Tomorrow night at 7:00pm CT, the Chicago Bulls will kick off a brand new era of Bulls basketball against the Hawks, with a revamped front office, a fresh lottery pick, and a brand new head coach leading the charge. Eli did a little preview for each of the Bulls three games this week (Hawks, Pacers, Warriors), in case you missed it.
But while we thought we knew who’d be taking the floor for tipoff tomorrow night, those final decisions are apparently still up in the air – at least, according to Head Coach Billy Donovan:
Billy Donovan said he has an idea of his starters but is still working through it and won’t reveal until Wednesday.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 22, 2020
Now, it is of course entirely possible that Donovan is playing coy here, holding back as much information as possible before the first game for the … element of surprise or whatever. But maybe there’s an actual decision being made here, and we can probably reverse-engineer it pretty easily.
So let’s start with Coby White, who is undoubtedly going to be the lead guard tomorrow night. Not only has Donovan been forthcoming about that decision, but Tomas Satoransky, the other reasonable option, has addressed the change as well. And even if that weren’t the case, Sato didn’t get as much time to ramp up because of the NBA’s COVID protocols:
Tomas Satoransky returned to #Bulls practice today after more than a week in NBA protocol. He had to follow NBA protocol because he had been in close contact with Noah Vonleh, who tested positive.
Sato doesn’t expect to play a big role tomorrow but is ready to jump into action.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) December 22, 2020
So that’s one starter down, and the next one is even easier: Zach LaVine. Standard. Obvious. We’re done here. And, hey, while we’re at it, let’s save some more time and note that Wendell Carter Jr. is a virtual lock to start at center, as well.
And that brings us to the forwards.
On the surface, Otto Porter, Jr. seems like the obvious starter, given his *immediate* impact (vis à vis some of the younger players on the team), his status, his paycheck, and the fact that you might as well take advantage of him being healthy whenever you can, considering that it’s been a rare occurrence over the past couple years … but this may actually be the inflection point for Donovan. Patrick Williams is extremely young and necessarily extremely raw, but he’s also looked really good this preseason and started two out of the four games. And even if you don’t think he’s necessarily a better option than Porter, starting Williams could lead to more rest for Porter, which could then lead to better health throughout the course of the season. I tend to think Donovan is going to roll with Porter, Jr., despite the last two games of the preseason. But Williams is an option.
And finally, there’s Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls did not find a way to land on a rookie scale extension for Markkanen before yesterday’s deadline, but he still has a big role to play in this offense and even more to prove on the court. The Bulls will want to see as much of his as possible, especially early on, to start forming an idea of what to do when he hits restricted free agency at the end of the year. And with Thad Young currently out with a leg infection, I’d say Markkanen is also a pretty obvious start.
So where does that leave us? Well, here:
1. Coby White
2. Zach LaVine
3. Otto Porter Jr. or Patrick Williams
4. Lauri Markkanen
5. Wendell Carter Jr.
So which way would you go? The pricey, but more proven veteran? Or the raw, but talented rookie? It’s not an easy choice. In the service of health (for Porter) and experience/fun (for Williams), I want to start the rookie. But I think Porter gets the nod and that’s probably the right call for the first half of the season. Let Williams get his feet under him before you throw him into the starting lineup, right? Right? I think. Fun either way.