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The 2023-24 Chicago Bulls season is already off to an “unacceptable” start.
After a deflating 124-104 season opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, the wheels are already spinning off their gears.
“I don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s on us. It’s unacceptable,” Zach LaVine said after the game.
Despite a shaky, but competitive first half, things began spiraling in the third quarter when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder started cooking. The Bulls offense started to devolve and resort back to the ways from last season.
Then, after coming out of the game, Nikola Vucevic and Billy Donovan got into a heated exchange.
“He felt a certain way and I kind of said what I felt,” Donovan said. “And, you know, he’s probably not wrong, for feeling the way he did. But how do you channel it in a way that kind of galvanized the group and looks them up? You know, and, you know, in the moment you know, maybe I could have handled it better with him, and maybe he could have handled it better. With me, it wasn’t anything disrespectful or anything else. I think he was just kind of frustrated with the way we’re playing. You know, I didn’t blame him. I felt probably in line with him. But there’s got to be a way that we can together solve those issues in his problems.”
Vucevic also chimed in with his perspective on the matter.
“I just wasn’t happy with certain stuff they way we were doing it and expressing a little bit,” Vucevic said. “Maybe a little more aggressive initiative. In a moment of the game, but it has happened in the heat of the moment. You’re trying to win. You’re trying to do what you can to help the team win and sometimes, you know, I didn’t like what was going on.”
Was it about not getting the ball enough?
“It wasn’t so much just my touches, I think stuff that we were running that could have maybe been better for us in the moment,” Vucevic explained. “Some of it was touches, but not necessarily for me.”
After the game, the Bulls players had a conversation in the locker room to discuss what happened, and how to address it.
Donovan said he entered the locker room to the discussion, asked if the players needed space to talk, and when they said yes, he left.
“Very constructive,” Vucevic said of the players only conversation. “I think it was really good for us that we had those. I think it was needed. It was just regular discussions of what needs to be done a lot of guys a lot, a lot of good things, things that need to be said. And I think we can really use this to learn and change some things that we need to change. So it wasn’t nothing crazy. No fighting. Really constructive, I think and it’s may be one of the first times since I’ve been here like this and it’s really needed.”
So maybe there is a positive spin to put on this. These are conversations the Bulls would not have had last year — the types of conversations they need to have if they want to be able to work through any of their problems.
“I will say the one thing I think was good, with some of the heated conversations and confrontation is, that would have never happened last year,” Donovan said. “Ever. So the confrontation piece, I think is a sign that it’s important to them, and that they know that there’s things that we’ve got to do better”
The Bulls biggest challenge this season will be staying committed to the style of offense they want to play, even with things aren’t going their way.
So maybe it’s good to get through this in game one.
Bet on yourself
Patrick Williams started off the game with a drive into a turnaround jumper on the first possession of the game. This comes out of a standard dribble-weave action to get into the set, but Williams aggressively took advantage of the way he was being defended.
Williams finished with 8 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-4 threes, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. While his aggression was present, not all of it showed up in the box score. He attacked the glass well, though he didn’t always end up with the board. He bodied up and stayed down on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, picking up some deflection
Still, the main improvement area for him is going to be getting all the way to the rim. where he can pick up efficient shots and increase his foul drawing ability.
Last season, the Bulls math problem was a fixture of these game recaps.
Maybe this season, the problem will shift from volume to accuracy.
The Bulls launched 42 threes in Wednesday night’s opener, a figure that matched last year’s season high.
Unfortunately, the ball couldn’t find its way in the hole. They made just 12 of those 42 threes, good for 28.6 percent.
“That’s an interesting question,” Donovan said. “Because I’ve been dealing with, the last two years, how we don’t take many threes. Now we take 40 threes now it’s about makes.”
The Bulls three-point problem isn’t going to be solved by DeRozan attempting eight threes per game. His mid-range offense is as efficient as it gets and the Bulls shouldn’t be looking to remove that from their shot profile.
LaVine and Vucevic need to be a part of upping the ante, but the majority of where the Bulls are going to catch up on their math problem is from the role guys.
The Bulls have plans to overhaul their offense by offensive rebounding, getting out in transition and getting into the paint to generate kickout threes, layups and free throw attempts. Here’s how they performed in each of those categories:
- Free throw attempt rate: 14.0 (26th)
- Offensive rebound rate: 29.1 (60th)
- Rim frequency: 28 (27th)
- Three-point attempt frequency: 42 (69th)
- Transition frequency: 16.2 (37th)
Up Next: Bulls look to bounce back against the Raptors at home on Friday night
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