Good news fellow Bulls fans… They live!

After a dreadful 101-69 beating at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder last Saturday, Coach Fred Hoiberg took his team to task for their lack luster effort. The normally calm coach berated his players, questioning their effort and their heart.

The Bulls responded positively to Hoiberg’s challenge-losing a competitive game to the Miami Heat, surprising the Orlando Magic with a victory, and dragging the New Orleans Pelicans into overtime before Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins beat them.

It is encouraging to see these young players bounce back from such an awful performance. It is also one of the first indications of Coach Hoiberg reaching his young team. After the Thunder loss, Hoiberg switched up the starting line up, sitting a slumping Paul Zipser and starting the energetic and defensively minded David Nwaba. This change seems to have paid off. Nwaba has taken full advantage of the opportunity. His energy has helped spark the starters, he seems to be everywhere on defense and he is constantly moving on offense. He is an unselfish player, and while he struggles with his shot, he can consistently get to the rim. It was a real bummer to see him twist his ankle in last nights loss to the Pelicans. Initial reports have him listed as day to day.

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The Bulls are starting to gel. Guys are becoming more familiar with their teammates tendencies and with the offense. Players are beginning to understand their role on the team and in games. As roles are being defined, the point guard position battle between Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant is heating up.

Kris Dunn returned from his dislocated finger injury this week, jumping right back into the battle for starting point guard where he left off… as the back up. Neither Dunn nor Grant have really been great at the position. Dunn, while explosive off the dribble, is an awful shooter. He also struggles to control the ball, frequently turning it over by mishandling his dribble. Fortunately, Dunn is able to pass the ball to a teammate in the post, something Jerian Grant is incapable of doing.

DunnSox
Baseball anyone? Kris Dunn bringing the heat.

Grant is a decent shooter, with decent handles, but he has a host of other struggles to overcome when playing the point guard position. He does not read defenses well. Grant can’t anticipate when his teammates will find themselves open. He repeatedly fails to get the ball into the post, and he can’t take the defender off the dribble. He seems more suited for the shooting guard position, but he has found himself thrown into a role the Bulls can’t seem to fill. He is just capable enough to fake competency, but so raw at the position as to warrant fans yelling at the TV in frustration.

In my favorite sequence from last nights game, Grant, who had failed numerous times to find Lauri Markkanen posting up a mismatched Pelicans guard, took matters into his own hands. He called Markkanen over to provide a pick which resulted in that sweet 7 footer on 6 foot nothing mismatch in the post. Grant pointed to a spot in the post that he wanted Markkanen to get to so he could pass him the ball. Markkanen obliged, moving to the exact spot and posting against his hapless defender… And Grant didn’t pass him the ball. It was flat out insulting. Markkanen, who had been posting up guards all game without receiving passes from Grant, did everything he could to accommodate his teammate and was left hanging out to dry. Grant not only embarrassed the rookie but he wasted precious time setting up the ineffectual play. The job of a point guard is to get the ball into the hands of the player with an exploitable mismatch, or get the ball into the hands of the best scorer on the team. Grant failed his duty on both fronts by ignoring Markkanen in the post.

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Even Grant can’t understand why he isn’t finding Markkanen in the post.

Grant and Dunn may have deficiencies in their game, but they are young and the Bulls are banking on one or the other of these two improving and overcoming their faults. One thing is for certain, both Grant and Dunn have benefited from competing with each other. With the return of Dunn to the line up, Grant has picked up his game and made a concerted effort to hold onto the starting position. Grant has been very protective of the ball, limiting his turnovers and keeping the offense moving. For his part, Dunn has come off the bench and given the second unit an energy boost. His defense has led to quick transition points and he better understands nuances of the offense that seem lost on Grant. As this season moves along, it will be interesting to see if both of these players can continue to use the competition for the starting role as a means to improve, or if they will take a page out of the Mirotic/Portis saga and eat each others tails.

So the Bulls have picked themselves up, dusted off a horrendous performance against the Thunder, and fought tooth and nail against each team they have faced since that awful game. Coach Hoiberg has made his voice heard, and the team responded with positive effort. David Nwaba has risen to the challenge of being a starter, bringing defense and energy to the 1st line. Kris Dunn has returned from injury, pushing Jerian Grant for the starting point guard position. Both players have room to grow and the rest of the season prove themselves. It has been an exciting week for our favorite team, but next week could be even more interesting… Here’s Bobby!

Portis

Chicago Bulls Regular Season Record: 2-6