Bulls Preseason 2019 Update #1

Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in riveting Preseason 2019 Game 1 action! Photo from Chicagobulls.com

Bulls basketball is back! It felt nice watching the Bulls play some basketball on Monday. In the first game of the 2019 Preseason the Bulls faced off against the Milwaukee Bucks. In preseason the scores don’t really matter that much, the wins and losses don’t matter that much, and the stats don’t matter that much, it’s more about how a team looks, and how it plays together. It’s about building chemistry between teammates and adjusting to the pace of games. So when I inevitably throw a stat, score, or result out there in these posts before the regular season, please take it all with a grain of salt.

A couple of things to keep in mind about this game; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and George Hill did not play for the Bucks. Wendell Carter Jr, Chandler Hutchison, Shaq Harrison, and Luke Kornet did not play for the Bulls, all nursing various minor ailments.

Off the bat, one of the obvious things about this game was the pace both teams played at: it was fast. The Bulls and Bucks scored a combined 234 points in the game, both teams shooting a large number of three pointers (38 for the Bulls, 46 for the Bucks). And it wasn’t as if the two teams weren’t playing defense either, the Bulls forced the Bucks to turn the ball over 25 times, including 15 steals. Not too shabby for a preseason game.

For the Bulls, there were obvious rust and chemistry issues that should work themselves out over time. Coach Jim Boylen did a lot of tinkering with different combinations of players. The Bulls played with a lot of three guard lineups, taking advantage of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Tomas Satoransky’s positional flexibility, using all three of those guys on the wing at different times in the game. Rookies Daniel Gafford and Coby White both played well. Gafford had some nice blocks, a few offensive boards, and several vicious dunks. White, for his part, played competent defense, forcing a couple turnovers, and excelled in transition, getting to the rim with blinding speed and forcing the Bucks to put him on the free throw line.

Other positives from the game, Zach LaVine looked like he picked up where he left off last season, scoring from all three levels, getting to the free throw line, and looking much more comfortable as a distributor. LaVine even made an effort play on the sideline, poking a pass into the crowd that was intended for the Buck’s player he was guarding. He nearly saved the ball back inbounds but he couldn’t quite corral it after his initial poke. Lauri Markkanen went 4-8 from three point land, and like White, pushed the pace in transition. Denzel Valentine had a solid 1st half, hitting a couple big three pointers, but he faded in the 2nd half, leaving several long range bombs short off the front of the rim, no doubt feeling some fatigue after being away from NBA competition for more than a season.

More good things I noticed in the game, Tomas Satoransky made some nice “extra” passes, moving the ball to wide open teammates for good shot opportunities. He and Thaddeus Young both seemed to fit well with whatever combination of players Jim Boylen threw together. Ryan Arcidiacono showed a willingness to take the ball to the rack off of baseline drives, something I’ve never seen from him before. He is usually content to circle under the basket and find a teammate to pass to. Not so on Monday night, Arch took the ball to the hole and finished at the rim, surprising both me and his defender in the process.

A couple of things to worry about, Kris Dunn made some poor decisions with the basketball. He forced up shots in the lane that were easily blocked, and he dribbled himself into trouble along the baseline a couple times. His shot did look better, but the Bucks sagged off Dunn when he was on the perimeter, clogging the lane and making life difficult for LaVine and Markkanen as they tried to drive to the hoop. Coby White might have the yips. He is not hitting his shots, not even his free throws. Maybe it’s just nerves or maybe it’s just trying to adjust to a new level of competition, either way it hasn’t been pretty. I haven’t said anything about Otto Porter Jr yet, and that’s because he was almost invisible throughout the game. He sank a nice baby hook shot while crossing through the lane, but other than that I don’t really remember much of what he did. I’m not really worried about Porter. He’ll be there when it counts.

I had two questions after watching Monday’s game, is Satoransky tired? And what kind of play is that?

Sato played well for his Czech Republic national team in the FIBA World Cup this summer, and I’m wondering if the extra competition will effect his performance this season. He seemed a little out of sync with the pace of the game, and he was definitely slow on some defensive close outs. It could just be growing pains as he comes to know a new team and his roll on it, but it’s worth monitoring as the season begins.

The final play of the 1st quarter elicited my 2nd question. With less than 24 seconds on the game clock Coby White dribbled the ball at half court waiting to run the final play of the quarter. With about 10 seconds left Daniel Gafford set a quick screen for White and rolled to the paint. White used the screen to dribble to his right and fire a pass back to the top of the perimeter where Denzel Valentine, having curled from the left wing, waited to receive the pass. Unfortunately, the play developed slowly and Valentine was unable to create much separation from his defender, forcing him to take a long, contested three point shot which rattled in-and-out as time expired. It was an uninspired play call that did not create a good look for a basket.

Normally, I wouldn’t be too worried about this in preseason, especially when it’s rookies and rusty players trying to execute the play, but we saw far to many poorly designed plays last season for this not to be a big red flag against Jim Boylen and the coaching staff. It’s one thing to motivate a team and get them to play together, it’s another thing to put players in a position to succeed. The play, as it was designed, didn’t create an open look, merely a one-on-one situation for Valentine and his defender. That might work if it’s LaVine or Dunn in Valentine’s position, two players capable of breaking down one-on-one coverage and creating their own shot. Valentine, still covered in a season-and-a-half’s worth of dust, didn’t stand a chance. Boylen needs to do a better job calling plays for the personnel on the floor and the situations they find themselves in.

Next week, we’ll do a quick preseason update and then some BOLD PREDICTIONS! Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!