Billy Donovan Is Already Having a Massive, Positive, Tangible Impact on the Chicago Bulls

I have an announcement: The Chicago Bulls are as good as the Brooklyn Nets.

See?

Fine, they’re not.

But starting this conversation off that way felt appropriate. After all, pretty much everything we discuss over the first 10 or so games of the season must be taken with a grain of salt. The Nets and Bulls are not going to be record buddies for much longer, especially when we consider the gauntlet schedule Chicago has coming its way this week. However, while we can’t infer much from the league’s standings, we can at least feel somewhat encouraged about the fact that the Bulls, individually, sit at 3-4. If we want to get real spicy, we can even say the Bulls were one missed five-second violation (or one missed moving screen (or one missed buzzer-beating three)) away from sitting at 4-3, but I guess we should avoid that rabbit hole.

The team has shown some noticeable improvement from game-to-game so far this season, and I can’t help but compare head coach Billy Donovan’s start to the year to Jim Boylen’s first full year as head coach in 2019-20. I know it might seem like I just want to reopen old wounds, but the fact of the matter is we’re dealing with a vastly similar roster from one year to the next. The Bulls new front office decided to keep things intact and let a more experienced head coach take a crack at teaching a not-so-old dog new tricks. And, for that reason, a comparison might be worthwhile.

If you remember correctly, the Chicago Bulls started last season with arguably the league’s easiest schedule. And despite that fact, the team suffered losses to the Hornets (finished 10th in East), Knicks (12th), and Cavaliers (15th) within their first seven games of the season. They were all games the Bulls should have won, but instead crumbled in the final minutes.

How the Boylen-led Bulls fell apart in these games:

•   The Bulls were up 10 with just over 5 minutes to go, and the Hornets went on an 18-7 run to win 125-126. Lauri Markkanen was the only Bull to shoot free throws (shot five attempts) in those final 5 minutes.

•   The Bulls were up 8 with 3:33 to go, the Knicks went on a 15-0 run to win 105-98.

•   Down 2 with 1:43 left to go, the Cavaliers went on a 9-5 run. The Bulls did hold a one-point lead in the early portion of the 4th quarter but were ultimately outscored 37-29 in the final frame. Wendell Carter Jr. was the only Bulls player to get to the free-throw line in the final 8 minutes.

How the Donovan-led Bulls finished things off:

•   The Bulls were up 10 with 2:57 to go, and the team (basically) maintained their lead against the Wizards, finishing the game with a 115-107 win.

•   The Bulls tied the Wizards with 3:22 left to go. The team then went on an 8-5 run and closed out a 133-130 victory.

•   The Bulls were up just 2 points against the Mavericks with 3:27 to go. The team closed things out with a 12-4 run to win 118-108. Seven of their final 12 points came at the free-throw line.

Pretty similar situations with different outcomes, right?

It doesn’t take much to attribute a good chunk of this improved 4th quarter play to the head coach. Donovan has wisely made a number of moves to set this team up to better finish off close games. For example, he’s pretty comfortably married the concept of developing young talent and playing to win the game, and one way he’s accomplished this is through a balanced rotation.

The Bulls have easily one of the youngest starting lineups in the league with Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. These members of the Bulls young core get their run against the opposing team’s top talent, and then Donovan is able to go to his veterans on the bench – Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young, and Garrett Temple – to stabilize things later on. Having these guys available has also allowed Donovan to better pick and choose what decently-rested veterans to throw in his closing lineup, which we’ve seen contain White, LaVine, Porter, Temple, and Young over the last two Bulls wins. The veteran experience in the game to close things out has undoubtedly been one of the key difference-makers for this team, but it’s not the only notable difference from last season.

Donovan’s system has also given the Bulls a fighting chance. The motion offense has forced this team to play aggressively and therefore helped them become one of the most consistent free-throw shooting teams in the league.

Chicago is currently 4th in the NBA in free-throw attempts, and they’re actually 1st in free-throw attempts in the 4th quarter. I don’t need to tell you this, but shooting freebies is not only a good way to regain control of a game, but stretch out an already established lead. The Bulls have recognized that thus far this season and have used it to edge out close games.

I also can’t help but point out that the all-around decision-making has simply been better. Rather than relying on a trigger-happy Zach LaVine, Donovan seems to have forced these players to stick to the gameplan (for the most part … they still need some practice, of course), which allows for the team to shoot with the 6th-best TS% (shooting efficiency that takes into account 2’s, 3’s, and FT’s) in the 4th quarter this season (14th overall this season, 26th last year).

Sure, they are still 22nd in the league in turnover percentage and 24th in personal fouls committed, so there is work to be done. But the effect of Donovan is very real and very positive. And that should be encouraging for a number of reasons – one of which isn’t even strictly related to the development of this roster but potentially different rosters down the road.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Donovan has still made these early-season strides with plenty of bumps in the road. He has yet to have his full roster active for a single game this season, and two of his key players – Lauri Markkanen and Tomas Satoransky – have remained sidelined for the last three games. Making progress even in the face of adversity is what Donovan preaches, and it’s so far what he is accomplishing.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

more bulls news

Always Leads Back to MJ, An Alex Caruso Trade or Extension? And Other Bulls Bullets

At least it wasn't a sweep? An underwhelming NBA Finals continued on Friday night. The Dallas Mavericks were able to grab their first victory of the series, and they did it in shockingly dominant fashion. As impressive as the 38-point...

Which Teams Could Trade with the Chicago Bulls on Draft Night?

The Chicago Bulls are less than two weeks away from a very important draft night. As lackluster as this current class is, the Bulls have to find a way to make the most out of it. They are coming off...

