The Bounce (is) Back

Happy New Year everybody!

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Chicago Bulls are 7-3 since the reported locker room dust up during, and after, the awful 150-126 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves last month. It was the lowest point for the franchise since Jim Boylen pulled all his starters and sat them nearly an entire game to “save them from themselves” in what ended up being a historic 56 point loss to the Boston Celtics way back in 2019. That game, and practice session the next day, sparked a player mutiny and really cemented the negative energy that persisted throughout the Boylen era. When the stories about the locker room tiff started to circulate after the Timberwolves game, I had the dreaded feeling of “here we go again.”

Much like the game in Minnesota, this season, as a whole, has been a giant disappointment for Bulls fans. After making the playoffs last season, it felt like the Bulls were poised to start climbing the contention ladder of the Eastern Conference. While the team has played great against great teams, the numerous losses to below average teams has torpedoed the season. With the losses piling up, and guys just going through the motions on the court, it seemed like the players had zero confidence in Billy Donovan, and each other. It felt like change needed to happen, and the loss to Minnesota had many of us fans dejectedly playing with the Trade Machine to see how we could blow the team up and move on.

I was right there with everyone else. I wanted the “Mid Three” gone, and was sick of watching them “play basketball” together, if that’s what you want to call what they were doing.

Unlike The Mutiny of Jim Boylen’s Bulls, the Timberwolves Tiff seems to have turned the fortunes of this fickle season. After their recent hot streak, the Bulls are currently 18-21, sitting 9th overall in the Eastern Conference, and with more than half a season of basketball left to play, they’re looking to move out of the play-in tournament and directly into the playoffs. The recent revival of the Bulls season directly correlates to the return to form of Zach LaVine.

LaVine is back to All-Star levels of scoring and efficiency, and his energy, bounce, and defensive engagement have all been at pre-knee pain levels.

Last night, LaVine led the Bulls with 41 points on 11 of 13 from behind the 3 point arc in their victory over the Philadelphia ’76ers. He was in his bag, hitting catch-and-shoot three after catch-and-shoot three. And this is not some sort of anomaly from Zach, he is THE elite catch-and-shoot three point shooter in the NBA.

What we need from Zach and the Bulls is to see this every night. LaVine needs to be taking 10-15 catch-and-shoot three pointers every game. Billy Donovan needs to make that a priority for the offense.

Isolation DeMar DeRozan offense worked for the Bulls last season, but it isn’t working now. DeRozan is an elite mid-range assassin that has won a ton of games for the Bulls in his short stint in Chicago, but the key to long term success is, and has always been, getting elite play from Zach LaVine.

We saw that elite play from Zach last night, and the results were glorious.

Not to take anything away from DeMar. DeRozan’s game will be crucial for the Bulls if they are to have any success in the playoffs this year. But they need to make the playoffs before Iso DeMar can truly take effect, and that means Zach LaVine has to get them there.

One of the big differences between LaVine being the focal point of the offense over DeRozan is that it breeds more balance across the team. For the most part, LaVine gets his points within the “flow of the offense.” Even when Zach goes full isolation, you can expect him to pass the ball to an open teammate when he creates the advantage and collapses the defense, you can’t say the same about DeRozan.

Last night was a great example of how Zach’s teammates thrive when he is in the driver seat. Patrick Williams had the best 3rd quarter of his life, putting up 16 of his 18 points, all with Zach on the floor with him. Nikola Vucevic had the quietest 19 point/18 rebound/10 assist triple-double I have ever seen, taking advantage of the ’76ers lack of size with Joel Embiid sidelined. Coby White hit three dagger 3 pointers in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for the Bulls.

With Zach LaVine leading the way, the Bulls were fun to watch. That’s something I haven’t been able to say this season.

This needs to continue.

The Bulls need to keep up the energy, the focus, and the winning.

This needs to become Zach’s team.

Until it does, thanks for reading, and GO BULLS!