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The Bulls are so confusing.
After season-saving wins against the Celtics and Bucks, the Bulls drop a shoulda-coulda-woulda overtime game to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 123-119.
The Thunder are young, fun and much better than advertised. But now 8-11, the Bulls need to win these games. Full stop.
DeMar DeRozan scored 30, but a 12-for-27 night isn’t up to his standards. The Bulls weren’t able to keep their blazing hot shooting from deep, making only 12-of-33, and getting out-free throw’d 28-for-32 for the Thunder to 19-for-23 for the Bulls. When DeRozan isn’t going full DeRozan and the team isn’t lifting him up with elite three-point shooting and free throw making, it’s always going to be hard for the Bulls to win.
Freaky Friday: Bench and starters swap roles
The Bulls have faced the issue of getting off to incredibly slow starts, and needing to claw themselves back into games. The opposite was true against the Thunder. The Bulls made their first eight baskets, building an early 12-point lead.
From then, they made their next 4-of-15.
Part of that was that the bench, normally one of the teams’ biggest strengths, has struggled over the previous two games.
In the first half, Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond were -10, while Javonte Green was -9 and Coby White was -5.
As a result, the Bulls starters had an enormous workload, with LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic all playing 40+ minutes. Not the best as the Bulls road trip continues.
Zach LaVine making life hard for himself
It’s an oversimplification to say Zach LaVine just hasn’t been good this season. In some ways, that is true, but not every aspect of his game is suffering.
Though LaVine had a nice stat line — 27 points on 9-for-23 shooting, 5 rebounds and 5 assists — it became clear that he can make life more difficult on himself than it needs to be.
LaVine is at his best as a play finisher — attacking closeouts, finishing off of back cuts, catch-and-shoot threes. He has been a capable offensive initiator — one who creates the initial breakdown— but that seems to be the area that has regressed a bit during his recovery this season.
Juxtaposing the following two plays makes it clear when LaVine is forcing his own offense versus playing within the flow of the offense:
In the first, LaVine gets the handoff, and instead of continuing on his path downhill with an advantage, he pulls it back and gets into an isolation.
In the second play, LaVine gets the kick out pass and immediately attacks the shifting defense, getting all the way to the rim.
There were plenty of examples of each in this game. And I would venture to guess most of his misses were on shots made too difficult and most of his makes were on simple plays in the flow of the offense.
As a legitimate All-Star max player, it is understandable that LaVine would feel confident enough in his game to be able to make plays against a set defense. But his live action pattern recognition has been a flaw in his game, and perhaps with his knee still troubling him, the problem is being exacerbated.
At times, his talent level is so overwhelming that he can get away with it. But when his shots aren’t falling, it can turn into a cycle of taking tougher and tougher shots to get himself going.
Patrick Williams, taking the defensive leap
Patrick Williams looks like he should be a great defender. At 6’7″, 215 lbs, he’s got the size, athleticism and tools to be very good on that end.
To this point, he has been slightly overrated. But the last few games, he is starting to figure things out.
Williams ranks 13th in the NBA in defensive EPM and the eye test is catching up to the numbers.
After getting two blocks and a steal Wednesday against the Bucks, Williams followed that up with 2 blocks and a steal against the Thunder.
What sticks out from these defensive plays is the positioning. Williams tracks the ball well and puts himself in position to make plays. And when he’s moving his feet well enough to keep with his man on the dribble, he can alter the shot more often than not.
And to be in position to make those kinds of plays, he necessarily needs to be reading the game at a higher level. That signifies growth and understanding, which could be a precursor to more success on the offensive end as well.
Bulls traveling violations
I used to get called for this all the time in high school, so I’m not one to talk. But this is insane. Five of the Bulls 15 turnovers came on traveling violations.
I don’t have anything else to add on this. It’s just a really dumb thing they need to clean up.
Up next: West road trip continues in Utah on Wednesday.
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