LaVine takes flight

The Chicago Bulls are 3-0 at the start of this NBA season, having beaten the Detroit Pistons twice (94-88, 97-82) with a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans (128-112) sandwiched in between. They’ve won by following the simple formula of turning defense into offense, i.e. forcing turnovers that lead to fast break points. Some of the individual performances in the early going have been awesome; Zach LaVine with back-to-back 30+ point performances to start the season, Lonzo Ball recorded a triple-double in the win over the New Orleans Pelicans, and DeMar DeRozan with back-to-back 20+ point performances, but looking past all the individual accolades, the Bulls won through team effort.

Three Positives from this weeks games:

1) Defensive Effort Through three games, the Bulls have played outstanding defense. Players are flying around the court, closing out on opponents, switching assignments when necessary, getting hands into passing lanes, sliding their way past screens, blocking shots and stripping ballhandlers of the ball. A lot of the praise for the effort on defense has to go to Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Javonte Green. The energy they play with is infectious and their teammates can’t help but have a little more bounce in their step on the defensive end. Even “bad” defenders like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan have looked competent, if not brilliant, defensively. The Bulls are averaging 10 steals per game (6th in the NBA), and 7.7 blocks (3rd in the NBA), which puts them 4th overall in the NBA in Defensive Rating (93.7). The Bulls defense is THE early story of this season, and if they can sustain their energy and effort for the rest of the season, it will be a very good year of basketball for Bulls fans.

2) Star Power – Who knew that having 3 players capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night playing on the same team could be so fun? It’s been refreshing not having to rely on Zach LaVine to keep the Bulls in every game. DeMar DeRozan has been a steady stream of buckets from the mid-range. Nikola Vucevic has been a little off with his shot in the early going, but his presence in the post forced the Pelicans and Pistons to clog the paint and left Bulls shooters open on the perimeter. Vooch has also buried a number of three pointers this season forcing his defender out of the paint and opening up driving and cutting lanes for his teammates when he sets up on the perimeter. Zach LaVine had a bit of an off night scoring the basketball last night, but I chalk it up to it being the 2nd game of a back-to-back, and the Pistons blitzing him with multiple defenders every time he touched the ball. Even with the extra defenders on him, LaVine was able to find his teammates with passes, and exploit the double team. His back-to-back 30+ point performances in the season opener and home opener, really set the tone for the early going. Easy buckets, defensive effort, and facilitating when necessary, Zach LaVine has been doing it all. Finally, Lonzo Ball has pushed the pace of the Bulls offense, constantly advancing the ball up the court with long outlet passes to teammates streaking down the wings. He has been awesome in the fast break, finding open teammates and setting up easy scoring opportunities. And as I mentioned before Ball has been a force on defense. The stars have really started to shine for the Bulls, finding different ways every game to contribute to winning.

3) Bench Energy – I wrote earlier about the defensive energy being infectious, well ground zero for that infection is the Bulls bench. Alex Caruso has led a scrappy unit of undersized misfits, to some surprising success, and almost all of it can be attributed to their effort and energy on defense. Caruso, Javonte Green, Troy Brown Jr, rookie Ayo Dosunmu, and Alize Johnson, have been the key substitutions in Billy Donovan’s rotation. Caruso can do everything on the basketball court and routinely does. Green brings energy, athleticism, and defense every minute he’s on the court. Green has quickly become my second favorite player on the team behind Lonzo. Brown has nailed some important 3’s to go along with solid defense. Dosunmu has been a ball of energy, fearlessly bouncing around the court. He’s made important stops on defense, he’s scored important points on offense, and he has quickly, and surprisingly, earned a spot in the Bulls rotation. Alize Johnson has been a terror on the boards. He routinely grabs offensive rebounds from out of nowhere, and his size and athleticism has allowed the Bulls to run a switching style defense, flustering opponents with speedy close outs and opportunistic trapping.

Alize Johnson being big on the boards.

This has been the first time in a long time that the Bulls have been above .500. It’s the first time in a long time that they’ve won the 1st three games of the season. I am thoroughly enjoying the new look Chicago Bulls. The emphasis on defense and transition offense has led to some thrilling basketball. The effort and energy that everyone is playing with has been a revelation. It makes Bulls teams of recent vintage look like a bunch of lethargic teenagers trying to wake up for school after a late night of video gaming.

Strap in Bulls fans! We’ve got what looks to be an exciting ride ahead of us. Games coming up this week include: The up-and-down Toronto Raptors on Monday, the always dangerous New York Knicks on Thursday, and the better than ever Utah Jazz on Saturday. It’s going to get tough from here on out, let’s hope the Bulls have enough energy for the effort it’s going to take to keep winning against high caliber opponents. Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!