Zach LaVine takes the ball to the hoop. Photo from chicagobulls.com.

My last post had me hot and bothered after an atrocious Bulls loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a loss that harkened back to the bad old days of last season, when the Bulls were prone to coughing up large leads in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of games. But just like a lot of other demons from the past that have been exorcised this season, even the ‘cough up a huge lead and lose a very winnable game’ demon seems to be on the way out. After back-to-back victories against the Dallas Mavericks (117-101) and Houston Rockets (125-120), it appears Coach Billy Donovan is teaching this young Bulls team how to win, and he’s using the wisdom and experience of my favorite veterans to do so.

Who needs Stallone when you got these guys?

The Expenda-Bulls

I’ve talked about these guys before, Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr, and Garrett Temple, but it can’t be stressed how important the contributions of these three have been to the 6-8 record the Bulls currently flaunt. The Bulls are on pace to win 30 games this season. That’s incredible, considering how bad they looked at the beginning of the season, and they might even be good enough for a shot at the playoffs. The success of this team is due in large part to the calming influence the Expenda-Bulls have displayed at critical moments in games. Whether it’s their relentless drive and confidence when the Bulls find themselves down big, or their ability to hit big shots and right the ship defensively when their teammates start giving up a lead, Young, Porter, and especially Temple, have elevated the Bulls to a higher level of play.

It was Otto Porter Jr who hit big shots down the stretch of the win against Dallas to keep the Bulls from coughing up another lead. It’s been Thaddeus Young patrolling the paint and banging in the post to close out close games. And it’s been Garrett Temple nailing critical threes, taking on the toughest defensive matchups, and keeping his teammates positive throughout every game he has played in. Temple is the coach on the floor, The teammate who picks you up when you’ve missed your last three shots, the stopper who’s barking out assignments and switches on defense. Temple is the vocal leader on this team, the pro’s pro, the mentor and guide for a very young Bulls core, and the best Bulls free agent signing in years.

None of the Expenda-Bulls may be on the roster by the time this season is over, but the influence they’ve had over this Bulls roster could well be felt for the next decade to come.

Zach LaVine is an All-Star

Somebody will pull out a bunch of stats to refute this bold statement, but I believe that LaVine has once again elevated his game, and has finally broken through that imaginary barrier that separates the All-Stars from the rest of the NBA rabble. He is the second best among Eastern Conference guards in both points per game and field goal percentage. He has scored 30+ points in 7 of the 14 games the Bulls have played this season. He has hit game winning shots, he has been an effective passer, he is posting solid assist numbers, and more importantly you can see him getting his fellow teammates involved on the court. If Garrett Temple is the vocal leader of this team, then Zach LaVine has been the silent one, letting his work and production speak for itself. There is no doubt that Zach LaVine is the best player on the Bulls, and now it’s becoming clear he is one of the best in the NBA.

The Bulls ARE Fun Again!

The cagey veterans and Zach LaVine aren’t the only things bringing joy to Bulls fans. There has been palpable growth from the rest of the young core. Wendell Carter Jr is no longer afraid to shoot the basketball, and he’s even hitting a solid percentage of his shots. Coby White has made strides as a lead ball handler. Lauri Markkanen has returned to form, posting double-doubles. Patrick Williams looks like he will be a silky smooth force in the league for decades to come. Daniel Gafford has been swatting shots like a volleyball player defending the net. Even role players like Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono have come off the bench and contributed for the Bulls.

And there is more to come. I anticipate Tomas Satoransky will take his rightful place next to Young, Porter, and Temple as the 4th Expenda-Bull when he recovers from Covid. Chandler Hutchison is also poised for a return to the team, he caught the virus just as he was settling into his off the bench role. I also anticipate even more growth from this group of young players as the season goes on. Coach Donovan has the Bulls climbing leader boards all over the stat sheets. The Bulls are 4th in the NBA in points per game, 7th in effective field goal percentage, 5th in the league in true shooting percentage. And the growth isn’t just limited to the offense, the Bulls are 6th in the league in rebounding percentage, and 3rd when it comes to offensive rebounding percentage.

The Bulls are ready to turn some heads. Whether or not they can continue their solid play and make a push for a playoff birth, it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for sure, between the Expenda-Bulls, Zach LaVine, and a young core being shaped into winners by Billy Donovan, the Bulls are finally fun to watch again.

Until next time, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!