Circus Trip Maximus

Derrick Jones Jr can fly.

The Chicago Bulls went 3-2 on their traditional West Coast road trip, successfully surviving and thriving against some of the NBA’s best teams. The Lakers went down. The Clippers too. The Denver Nuggets? Never stood a chance. Fans have been saying it since the summer, this Bulls team is Good.

This Bulls team is fun. So many players to root for. Whether you’re a Lonzo stan, a LaVine lover, or a DeRozan devotee, there is someone for everyone on this Bulls team. I’m really starting to get behind Derrick Jones Jr, the 6’6” shooting guard who seamlessly stepped into the roll of small ball center a couple games into the road trip. With Tony Bradley filling in for Nikola Vucevic who is stuck in Covid Protocols, and Alize Johnson proving ineffective as a backup center, Coach Billy Donovan desperately scoured his bench for a solution. He landed on the super athletic, lanky, and defensively minded Jones to play center, and it’s paid off. So far, Jones has shown himself to be a solid rim protector, leading the Bulls with an average of 1 block per game. His length, speed, and switchability have given opponents fits.

Alex Caruso has also been a defensive demon. He is 2nd in the NBA in steals per game (2.4), and has played so well that Donovan moved him into the starting lineup. He plays with a relentless intensity that seems to be infectious. Zach LaVine, who made great strides on defense last season and with the US National Team during the Olympics this summer, continues to play well on that end of the court. DeMar DeRozan is playing with more defensive focus and effort than we’ve seen from him in several seasons. I can’t help but believe that some of the renewed focus and effort from the Bulls so-called “bad defenders” is due in small part to the energy that Caruso plays with.

This Bulls team is playing for each other. I would love to be a fly on the wall during the teams practice and film sessions. The amount of understanding and acceptance they seem to have gained in such a short period of time together suggests there has been some very meaningful communication taking place behind closed doors. The resilience the Bulls have displayed after bad losses speaks to that communication and acceptance as well. I’m guessing DeRozan and Caruso have a lot to do with the Bulls ability to move past losses and get back to winning. DeRozan especially has been a calm, steadying force on the court. He gets you a bucket when you need it, and he is able to shoulder the entire team when nothing seems to be working.

If you can remember way back to early October when most fans started to peruse the Bulls schedule, the last few weeks that the Bulls have gone through were thought to be the crucible of the season. This was going to be a huge test for Chicago and would probably determine the course of the rest of the season. Well, the Bulls have survived that crucible, and have come out of it a contender in a dangerous Eastern Conference. There is still a ton of basketball left in this season, but the Bulls are not only one of the best teams in the East, they’ve proven they are one of the best teams in the NBA.

Some Positives from the West Coast:

– I already wrote about it, but a huge positive from this road trip was the emergence of Derrick Jones Jr. at Center. As unorthodox and desperate as the move appeared to be, it has been quite effective. Jones continues to contribute every night, and is making himself an invaluable member of the Bulls rotation.

– Zach LaVine continues to fight through his thumb injury and is putting up some daunting numbers. He and DeRozan are the best offensive combination of Bulls players since Pippen and MJ. He took over the 4th quarter in the Bulls win over the Denver Nuggets, and really looks to be making good on his offseason threat to grow as a leader. LaVine has made a career defying his critics and he doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

– Coby White has returned from his shoulder injury and is playing limited minutes off the bench. So far, Coby has looked incredibly rusty, but the important thing is he is on the floor and getting himself into game shape.

– Lonzo Ball has been shooting really well from behind the 3 point line. He shot over 41% from beyond the arc during the Circus Trip, and is shooting over 43% this season. He is a pretty streaky shooter, but when he’s got it dialed in from 3, sheeeeeeeeit! It’s a thing of beauty.

That does it for this post. The Bulls are 11-5, and half a game out of 1st place in the East. They have a tough week of basketball ahead of them with games against the Knicks (today), Pacers (tomorrow), Rockets (Wednesday), Magic (Friday), and Heat (Saturday). As tough as this Circus Trip has been, this next week might be just as rough. The crucible never ends when you’re trying to stay on top of the heap. While the Bulls struggle with that, thank you for reading and GO BULLS!