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So many things have gone wrong for the Bulls.
Patrick Williams missing the majority of his sophomore season due to injury wasn’t on the agenda.
The world declared the pandemic over. So did professional sports. For several months, the plan was working.
Turns out that pesky plague hadn’t disappeared, reminding ignorant sports fans of its b.s. when it decided to spread itself among the Bulls locker room in December.
But despite the plague coming for us all, the Bulls regrouped, entering the new year atop of the East.
Our joy would be fleeting. Soon after, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso would go onto miss months of action. If that weren’t enough, the tolls of the season would claim Zach LaVine — he’ll be nursing a lingering knee injury through the remainder of the season.
The losses started to pile. The schedule intensified. A timely 114-108 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night was a welcome reprieve.
But a win against a real contender? Still waiting.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong has. And so we anxiously wait for Ball, Caruso, and Williams to return, hoping their presence will keep the Bulls from falling into the play-in bracket.
With all that has occurred, one could posit that luck has deserted the Bulls. But I’m not so sure that’s true. Sure, a lot of bad stuff happened. But let’s not forget all the good that has come, too.
Did any reasonable person truly expect DeMar DeRozan to morph into a new-school remix of Michael Jordan? And yet it happened. Not for a game, a week, or even a month. This is who he’s been for much of the season.
Really, nothing about his late-career leap makes logical sense. On the skirts of All-Star contention with the San Antonio Spurs, DeRozan has vaulted into a lock for All-NBA selection as a member of the Bulls.
Better still, the 13-year pro has a legitimate case for MVP, albeit it a fringe one.
A player discovering this level of production so late in a career — particularly one who never performed to these heights in previous seasons — isn’t normal.
DeRozan is an outlier.
I keep asking myself if this DeRozan season is just a random, one-year blip of greatness. Maybe it is? Only in hindsight will we truly know. In the interim, though, we can recognize how fortunate we are to be witnessing DeRozan and his mid-range mastery.
Narrative aside, DeRozan doing his best Jordan impression has been necessary. A slate of injuries threatened to derail everything. And yet, the Bulls have continued to stay afloat, sitting 14 games above .500.
Owners of 40 wins through 66 games, the Bulls (60.6 percent) are one of 10 teams who currently boast a winning percentage greater than .600. That reads nicely. But consider this: 15 of the Bulls’ 40 wins have occurred in games decided by six points or less.
It’s a thin margin of error. How many of these wins flip to the loss column if DeRozan wasn’t leading the league in points scored in fourth quarters?
Without thinking too hard, two game-winning jumpers which ensured a Bulls victory come to mind.
It may be overly simplistic to credit an outcome entirely on the actions of one person in one possession. The efforts of many enable such moments to exist. Put another way: Is DeRozan in place to drill consecutive daggers against the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards if his teammates aren’t there to assist?
Assist is the operative word, as the point guard play of rookie Ayo Dosunmu has been so unfathomably good.
Dosunmu has quickly become a beloved figure among the fan base. Despite this, I wonder if the romanticism of his roots as a Chicago product undersells how critically important the rookie has been in salvaging this Bulls season.
It may seem hyperbolic to suggest, but I’ll say it anyway: the emergence of Ayo Dosunmu saved the Bulls’ season. Think about it: after losing both their starting and backup point guards to month-long injuries, the Bulls had no credible backup solutions. Sure, Coby White could fill in a pinch, however, as we saw last season, he struggled to organise an offense. No point guard reinforcement were coming via trade or the buyout market. That left Dosunmu, a combo-guard selected No. 38 in the second-round of the 2022 NBA Draft, to ply his trade at point guard.
Like DeRozan, the level of production from Dosunmu has reached is gone beyond any realm of reasonable expectations. A second-round pick to have so much poise so soon into his career isn’t normal.
Dosunmu is an outlier.
Generally speaking, rookie guards don’t enter the league and immediately flash elite defensive tools, holding some of the league’s best offensive guards to meager performances. Dosunmu did. Offensively, too, the first-year phenom has showcased his craft as a pick-and-roll initiator, most notably in two-man combinations with center Nikola Vucevic.
Dosunmu may be inexperienced, but his production screams 10-year veteran. Make no mistake, the Bulls receiving quality guard play from a rookie who was once slated to be a third-string option is extremely fortunate.
Others deserve credit too: Javonte Green has performed admirably as a makeshift power forward in place of Williams; Derrick Jones Jr. evolving into a pseudo-center has changed the dynamic of the Bulls’ second unit; Billy Donovan and his leadership has stabilised a turbulent season.
It may be easier to wallow in all that has gone wrong. Just make sure to take a moment and appreciate all the unexpectedly great things that have made this Bulls season a memorable one.
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