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Terry Taylor emerges as small-ball center for Chicago Bulls

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 31, 2023

The Chicago Bulls took down the Philadelphia 76ers 105-92. In a game without Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine and Torrey Craig, there was not a lot of offense to be found and even less of it was pretty.

Terry Taylor played a season-high 17 minutes, scoring six points on three-of-three shooting, with six rebounds, three offensive, two assists and a steal.

Donovan was prepared for the 76ers to go small, and had Taylor locked and loaded to counter.

“Terry (Taylor) was good tonight, he was a really good boost off the bench,” Billy Donovan said after the game. “Did a lot of things in the backboard and that’s one thing he does really elite level with offensive rebounds. He gave us a few extra possessions. Were able to switch with him some defensively.”

The Bulls have had success with Taylor playing small-ball five over the last few games. He played eight minutes in Tuesday’s win against the Atlanta Hawks and 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, playing a huge part in the failed comeback bid.

“We have to do that when Drum comes off, just because we don’t have another body like that,” Donovan said. “So we feel comfortable doing that. It’s been pretty good for us.”

Despite his size, Taylor is listed at 6’4″, 230 lbs, he is not pulling any punches when it comes to going up against bigger guys.

“I’ve actually played it my whole life, so I’m kind of used to it,” Taylor said. “I’m used to people not being sure about me playing center just because of my size. But I got the heart and the will to go out there and competing against anybody.”

With Taylor out there, the Bulls are able to switch everything one-through-five, keeping every offensive player in front of them. It helps junk up the offense if they’re constantly trying to hunt mismatches.

“I think it just gets offenses stagnant,” Taylor said. “Everybody wants to try to find the mismatch and post everybody up, and that just slows everybody down. It’s a little faster lineup and whatnot.”

In combination with the speed, the Bulls can turn defense into offense, get up the court quickly. They’ve done a much better job of late keeping their advantage alive, and getting into easier shots with the defense always a half-step behind.

Taylor knows he will be targeted at times, but he has held up switching against bigs or smalls.

“They’re gonna be hunting me and trying to get me to foul and make mistakes and just trying to get me off my rocker,” Taylor said.

Those small lineups are not without their drawbacks, though. The defensive rebounding has been a problem in these games, the 76ers had 12 offensive boards on Saturday.

“The biggest thing is the rebounding,” Donovan said. “We got hurt on some of the switches on the offensive rebound that was a big part. We got guards inside trying to block out bigger people we probably need to do a better job of blocking now.”

After Saturday, the Bulls have 79 possessions of data on lineups with Taylor on the floor without Vucevic or Drummond. They’re a +59, with elite scoring efficiency, turnover rate, free throw rate, but struggle when it comes to allowing offense rebounding and putting teams at the line.

Still, it’s been a very small sample of data, but the small lineup has been successful. It doesn’t figure to be a staple of the rotation when everyone else healthy, but it’s a good curveball to have in the back pocket. And with the success it has shown, it may be something the Bulls can whip out proactively, rather than as an adjustment to how other teams are playing them, as they did against the 76ers.

“What I believe is not always, ‘hey, we have to match what they’re doing’,” Donovan said. “Sometimes it’s good to throw the lineup out there….When you do that, and the other team is big and you’re small, or you’re big and they’re small, the ebbs and flows in the game and in a very short time, it can change quickly. But sometimes taking the chance to do that to see what happens is not a bad thing either. And I’m not opposed to that.”

But with a shortened rotation due to injury, the Bulls are riding it out as long as it’s working.

“Anywhere,” Taylor said. “I can be used anywhere. I feel like I’m just willing to help the team in any way. Whether it’s at the four, five, three, whatever it is, I’d be willing to help.”

Now a month removed from the epic meltdown against the Boston Celtics on November 29, the Bulls have completely flipped the script on their season. They’re 10-5 since then, 9-5 during the month of December and heading into the new year with a sense of confidence and belief in themselves.

Those vibes are palpable in the locker room, where Patrick Williams, thrilled to see Taylor getting some attention from the media, came over to take a picture of him.

“It means everything.” Taylor said of the support he has gotten from his teammates. “Even when I wasn’t playing like I was giving them all the energy and confidence that I that I had inside me for them. And it’s just it’s just good to see it. Come back forward.”

Up next: Bulls head to Philadelphia for another matchup against the 76ers on Tuesday, followed by a national TV game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

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