Expected Struggles, the Supporting Cast, Vucevic is the Ideal Teammate, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Expected Struggles, the Supporting Cast, Vucevic is the Ideal Teammate, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Seasons over. Vucevic is a bust. Trade everyone. Fire Donovan. Move to Seattle.

•   Nikola Vucevic and Billy Donovan aren’t stressing last night’s disorganized start to the Bulls new area, which means we shouldn’t either. In fact, both referred to the performance as “expected” in their individual post-game press conferences, pointing toward the newness of it all as the obvious obstacle. I want instant gratification as much as the next guy, but that’s just not going to happen when an organization makes the kind of massive change the Bulls did mid-season. Don’t get me wrong, I still think things will look better sooner than later. It’s just that adding a 2x All-Star to a position that was previously one of the weakest on the team can be a bit of a chemistry shock. I mean, think about it, none of these leftover Bulls players have operated around an elite center. Not only do they not fully understand Vucevic’s game yet, but they simply don’t know what to look for yet. The whole team missed Vucevic time and again last night, but that should (fortunately) be a pretty quick fix, especially when the other players begin to realize (through watching film and clocking more minutes) how much easier a guy like Vucevic can make the game for everyone.

•   We also need to factor in that (1) no one practiced together prior to this game, (2) Zach LaVine was playing banged up, and (3) Vucevic said Billy Donovan had to shorten the playbook: “They sent me the playbook last night, so I was able to get a feel for it and learn a little bit. I feel like I knew most of the plays that we called. Obviously, that’s different from knowing the actual play and how to run it, getting the timing right, and all those things.” Yup, that’s very true.

•   As for the LaVine-Vucevic two-man game, it definitely left a lot to be desired. However, I think Donovan described the issues well when he pointed out that both were focused a little too much on getting the other involved. Again, it can be a big change to suddenly see a team’s weakest positions become one of the strongest, especially for the pre-existing All-Star player on the roster who is used to putting everyone on his back. Vucevic has never played alongside a guy as skilled as LaVine during his prime, and the same can be said for LaVine. Both were forced to become the go-to figure for their franchises in recent years, but now they have help. Forget schematically, but mentally this comes with its own challenges, which Donovan addressed from LaVine’s point of view after the game: “I think the thing Zach can not do is start to worry about feeding him. Like, there are opportunities to find Vooch, and we missed him a lot tonight. I think it’s just those guys playing together. And I think because Zach is an unselfish player and he wants to win, I thought he shot the ball poorly – in my opinion – from the perspective that he was trying to find him, and I think it took him out of rhythm too.” I’m excited to see how things look on Monday. 

•   The fact we saw the Bulls claw their way to a single-digit deficit after being down 36 points should probably be taken as a positive. From the 2:46 mark in the 3rd quarter to the 5:13 mark in the 4th quarter, the Bulls outscored the Spurs 36-13 to move the score from 94-62 to 107-98. Even better, that stretch included big-time plays from all of the Bulls new players. Troy Brown Jr. scored 8 points in his first action, Al-Farouq Aminu played some very solid defense and grabbed five rebounds, Javonte Green came up with a big block, and Vucevic added seven of his 21 points (which included the three to cut the Spurs lead to just nine). I can work with that.


•   I’m a big body-language and intagibles guy, so I was super excited when I saw Vucevic clapping his hands and high-fiving all his teammates down 30-plus. Those little things will go a long way, particularly for a team that still relies on a lot of young talent and has repeatedly struggled to stay engaged for a full 48 minutes. Like, I freakin’ love that even in a blowout loss, Vucevic made clear to Donovan he wanted to go back in to learn with his teammates. A mentality like that is why I feel very encouraged that we will see the tide turn soon.

•   Yes, I was concerned about the defense (Spurs shot 77 percent in the paint), but I’m going to wait a little bit longer for this team to get comfortable, and for Daniel Theis to arrive, before I panic.

•   Something to monitor, but it seems like LaVine still has every intention to play.

•   Daniel Gafford last night: 13 points (6-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 blocks. Do you think he felt motivated?



•   Luke Kornet last night: 8 points (3-5 FG), 5 rebounds, and the go-ahead 3-pointer. Do you think he felt motivated?


Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.