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If there is any internal pressure to win games, Billy Donovan sure isn't coaching like it
we all know long-term this team is boned, so gotta use your short-term bullets now
Thursday night the Bulls lost by a one-point margin in overtime to the Phoenix Suns. It was an entertaining game, but realistically shouldn’t be identified as a “good loss”, as analyst Will Perdue intimated post-game.
Though Phoenix should be a contender for the championship in May and June, the Bulls were actually betting favorites for this matchup, as the Suns were missing their best (or next-best, at worst) player in Devin Booker. Their third-best player, Bradley Beal, was playing his first game of the season, on a minutes restriction. Beal is more like Bradley Bum IMO and he didn’t perform too well in his 23 minutes, but it showed how much better he still is than the minimum guys littering their roster as the team was +16 with Beal on the court.
Looking at pure results, the Bulls have squandered opportunity with their 3-6 start. This was with a pretty easy early schedule, with them having a supposed advantage of Team Continuity and Camp Cohesion, plus being healthier than their opponents. The Bulls haven’t had an absence from anyone in the top 9 of their rotation all season, while facing the Suns without Booker, the Mavericks without Irving, Denver with Murray leaving early, and the Nets without two starters.
Those advantages continue after 3 days rest and facing only two truly tough matchups over the next two weeks (at MIL, at OKC) and a more even-ish two games against the Heat being at home and with no Tyler Herro for Miami.
Now, we all know that as a franchise the Bulls are going nowhere, and the ultimate best result for this season is for management to realize that and start trading.
But we also know they’re slow to learn: if the Bulls instead want to even achieve their meager goals of play-in contention, they need to win more games, and soon.
And Billy Donovan needs to coach like that’s the goal. An actually-urgent one.
just start Alex Caruso already
Caruso was the star of the game last night, as the Bulls pretty hilariously went in a 15 point hole before he entered the game and his minutes were a +24. Caruso had 19 points (4-5 from three) and performed heroically in slowing down Kevin Durant, as old friend Steph Noh just gave away for free on some old app we all used to use:
I find the Caruso experience kinda unseemly, a defensive equivalent to free throw grifting by star scorers. But aesthetics aside, you can’t deny its effectiveness, and Caruso has achieved a level of referee “respect” that someone like James Harden gets on offense.
To be sure, if thinking existentially, Caruso’s contributions are wasted on this team. But that’s not Billy Donovan’s concern, he should be trying to squeeze more impact out of Caruso’s minutes, and that needs to be in the starting lineup.
Donovan has been asked about this and essentially reasoned that bringing Caruso off the bench is a better way to manage his minutes so he doesn’t get injured.
This of course makes no sense. Every minute he’s out there is opportunity for him to get injured, and as the head coach he can limit those minutes just as easily starting as off the bench.
I find it incongruent that Caruso received an All-Defensive selection while “not being able” to play more than 25 minutes a game. But accolades and hype aside, he has an impact in that little of time, so better to use with better teammates and against better opponents.
As to who Caruso should replace in the starting lineup, I haven’t really determined the difference between Coby White at PG or Torrey Craig at PF. Maybe do it based off of opponent size.
One thing that shouldn’t be considered though is White’s “confidence” and how a benching would affect that. I do think White deserved to win the starting job and hasn’t played bad enough to get benched. But deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
In crunch time, get the ball out of Zach’s hands and get Vuc out of the way
It was another close game, and another anti-clutch performance from the master of the artform, Zach LaVine:
I wrote at length about this just a few days ago:
So no need to further hammer Zach for being what he is. But Donovan - again he’s the HEAD COACH - needs to be more forceful as to not sink more games this way.
LaVine will make bad decisions with the ball in his hands. But also look at those plays, and others in the close-and-late moments versus The Suns, and see how Nikola Vucevic is only bringing extra defensive attention to the ball.
So it’s not enough to just say “give the ball to DeRozan instead”, as there were bad plays from DDR in that game as well. And actual good plays from LaVine in there too.
The constant was Vuc being in the middle, being in their way.
And these are just the plays where Vuc didn’t touch the ball. In the ten and a half minutes he was part of the closing lineup to end the 4th and then overtime, Vuc took 6 shots, had 2 assists, and a turnover. He scored 7 points and the team was +3. That’s objectively fine production, but he should not be featured this much!
In tight games, Donovan needs to get Vuc to drop his “Vuc first” season campaign, and have him be a floor spacer for DeRozan first then LaVine second. It worked on DeRozan’s game-tying attempt in regulation, though honestly I don’t know why Durant didn’t double off of Vuc.
If Vuc instead insists “we gotta play through Vuc”, Donovan should sit him down the stretch. Vuc may complain, but he’s doing that already.
There are not two timelines, there are zero timelines
I also think, if Vuc continues to be noncompliant, Donovan should try and mix in Patrick Williams as the closing center. We know Williams has no problem deferring, and perhaps his rebounding will improve if nobody else is tall enough to grab any?
It’d also be a way to get him minutes in ways not based on merit, because if in true win-now mode then Williams would be not playing much at all over Caruso, Craig, and Jevon Carter.
And the whole point of this post is that Donovan, if he wants to win games, needs to reduce the roles of all their young players. Because they are worse than the veterans. Again, I’m fine with Coby starting but he doesn’t need to “for Coby’s development”. Same with Williams as a 6th man (since Caruso is a power forward putting Pat 3rd in that depth chart), and Ayo Dosunmu doesn’t have to play at all.
It certainly would’ve been better if they were able to make some kind of leap early in the season and both raise the potential ceiling of their careers and the Bulls playoff chances. But that didn’t happen, and this is all in the context of trying to win games right now.
It’s certainly possible that Donovan has been instructed by management to boost their young players to prove they don’t actually stink at development. And that, actually, management is totally fine with calling Thursday night a “good loss” because even though it was a loss they were a tough out against a contending team at home. AK has stated that already as satisfactory for his team.
But they also have shown that it’s very important to them to have playoff home game revenue at the expense of actually building something sustainably better than average. If they want that, they have to show some urgency and make these changes.
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