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Can Billy Donovan teach the old guard new tricks?
a training camp tale as old as time
I somewhat botched the opportunity of the dead part of the NBA calendar to set expectations for in-season site coverage. But I shouldn’t need to give warning that a Sunday afternoon preseason game wouldn’t necessitate anything urgent.
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Especially after learning that the Bulls’ preseason opening opponent was resting nearly all their good players. And from what I could tell, their remaining star Brook Lopez had his routine domination of Vucevic.
But though the Bulls official social media trolled us pregame with a reminder that this is the same old team, we had a week of stories from Camp Cohesion suggesting that this would be different. They’d play faster, share the ball more, shoot more threes, young players with more opportunity…you may recall this as the kind of thing every team says every year. And what the Bulls themselves said last year. Though in most cases a team pushing this at least has plausible optimism for change due to meaningful personnel additions, versus this year’s Bulls big change being…hiring a shooting coach and eating meals together.
But those covering the team in attendance couldn’t help themselves, maybe as their way of professionally coping:
Long-term pronouncements aside, it was good to see some on-court examples of a dedication to playing faster. Coby White started at point guard and had a very good performance, which yes included pushing in transition with the ball, and a quick trigger from distance on the break:
This is good, and follows through on what Billy Donovan was saying in camp. Surely I’m not convinced, as Donovan is a “players coach” who doesn’t actually try to implement things, but seeing it in preseason against the Bucks B-squad is better than not.
There’s been a lot of diagnosis in the Bulls offense going all the way to 24th last season, in spite of their best players being offensive-minded, healthy, and shooting the ball very well. And it’s not that complicated, the biggest issue is shot quality and frequency: Bulls offense was actually 9th when just looking at half-court plays (via). The stated goal is to get up more threes in transition and as a result of kickouts after drives to the rim.
I haven’t thought much about the big PG ‘battle’ in camp, initially thinking the decisionmakers didn’t even put forth the best choice - Alex Caruso, if only so I can stop hearing how underrated he is - but “more Coby White” could be the kind of personnel change that may make a difference.
We know enough not to be fooled by preseason. If it means White wins the starting job, that’s progress. And the additions of Carter, Craig, and Patrick Williams taking a magic confidence enhancer (unconfirmed reports of another “record-scratch” passed opportunity in this game) may help on the margins. But then we’ll still have to see a commitment from the Mid 3, even after some if doesn’t work initially in the regular season: LaVine upping his three point attempts significantly, DeRozan maybe 2 more out of the corner per game and more willingness for his midrange to be a failsafe versus first option, and Vuc to get out of the way (OK, Billy can throw Vuc a bone of leading the 2nd unit).