything else.
There’s been lots of talk lately about whether or not the Bulls should offload key pieces (DeRozan, Alex Caruso, Vucevic) to tank, despite having roughly a 50/50 chance of surrendering their lottery pick to the Orlando Magic. I’ve been skeptical they’d actually do that because it seems like that flurry of moves in 2021 just sapped a lot of energy from our front office brain trust of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, and apparently the poor little babies are just too exhausted to ever do much more than overpay washed-up bench centers ever again (Andre Drummond was a healthy scratch tonight, in case you’re wondering how that’s going).
Whether or not they make any meaningful transactions at all, one thing seems to be pretty clear: this Bulls team without Lonzo Ball might just be really bad. It turns out that not shooting many threes and fielding just one healthy plus-defender is not a recipe for massive regular season success. Shocker.