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Bulls vs. Thunder takeaways: different process, same result
is it bad to have a players-only meeting after game one?
I’d imagine that to Bulls management, the worst part of the Bulls opening-night faceplant against the Thunder was it didn’t even meet their lame standards. This was not even a “competitive, tough out” at home. They were blown out, down 20+ with several minutes to go and the Chicago crowd remaining saw Billy Donovan deploy a white flag lineup.
But to more rational observers, maybe the worst part is that there were actually kind of some good things going on here, some different things than the previous 1.5 seasons, and they still got blown out?
The Bulls attempted 42 three-pointers versus OKC on opening night, and that matched their season high from all of last season. Defensively, they continued their pattern of giving up way too many threes, as the Thunder attempted 39.
The clear difference in a make-or-miss league: removing garbage time, the Thunder made 18 of them (at a 50% rate), Bulls just 10 (26.3%).
The quality of those attempts was indeed something to consider. I liked that Zach LaVine had 9, but way too many were off of his own dribble. I thought LaVine had a particularly poor game outside of the few times he simply barreled into the lane to bait fouls (one going against him after a coach’s challenge). Coby White was next on the attempts leaderboard with 7, though a couple were of the hot-potato end of procession variety.
This was maybe the best example of a Coby-led offense, getting Zach a (gasp) catch-and-shoot opportunity. This was great!
I thought overall Coby White played well. His defense wasn’t very good, and he picked up two early fouls (Bulls in general fouled way too much). But he hoisted up shots, was aggressive going in the lane, and overall applied a pressure to the defense beyond what the Mid 3 does.
Or I should say: what the Mid 3 typically do. In this game they did not play well. Already mentioned Zach, DeRozan was fine but unspectacular (3 three-point attempts, that’s good!). Vuc was outright bad, though that should be expected from the 14th-18th best starting center in the league.
Speaking of Jokic-in-his-own-mind, if there’s one thing I was pleased about it was that while the offense did attempt to implement pledged changes from the preseason like the added three-point attempts, offensive rebounding, and drawing fouls, they certainly did NOT follow through on the “try and play through Vuc” concept championed by Vuc himself.
Now, another pledge was that they’d look to move the ball and push the pace more. That is what every team says, but harder to actually do. In this game it was done by the much younger squad from OKC.
And they were led by the best player on the court, 25-year-old Shai Gilgous-Alexander. The Bulls had nobody who could take the assignment to stop SGA, starting a more offensively-geared lineup and then even Alex Caruso was made to look slow in comparison.
SGA had 31 points, and just a single turnover to 10 assists, many of which generated open three-point looks:
The Bulls were able to stay close in the first half mostly to some non-SGA lineups for the Thunder stinking up the joint while the Bulls bench also stunk up the joint but were gobbling up offensive boards. Andre Drummond was a +8 in 7 hilariously-Drummond minutes, and the team in the first half had a 35.7% offensive rebound rate.
But then in the second half down a manageable 86-78, Donovan went with DeRozan and 3 defense-first players (and Drummond, who’s nothing-first) and it was a disaster. SGA stayed in to keep his team humming into the 4th quarter, then after he sat the Thunder opened that final period with 3 three-pointers from the same bench guys who stunk in the first half. Donovan did a four-man substitution of his starters back in with 8:48 remaining, at which point they were down 104-86.
So the bench didn’t hold serve, but again showed some good things. The new additions of Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter were not shy shooting the three (neither was Caruso) and were active defensively and on the boards. But the results simply weren’t there, and Donovan really needs to avoid these defense-first lineups even if they include DeRozan, because a single offensive threat will not work in 2023 like it hasn’t the past few years.
Could that additional bench lineup threat be Vucevic? I guess, maybe having him play with the 2nd unit more would satisfy his delusions of grandeur. Vuc had a size advantage against the OKC frontcourt but couldn’t do much with it. Yes, some of that was due to poor guard play not getting him the ball, but that’s the problem with featuring a slow post player in an offense!
And don’t believe that Vuc didn’t have opportunities to take more shots. It looked like the problem was they weren’t the kind of shots he wanted to take.
See above, where Coby White is pantomiming what Vuc should do…shoot the damn ball.
White did that again later, complaining to Donovan mid-play that Vuc was passing up open three-point looks:
And the craziest part about it was that Vuc was the one who got upset, confronting Donovan in the 3rd quarter in such a way that even KC Johnson remarked upon it from courtside. Then, though Donovan kind of downplayed it post-game, Vuc kept going in the locker room about how there needs to be more Vuc.
This frickin’ guy…
And then you have LaVine saying they didn’t play with heart. And, oh yeah, Donovan was shooed out of the locker room for a players-only meeting…
After the first game?!?! This isn’t normal, and it’s much worse coming from Team Continuity after Camp Cohesion!
If this festers, it’s exactly what was feared heading into this season’s tough early start. A time where the Bulls were to have a preparedness advantage over their more chaotic (AK’s word for teams that acquire good players) opponents.
Donovan maintained, and pretty convincingly if I’m being honest, that the post-game locker room dynamic wasn’t anything that bad. And potentially even a good sign if it shows a team more willing to fight for their season than last year. But if the players see the result in this game and quickly scrap the planned changes on offense, it’s a season disaster from night one.