The Chicago Bulls drop their preseason opener to the New Orleans Pelicans 129-125, a game that sounds much closer than it was. Though Dalen Terry and the bench unit cut into the deficit, the main rotation players seemed to have a lot of the same issues as they did last year.
I believe it when Billy Donovan and the Bulls say they want to build a more movement-based offense. The process may have shifted, slightly, but the results haven’t changed.
Here are a few things that caught my eye from the opener:
Getting Vooch in his spots
Donovan has preached movement during the early days of training camp and we got to see glimpses of that in the form of Nikola Vucevic playing on the outer thirds of the court.
“Trying to get him into different areas and spots on the floor,” Donovan told reporters during training camp availability. “Generally most of the time last year he was in that middle third tunnel, middle tunnel. That’s where a lot of his shots came from. But can we move him around a little bit more to get him into some of those things.”
As a function of these weak side primary actions Vucevic settled into a great game.
This isn’t different from anything we saw last year, but there does seem to be an emphasis of getting him on the sidelines to open up the middle of the floor.
The Bulls tried to get a little more weak side action, but the outcome was still DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine running pick-and-rolls.
“Vooch is such a good offensive player, can we move him around, even on made baskets to different sides of the floor, different areas on the floor,” Donovan said. “Just based on where he’s at. So that’s something that could be new.”
Donovan needs to find a way to weaponize Vucevic and this could be a key to unlocking him.
Defense is still a problem
“The biggest challenge for us today was just open side pick-and-roll,” Donovan said. “We had a really difficult time with that. It’s a combination of our guards being able to physically blow up some of those screens. It’s a combination of our bigs with a better presentation.”
CJ McCollum toasted Ayo Dosunmu on his way to the basket and Vucevic wasn’t there to provide any resistance.
“There’s going to be some times where the ball is thrown to the pocket or it’s going to get put up in the air, and I thought our weak side awareness was not great on that action.”
It’s also on the weak side defender to help the helper, which speaks to the awareness issue. Here, Vucevic steps to protect the rim, but neither Dosunmu nor Goran Dragic tag Vucevic’s man, who ends up with an easy two.
Vucevic accumulated four blocks and three steals during his 23 minutes of play. That’s an awesome step forward for him, but the Bulls need a better infrastructure around him to have any hope of even an average defense without Lonzo Ball.
Dalen Terry finally got a crack in the third quarter and provided a spark. He’s ready to defend if he can get minutes and he might be the only one on the roster who excels in transition. If the Bulls are looking for transition offense, he might be one of the few players to whom that style of play comes naturally.
“I was a little nervous, but it’s the same nervous every game,” Terry said. “I’m not gonna say I was super scared or anything like that. It was a regular game to me. I didn’t want to make it seem like it was the biggest game in the world. I just felt like it was another game.”
Javonte Green is awesome. He was the first guy off the bench and fit well with the rest of the starting group with whom he played so many minutes last season. He had a couple nice scores on back cuts and a few nice plays as the roll man playing up the middle. Helped out the spacing with a corner three. Even had two offensive rebounds. He’ll be a rotation regular again.
Patrick Williams still looks like he’s figuring out his place in the offense. He attacked a few closeouts off reversal passes and did as best he could defending Zion Williamson. Not the breakout we were hoping for.
No matter how much movement the Bulls try to inject into their half court offense, it’s going to be tough to compete shooting so poorly from three. They made 4/15 in the first half and 4/5 in the third quarter. By the time they starters were pulled midway through the third, they had only taken 20 threes and that’s just not good enough.
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