Ugly Ducklings

Here’s a controversial statement. Overall, I am happy with the way the Chicago Bulls have played basketball this season. Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls are bad, and the basketball they have been playing is almost rock-bottom bad, but that is exactly where you want to start in a rebuild, at rock-bottom. The players have struggled, the offense has sputtered, defense and rebounding have been worse than the statistics would lead you to believe, the team is a mess. All the preseason fluff (“culture”) has been stripped away, and what remains is an ugly little reality duckling with a lot of time and growing to do before it becomes a swan.

As I’ve said, the Bulls are bad. The ball movement and good shot taking/making that was present throughout the entire preseason, has devolved into a panicked flurry of wild shots, forced plays and dumb turnovers. As opponents apply regular season defensive pressure to the Bulls “pace and space” offense, it becomes painfully obvious that there is a disparity in player talent level. So how can I be so happy with the way this season has started?

This is an exciting time for the Bulls organization, and for us Bulls fans. It’s a “prove it” year for all involved. Now we will see if players can grow, if coaches can develop players, and if the front office can competently evaluate the talent of players and coaches alike. Encouragingly, a couple of players have already shown some growth.

With every game played Lauri Markkanen solidifies himself as the starting power forward, and as a foundation for the rebuild. He has shown a strong confidence in his abilities and the talent to back up that confidence. He is averaging over 15 points and just under 10 rebounds in three games. A nice way to start your NBA career. There has also been signs of growth on defense. He did an excellent job of staying in front of Kevin Love in last nights game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It wasn’t Markkanen who allowed Kevin Love to put up 20 points last night (I’m looking at you Felicio), but he did struggle while defending Lebron (who wouldn’t?).

Robin Lopez is fun. During training camp he said he had been working on his three point shooting over the summer. Nobody was sure if he was serious or joking because Robin had never made a three pointer in his entire 9 year NBA career. He was serious. After last nights game against the Cavaliers, he is now 2-5, 40%, from beyond the three point arc. I hope he continues shooting (and making) three pointers, it’s a joy to watch.

I’m not sure what to think of Coach Fred Hoiberg. Some of the lineups he has put on the floor over the last three games have me scratching my head. Not all of that is his fault. Injuries have forced Hoiberg to play lineups I’m sure he never dreamed of putting on the court. He is also allowing players to make mistakes, and continue to make mistakes without automatically taking them out of the game. Cristiano Felicio was getting destroyed by the Cavs last night but Hoiberg kept him in the game, didn’t bail him out. If Felicio is going to be the center for this team when Lopez is gone, then he better learn how to defend the pick and roll. Let’s hope Hoiberg uses last nights struggles to help Felicio grow into a better defender.

Cristiano Felicio getting learned by Coach Hoiberg

Jerian Grant has been in similar straits on offense. There have been periods in every game when Grant has struggled to run the offense. Sometimes he dribbles his way into a turnover, other times he throws the ball away on an ill advised pass. He has been inconsistent as a point guard. This is unfortunate, but not the end of the world. It gives Coach Hoiberg yet another opportunity to develop a young players skills…

Kay Felder

The front office ogre known as GarPax has gotten a lot of criticism of late for selling off second round draft picks at the beginning of a rebuild. The criticism is justified, and while it can be fun to poke the ogre (#FireGarPax), I think they deserve some praise for signing Kay Felder. The diminutive point guard is not another Isaiah Thomas (no matter what he says about himself) but he is the best dribbler on the team. While Kris Dunn recovers from his dislocated finger, Felder has aggressively stepped up, and into, the back up point guard position. At 5’9”, his size is a constant obstacle he must overcome, but he is a baller; He fearlessly drives into the lane, he is the only Bull that can create his own shot off the dribble, and while he loves to shoot, he has displayed some fancy passing, averaging 4 assists in 15 minutes per game. He may never be an all-star, but Felder gives the Bulls depth at point guard. He is a good pick up for a rebuilding team with injury troubles. Gar Forman and John Paxson identified a talented player and made a good decision by signing him.

Felder takes a charge from Dwayne Wade

This season will be a true test of development for the entire organization. Players will have to prove they are talented enough to compete with the best in the world. The young guys must grow into their roles, the older guys must consistently produce, leading the team into a brighter future. Coach Hoiberg needs to continue patiently shepherding the team back to relevancy. Players are going to make mistakes, and play sloppy basketball, it’s up to Hoiberg to correct and encourage. GarPax must continue making sound personnel decisions. By finding unrecognized talent other teams have cast off, or by shedding players that are not up to the challenge, they have the power to speed up the rebuilding process. Only three games into the season and some of these necessary actions are already taking place. I am hopeful and happy with how the Chicago Bulls are shaping up. Now if they could only win a game…

Chicago Bulls Regular Season Record: 0-3