We are through the first week of the preseason, and already the Chicago Bulls are giving fans a lot to be positive about. We’ve seen two preseason games in which the Bulls dominated their opponents from tip off to final buzzer. It’s hard to tell how much of their success will translate to the regular season, but what is clear is that the blue print for success is there. Forcing turnovers, scoring fast-break points, grabbing rebounds, playing with pace and energy, the Bulls have focused on these areas of the game and leveraged their advantage in these fields to blow out their opponents.
It really comes down to how much energy the Bulls have been playing with, especially on defense. Active hands and help defenders have stripped ball handlers of possession. Lengthy arms and speedy rotations have shut down passing lanes and forced turnovers. Blocks, offensive rebounds, running the fast break, the Bulls look like a totally different team then what we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons. And they are a different team.
The Round Table have completely overhauled the roster this offseason. Only Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Patrick Williams started last season on the Bulls roster, everyone else in a Bulls uniform either joined the team in the middle of last season or found their way to Chicago this offseason. So let’s start meeting this new Bulls roster and see what kind of positives they have to offer the team.
DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan is a veteran scorer with playoff experience and a talent for the mid-range jump shot. He can handle the ball as a secondary facilitator, score in isolation, and get to the free throw line. DeRozan is a genius at getting to “his spots” on the floor, the areas of the basketball court he is most comfortable scoring from. Already in preseason we’ve seen him curl off screens for easy jumpers in the paint, drive through multiple defenders to get to the rim and draw fouls, and we’ve seen him back defenders down into the post and score on turnaround fall-away jumpers reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony or Dirk Nowitzski. DeRozan’s ability to score and handle the ball take a lot of pressure off of Zach LaVine on offense. The defense can’t afford to ignore DeRozan and focus on LaVine, he makes them pay every time.
Alize Johnson – Alize Johnson can be summed up in two words: Energy and Rebounding. He’s come off the bench this preseason and made a difference on the glass. He’s played 29 minutes over two games and has already grabbed 20 rebounds (7 offensive, 13 defensive). He’s also racked up a surprising 8 assists. The Bulls might have found themselves a solid bench contributor in Alize Johnson.
Nikola Vucevic – Vucevic is old reliable. His unselfish play from the post, and more traditional half-court offensive mindset give the Bulls another dimension to their offense. Vucevic is at his best when the Bulls set up in the half-court and run some traditional offensive sets. You can run the offensive through him, for him, and around him. His scoring ability in the paint keeps defenses honest and takes pressure off other scorers like LaVine and DeRozan. His half-court prowess has allowed the Bulls to slow things down and catch their breath when the blistering pace they’ve been playing at starts to fatigue them. Don’t get me wrong, Vuc is also useful in the fast paced offense the Bulls have been running. We’ve already seen him trailing the fast break and getting open looks from three (I’m sure one of them will go in someday) or running down the lane for an easy dunk. Vucevic just knows how to play the center position, and his high basketball IQ and skill set compliment the rest of the Bulls starters to a T.
Javonte Green – Green has been awesome this preseason. He’s played with the starters in place of the injured Patrick Williams, and the energy and defense he has supplied has really set the tone for the Bulls. He has played so well that it’s left me wondering if Williams has been “Wally Pipp-ed.” Patrick Williams is definitely a better all around player then Javonte Green, but Green plays the exact role the starting line up seems to need. All he does is defend and run. He doesn’t need to score, he doesn’t need to handle the ball, he uses his speed, length, and athleticism to turn defense into offense. He pokes the ball free from opposing ballhandlers. He blocks shots. He runs the court after turnovers, and can finish fast breaks at the rim with electrifying dunks. Green has set the tone/pace/intensity of the Bulls defense in both of these preseason games and it has led to blowouts. No matter what happens with Green and Williams when it comes to the starting 5, it’s nice to see a player understand what his role is on the team and embrace it. Green is the perfect energy and defense player for this Bulls team.
Ayo Dosunmu – Rookie Chicago native, Ayo Dosunmu, hasn’t played very many meaningful minutes this preseason, but when he has played there have been some encouraging signs. Between the minutes he’s gotten in preseason and his time in Summer League it’s clear Dosunmu has a lot of defensive potential. He is very active on defense and can force turnovers as both an on- and off-the-ball defender. He has shown solid rotations and plays with a lot of energy. He pushes the pace on offense, getting out and running in transition. He looks a lot like an off-ball guard as opposed to a traditional point guard, and I’m hoping the Bulls can stretch him out to a 3-and-D Wing that has the ability to be a secondary ballhandler and facilitator. I don’t know if Dosunmu will get a lot of minutes with the Bulls this season, but if he continues to play defense, he might just carve out a roll for himself on this roster.
That’s a quick look at a few of the guys on the Bulls roster. I’m hoping to get through the entire roster by the time the real games start. My one caution to fans, as we start imagining an NBA Finals appearance with each preseason blowout we witness, is to remember that it is only preseason. We’ve seen some stellar preseason performances from the Bulls in the recent past only to be disappointed in the regular season. The Bulls have been playing at a blistering pace on both offense and defense. Most NBA teams do not play with this kind of pace during the preseason. Most NBA teams are running at about a 4 or 5 during the preseason, the Bulls have been dialed up to 11. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, this is a bit of a reality check. I wonder if the Bulls pace of play is sustainable, and what will happen when the regular season starts and they find themselves playing teams that can match or exceed their energy output.
It’s been a lot of fun watching “Chi Slamma Jamma,” as Stacy King has been calling them, run teams off the court. I just hope the energy sticks around for the regular season. If it does, this could be a very fun and satisfying season. Until they’re painting a picture of the Larry O’Brien trophy on the United Center court, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!