An Unpredictable Draft Board, Is Trading Down an Option? The Last Shot, and Other Bulls Bullets

The NBA season could officially come to an end tonight in Dallas. You know what that means – time for Arturas Karnisovas to get to work! The 2024 NBA Draft is less than two weeks away. Typically, this is the...

Illinois Star Coleman Hawkins Commits to New Team on MASSIVE NIL Deal

According to On3, former University of Illinois basketball star Coleman Hawkins has transferred to Kansas State. The six-foot-ten forward had initially entered the 2024 NBA Draft but chose to remove himself from the pool of prospects on May 29th. News...

Tom Thibodeau Grabs Maurice Cheeks From the Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls will officially lose a well-respected coaching voice. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Maurice Cheeks will join the New York Knicks as an assistant head coach. Cheeks had been a member of Billy Donovan's coaching staff ever since...

A Couple of Chicago Sky Players Deserve Your All-Star Votes …

The WNBA officially opened up All-Star voting on Thursday! Fans will have a chance to submit their picks up until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29. This year's contest is scheduled for July 20 in Phoenix, Arizona, and the WNBA...

Illini’s Terrence Shannon Jr. Found Not Guilty

Illinois basketball star Terrence Shannon Jr. has been found not guilty by a Kansas jury, per multiple reports. The announcement comes after a trial that spanned days from rape charges pressed against Shannon in December of 2023. The Illini basketball...

Missing a Shot on Purpose? This Might be the Most “Michael Jordan” Story Ever

June might as well be the month of Michael Jordan. Nearly every day is an anniversary of something the GOAT did on his way to a legendary six championships. For instance, the date of publishing represents 27 years since Jordan's...

Ayo Dosunmu in the Gym, Make Some Dang Trades, Angel Reese’s Great Start, and Other Bulls Bullets

Never did I think I'd enjoy watching the 2023-24 Chicago Bulls more than these NBA Finals. As painful as it was, the majority of Bulls games this season were chaotically close. They appeared in 44 total clutch performances and collected...

NBA Finals Takeaways: Game 3 Loss Must Be Learning Experience For Luka Doncic

Last night's loss for the Mavericks was essentially the nail in the coffin for their NBA Championship hopes this season. They got off to a fantastic start on their home court after dropping Games 1 & 2 to Boston. They...

Latest News

Pirates vs. Rockies Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Colorado Rockies (25-45) and Hunter Goodman, coming off a four-hit game, are underdogs (+145) on the moneyline and will look to upset the Pittsburgh Pirates (33-37) on Sunday at 3:10 PM ET on COLR.Pittsburgh's Paul Skenes and Colorado's Dakota...

Mariners vs. Rangers Probable Starting Pitchers – June 16

The Seattle Mariners (42-31) take on the Texas Rangers (33-37) on Sunday at T-Mobile Park at 4:10 PM ET.The probable starters are Logan Gilbert (3-4) for the Mariners and Dane Dunning (4-5) for the Rangers.Mariners vs. Rangers Pitcher Matchup and...

Giants vs. Angels Probable Starting Pitchers – June 16

The Los Angeles Angels (28-42) and the San Francisco Giants (34-37) face off at Oracle Park on Sunday at 4:05 PM ET.The probable starters are Kyle Harrison (4-3) for the Giants and Ben Joyce for the Angels.Giants vs. Angels Pitcher...

Diamondbacks vs. White Sox Probable Starting Pitchers – June 16

The Chicago White Sox (19-53) play on Sunday in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks (34-37). First pitch is at 4:10 PM ET.The Diamondbacks will give the nod to Jordan Montgomery (4-4, 6.23 ERA), who is eyeing win No. 5 on...

Dodgers vs. Royals Probable Starting Pitchers – June 16

The Los Angeles Dodgers (43-29) host the Kansas City Royals (41-31) for a home game at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. First pitch is at 4:10 PM ET.The Dodgers will call on Tyler Glasnow (6-5) versus the Royals and Brady Singer...

Pirates vs. Rockies: Injury Report, Updates & Probable Starters – June 16

On Sunday, the Colorado Rockies (25-45) are hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates (33-37), at 3:10 PM ET, in the final game of a three-game set.Curious about who's in and who's out for the Pirates and the Rockies? Read on to see...

Diamondbacks vs. White Sox: Injury Report, Updates & Probable Starters – June 16

The Chicago White Sox (19-53) and Arizona Diamondbacks (34-37) will meet on Sunday at Chase Field, starting at 4:10 PM ET.Hoping to find out who's playing for the Diamondbacks and the White Sox? Continue scrolling for complete injury reports for...

Dodgers vs. Royals: Injury Report, Updates & Probable Starters – June 16

In the final game of a three-game set at Dodger Stadium, the Kansas City Royals (41-31) play the Los Angeles Dodgers (43-29), Sunday at 4:10 PM ET.Hoping to find out who's playing for the Dodgers and the Royals? Continue reading...

Nationals vs. Marlins Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Washington Nationals (34-36) and Miami Marlins (23-47) meet Sunday at Nationals Park, with first pitch at 1:35 PM ET on BSFL. The Nationals are -120 moneyline favorites for the contest, however, the Marlins are favored against the spread of...

Brewers vs. Reds Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Milwaukee Brewers (41-29) host the Cincinnati Reds (34-36) Sunday to close out a three-game series. The Brewers are favored (-134) to win the rubber match, which starts at 2:10 PM ET from American Family Field.Milwaukee's Colin Rea and Cincinnati's...

more bulls news