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These Bulls have too many early problems for a team built with such little margin for error
nobody, outside of perhaps management, is surprised
I’m pretty miffed at the local media for causing me to even see the name “Lonzo Ball” mentioned in post-game coverage of the Bulls dispirited loss to the Pistons on Saturday night. I’ll be even more mad (I’d say: from miffed to cheesed!) if both Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan brought up Lonzo unprompted. Lonzo isn’t coming back, and it was ridiculous at this point last year when he was mentioned let alone this one where the team has even said he’s not returning.
It’s just been three games, and I actually don’t find this woeful 1-2 start to the season necessitating some soul-searching regarding the franchise direction. That was already the case after how AKME handled the aftermath of last season. After the words and actions of the summer, nobody really should’ve considered the Bulls a serious franchise when they were projecting big changes in the offense solely due to their traveling camp week.
(what would’ve been more logical after their tripling-down on the roster and selling us the greatness of the PatBev era: instead say they think the offense is better than it showed last year, was a bit unlucky, and would work better by improving spacing with marginal moves like Craig and Carter. Instead they said things should stay the same but totally change how they play…)
Now don’t get me wrong, they’ve been terrible. I just don’t think the team is as bad as they’ve been through three contests so far. The putrid shooting numbers from all the starters besides LaVine+DeRozan (Jevon Carter dishonorable mention with the 2-10 from three start to the season) will likely improve and make things look a bit better.
But I also was going into this season with the assumption that they weren’t that good in the first place. And more concerning than fans not believing in the front office’s stated season-story (it’s a new team…but with the same players and coach) is that the players also indicating they think this is all bullshit.
You had Vuc ridiculously complaining after game one, there’s backstabbing of Coby White via rumormongers, and now LaVine after his virtuoso solo in Detroit (51 points, 0 assists) was kind of talking similarly:
We’re trying this new thing out to have a complete, cohesive offense with equal opportunity. It’s going to take some figuring out. Preseason looked good. But preseason is preseason. We got a lot of our stuff (earlier) in transition. Throughout the first couple of games, me and DeMar were in the corner a lot. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get involved with more touches.
Billy Donovan also did what he usually does: eloquently and correctly explaining what is going on…though making it seem like he has nothing to do with actually fixing things:
We still lost by double digits. We’ve got to be able to play in a way where it flows. Zach got it going early and it kept us hanging around, but we’ve got to have it sustained where guys keep trusting the pass, trusting each other, trusting the ball movement and trusting guys when they are open.
We should know what’s not going to work, (which is) holding the basketball, not moving the basketball, not playing downhill, not getting to the free throw line, not getting to offensive rebounds. We have to be able to if we want to be the team we are trying to become. There needs to be a unified vision of how you play, there has to be a unified style that for our group gives us the best chance to be successful, and that’s where our focus has to be.
Obviously, and Donovan paid lip service to it earlier in the press conference, LaVine showed some incandescent shotmaking in that game. But Donovan is right in that very little of it was in any offensive flow or involving teammates. One can understand LaVine’s perspective, as nearly all of his teammates have been terrible. But here’s hoping for the team’s sake that he thinks the teammates will improve a bit, not that he has to go back to the old him.
Trying to install a new offense, this team so far is shooting more threes, getting to the paint more, and crashing the offensive glass more. Though a lot of that trend went backwards in Detroit, ultimately putting up a 111.0 offensive rating in that game. Team pace is now back down at the bottom of the league.
There are just so many problems, and it’s a bit goofy to think remarking on any of them precludes focus on “the big problem”. Multiple things can be bad, and with this franchise that’s an understatement.
Thus, while I expect the offense to improve a bit due to some shooting to come around, it’s worth commenting on that the defense gave up a 128.4 ORtg to the Pistons. And the defense is a more entrenched issue because you have Vuc (I, just…friggin’ Vuc…) looking slower than ever, and LaVine looking as disinterested as ever, and that’s likely staying the same or getting worse given their age and history.
Team continuity&cohesion were absolutely worked by the much younger Pistons team on several possessions in this game, both on the glass and just simply not staying in front of guys.
The Bulls, and Donovan, have a track record of good defenses. But more than a bit of that success, at least last season’s number 5 statistical mark, was due to luck. Plus their strategy of selling out for defense at the expense of offense, something they’re trying to balance more this season. Plus that the players, to Donovan’s credit, were playing hard. If this group is already sick of each other, and given up on the coach and front office helping them, it may very quickly fall apart. And it’ll be seen on the defensive end first.
There’s also a problem with the role players. Vuc’s problem is that he thinks he’s much better than a role player, and that’s not changing but hopefully makes little difference outside of being annoying. White and Williams will look better when more shots go in. They’ve been so bad that it’s not only affecting their perceived career trajectory, but it’s making the bench contributions of Caruso and Craig look a lot better then they probably are.
But despite their showing in this first week, I really don’t think it will make a meaningful difference to change the starting lineup now. Maybe they should put in Caruso for Williams for a few games until Caruso gets hurt, but they still would’ve still gotten killed inside in Detroit. (minor side note: why wasn’t Caruso used on Cade Cunningham? Is it that much more useful to have him “free safety” and crash - leading with his face - into rebounding opportunities?).
It also reeks of panic and not believing in your “program” to abandon things after three games.
(I am not saying they should move Williams out of the lineup for Pat’s development. It just isn’t looking like he improved all summer, and the team has stated they do not believe in in-season development at the expense of putting the best win-now lineups out there. Plus, I simply do not understand why people who believe in Pat think he would be better with more responsibility. It’s incorrect logic to think that because of an absence of productivity with less responsibility. Williams never was a prospect who showed much offensive skill, and after three seasons and playing against defenses not worrying about him at all, he’s turning the ball over 14.3% of the time he possesses it and his go-to move is a contested 17-footer.)
So I don’t see much of a strategy move here, especially slow soon in what was supposed to be new strategy heading into the season. I think this just kind of has to correct itself between now and the trade deadline.
Or does it? KC Johnson ruminated post-game on “what’s at stake” with this slow start, with LaVine post-game following up on Vuc’s summer comments about this being the
last dance final faceplant for the Mid Three.
I’m not so sure: why would we think there’s any urgency at all? After seeing their team play terribly for most of last season, AKME instead lauded their tank-time record led by a buyout-market point guard, and also vaguely referenced some good individual games where they still lost but maybe not by a lot (if anything this is under-discussed, simply bizarre talking points). They then, instead of looking for a meaningful change, extended Vucevic at way more money and years than he would’ve gotten anywhere else. They tried to trade LaVine, but didn’t try that hard. They don’t even entertain the idea that a coaching change could help.
There’s no reason to panic, in part because there are no stakes. I’d say, “well, perhaps if they find themselves 7 games under .500 at the deadline….”, but they were that bad last year and AK sat on his hands, told the team to figure it out, and then proclaimed they did because they went 15-10 including their play-in games.
So maybe there is no bottom, thus no reason to grasp at little-hope solutions. Gotta shoot the ball better, and maybe that will at least mask other issues for a bit longer.
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