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Adama Sanogo time? The Chicago Bulls options with Nikola Vucevic injured

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 26, 2023

After playing all 82 games in the 2022-23 season, and all 31 prior to Tuesday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, Nikola Vucevic is headed the IR with a left groin strain, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.

Vucevic was originally injured during a Max Strus dunk. Strus inadvertently hit in the adductor area, which knocked Vucevic down. He continued to play through the pain for the remainder of the game, but an MRI revealed the strain.

Vucevic has been one of the most steady contributors over his stint with the Bulls, and the team will sorely miss him during this hopefully short absence. In 34 minutes per game, Vucevic averages 16.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 28.1 percent from three and 87.5 percent from the line.

Beyond the box score production, Vucevic is the fulcrum of the offense. He keeps the ball moving side-to-side. He stretches out the floor. He finds cutters. He is the Bulls best source of defensive rebounding this side of Andre Drummond. He’s also been a massive piece of the Bulls ability to secure offensive rebounds and second-chance points — one of their biggest points of emphasis this season.

“One of the things we have done a little bit of is play small at times. Andre (Drummond) will shoulder a lot of the minutes. But I do think flexibility with Patrick (Williams). Terry (Taylor) hasn’t played very much. He’s obviously a guy we could use.”

While the Bulls are equipped to manage some minutes without Vucevic in the form of Drummond, depth beyond him gets sparse.

“Certainly when Andre comes off the floor, we’re going to have to be somewhat small. Even when Terry is out, because he’s kind of been this undersized five-man for us. We played Patrick there a bit with Alex (Caruso) when we play a little bit smaller there in Miami in the fourth quarter.”

In potential small units, the Bulls can go with Williams at the five. Those lineups, (without Drummond or Vucevic on the floor) are +15.8 points per 100 possessions in just 59 possessions this season. That 98th percentile figure won’t sustain, especially when they allow 37 percent offensive rebounding rate to opponents, 0th percentile.

“Our ability to rebound with five is going to be really important,” Donovan said.

This becomes especially hard without Torrey Craig, who remains out with a foot injury. The Bulls have played only 43 possessions without Vucevic, Drummond or Craig on the court, but are +37 points per 100, though again, offensive rebounding is a problem — 40.9 offensive rebounding rate for opponents.

Aside from the small-ball options, two-way center Adama Sanogo, the Bulls undrafted rookie, could also see minutes.

“They always told me stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready,” Sanogo said.

“Be myself,” he continued. “They’ve seen my play before, don’t do too much. Be ready when I get in. Do the stuff I do best.”

If Sanogo does get a chance, he’s more excited than nervous, so he says.

“Definitely excitement,” Sanogo said. “This is what I work for all year, to be able to play in the NBA. I’m not a big nerves guy. Not saying I don’t get nervous, but I don’t get nervous like that. I’m just happy to have a chance to get in. I don’t think I’ll be nervous.”

Sanogo is tearing up the G League with the Windy City Bulls. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 10.8 rebounds (4.9 offensive), 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, in 16 appearances. He’s shooting 60.2 percent from the field and converting 76.3 percent of his free throws.

“I’m a team guy,” Sanogo said. “One thing I do is play hard. I give 100 percent. That’s something everybody doesn’t have. Motor. It’s hard to play hard. I’ll always give 100 percent. I’ll always play hard. That’s one thing I can say about me, I always play hard.”

Sanogo has buddied up with fellow UConn alum Drummond, seeking advice from him in preparation for eventual minutes.

“I was just talking to him last weekend,” Sanogo said. “He went to UConn so I see him as a big bro. So every time I see him at practice, he gives me some advice. Go to his house so he can talk to me. Be around him, talking to him got me right a little bit. He’s been in the NBA for 10 years now, so being around a guy like that, listening to him every day, I’m supposed to pay for that, but I’m getting it for free!”

Sanogo is pretty raw, and though he shows nice touch at times, Donovan may be hesitant to overload him given the differences between the G League and NBA game.

“He’s got a great motor, really, really good energy,” Donovan said. “We could certainly use him. It’s always challenging with the G League guys, if they’re there for a long time, as much as you try to keep it similar…when you’re constantly building stuff up and adding different things, it may not be added at the same clip that they’re doing in the G League. So a lot of it is putting him in situations where he’s comfortable playing.”

“But in terms of the player, I don’t have a problem with him, and maybe could see him getting some time tonight,” Donovan said.

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