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Bulls vs. Kings takeaways: a legendary DeMar run, other starters step up, defensive struggles

a look back at the last game of the first half

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Your Chicago Bulls head into the All-Star break riding high on a five-game winning streak. Granted, that tally comes mostly against pretty beatable opponents, but considering how many Bulls have missed some or all of those contests, that’s actually still a pretty darn impressive feat.

Here are some takeaways from the Bulls’ 125-118 win against the visiting Sacramento Kings last night:

DeMar DeRozan, Midrange Maestro

DeRozan took 26 of his 27 field goal attempts from within the three-point arc (per NBA.com’s shot chart), and 15 of those 26 looks were long jumpers. He nailed his lone long-range take, and also went 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. For a lot of NBA players, of course, this would be a fairly inefficient shot diet, beyond the charity stripe attempts. But not for DeRozan, who as of this writing leads the entire NBA in total points scored (1547 and counting), total field goals made, total two-pointers made, and total two-point field goal attempts.

Through 55 games DeRozan is averaging 28.1 points on .517/.343/.866 shooting splits, along with 5.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 0.9 steals per night. He is connecting on 53.5% of his two-point takes. Per StatMuse, DeRozan’s 259 total made midrange shots this year currently paces the NBA this year:

Last night, DeRozan cemented an all-time NBA scoring record. In notching 38 points on 59.3% field goal shooting, DeRozan established an historic new benchmark in offensive efficiency. He became the first player ever to score 35 or more points on 50% or better shooting from the floor, across seven consecutive contests, in the entire 75-year history of the NBA! He smashed through a previous record of six games, established by Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain, who last played in an NBA game 49 years ago.

What DeRozan is achieving right now is completely insane. He was faking his Kings defenders out of their sneakers last night, as is his won't, through a variety of fakes, crossovers, and impossible-to-guard pull-up step-back makes. DeRozan’s all-time midrange mastery has even caught the attention of injured Nets superstar scorer Kevin Durant.

Per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago, DeRozan is averaging bonkers numbers in this unprecedented run. The 6’6” vet is averaging 38.6 points on 60.7% shooting from the floor and 86.2% from the free-throw line, in 9.2 charity stripe looks a night. He is also averaging 5.7 boards and 5.6 dimes a night. The guy is just on another plane right now, and the NBA has take notice.

Here’s an illustrative example of how hot DeRozan has been from last night. Freed up by screens from Coby White and Nikola Vucevic, DeRozan has time to get inside the paint, evade four Kings defenders before they have time to cut him off, and switch hands mid-air for a sick lay-in:

The dude was on fire, to the point that Kings players were trying to seal him off with double-teams for inbounds passes late in the game.

Other Starters Stepping Up

Chicago’s bench has been thinned out, as reserves have had to take on extra responsibilities heading into the All-Star break. Young guards Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White each played just about 40 minutes last night as starters.

The players who did earn some run off the bench last night — Troy Brown Jr., Derrick Jones Jr., Matt Thomas, and Tony Bradley — combined to score a whopping eight points. Among those four players, only Jones seems likely to actually receive minutes on a fully-healthy Bulls club, assuming Tristan Thompson does indeed join Chicago off the buyout market as expected. Jones and Brown had some solid defense moments.

Among last night’s starters, Coby White and Nikola Vucevic have been fairly consistent scoring options behind DeRozan. Opposing defenses take them seriously as jump-shooting threats, opening up penetrating lanes for DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu and Javonte Green. White scored 31 points last night, a sum that included a scorching-hot 6-of-11 shooting from three-point range. Vucevic did not shoot particularly well from deep last night, but he still muscled his way to a 21-point, 10-rebound night.

Green, not historically a volume three-point shooter, has upped his output to a still-modest 1.5 looks a night, and has nailed 34.9% of them. He went 3-for-4 from three-point land last night. The 28-year-old third-year forward previously averaged 27.3% shooting from deep on 0.7 looks during his 2019-20 rookie season with the Celtics, and 33.3% on 0.7 attempts last year. He scored 15 points, pulled down six rebounds, and had one block in a great all-around hustle effort.

Defensive Struggles Around The Rim

The Bulls had trouble preventing the Kings from getting whatever they wanted around the rim last night. Sacramento converted 26 of its 35 looks from within three feet of the bucket (compared to the Bulls’ still-solid 19-of-32), mostly thanks to the club’s combination of athletic slashers like De’Aaron Fox and bulky bigs like Domantas Sabonis.

Chicago was clearly missing three of its best defenders last night against the Kings, and indeed in every game for its current five-game win streak. Guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, best used in protecting the Bulls at the point of attack, were especially missed. Sacramento guards Fox and Justin Holiday got more or less wherever they wanted against Chicago. Fox went 9-of-11 from within three feet last night and scored a total of 33 points. Holiday did his damage from outside, as all of his field goals made came from beyond the three-point arc. He nabbed a total of 18 points. Sabonis scored 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 9-of-11 shooting around the rim.

Ultimately, the Kings finished the night shooting 51.2% from the field on 82 looks, and the Bulls (50% shooting on 94 attempts) won in a shootout. We know their weaknesses. This part of the schedule was about weathering the storm, and they sure managed to do that.

Will Harrison Barnes Become The Bulls’ Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda 2022 Trade Target?

Harrison Barnes rarely shot the ball. Three of his four made field goals (on just seven attempts) last night were jumpers. But between his shooting and his aggressiveness on offense when he did have the ball, he totaled 17 points on the night, through a combination of efficient shooting and frequent free-throws (he went 7-of-8 from the line). He also chipped in four rebounds, an assist and a steal.

Could AKME have convinced the Kings’ front office brain trust (I use the term loosely) to send them Barnes in exchange for, say, still-hurt second-year power forward Patrick Williams and the expiring undersized forward Derrick Jones Jr.? Given that the Kings appear to be “all in” on, uh, getting bounced out of the play-in tournament this season, it may have been tough to extract Barnes for that asking price. But man oh man, a starting five of Ball, Zach LaVine, DeRozan, Barnes and Vucevic, plus (in this hypothetical) Caruso, White, Green and probable future Bull Tristan Thompson off the bench certainly feels like one of the best rotations in the Eastern Conference. Williams is expected to return in a month or so, but can we realistically expect him to offer much resistance to the power forward behemoths in the East (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, et al.)?

Barnes is an experienced veteran with plenty of two-way ability and legitimate size (6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan) and rebounding skill. Unlike the rumblings recently surrounding another potential Bulls trade deadline target, Jerami Grant, Barnes appears content to defer as a supplemental scorer; the 2015 NBA champ doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, as he showcased last night. He is being wasted on a Kings team that never seems to get out of its own way.