WE MADE IT!
The Chicago Bulls are about to embark on their most highly-anticipated season in nearly half a decade, so I thought we might as well go over a couple of important notes/topics before things fully tip-off on Tuesday. Ready? BREAK!
Tuesday, Oct. 5th: vs. Cavaliers – 7:00 p.m. CT
Friday, Oct. 8th: vs. Pelicans – 7:00 p.m. CT
Sunday, Oct. 10th: @ Cavaliers – 6:00 p.m. CT
Friday, Oct. 15th: vs. Grizzlies – 7:00 p.m. CT
Bulls: Patrick Williams and Coby White are both expected to miss Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both have taken positive strides during training camp, but neither Williams nor White have resumed full on-court activities. White, particularly, is still not expected to return until November. The earliest Williams could return from his ankle injury is a week before training camp on October 13th. However, if he is back on the front end of this recovery timeline, it’s fair to wonder whether or not the Bulls would even look to run him out for the final preseason game or simply save him for opening night.
Cavaliers: Big man Jarrett Allen and second-year wing Isaac Okoro both missed a practice last week, but the two seem to be back on track and available to play in Tuesday and Thursday night’s game.
Pelicans: The Chicago Bulls will avoid big man Zion Williamson in their preseason matchup with the Pelicans. Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin announced on Media Day that Williamson received offseason foot surgery and the organization was hopeful he could return by the start of the season. The recently acquired Jonas Valanciunas is also dealing with a thumb injury, per ESPN, and he is currently doubtful for New Orleans’ preseason opener against the Timberwolves on Monday. Keep in mind, the Bulls also play the Pelicans in their home-opener on October 22nd.
Grizzlies: Did you know Kris Dunn was now on the Memphis Grizzlies? Well, you do now. The former Bulls point guard is dealing with a non-COVID-related illness, but it appears he could be back on the court for this preseason conclusion.
So … How Many Minutes for the Starters?
I’m sure the amount of time Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic are on the court will have a direct correlation to the number of viewers on NBC Sports Chicago. Everyone around the league is dying to see (1) how this core fits together on offense and (2) whether or not they can produce anything positive on the defensive end. No, the preseason is not a time where we should draw definitive conclusions either way, but what this team shows over its first four games will tell us at least something about those two things.
Not to mention, this will be the most valuable time to develop on-court chemistry and establish a style of play. Training camp plays its own special role in that process but nothing beats trying things out in a real game environment. With all of that being the case, I would expect to see the traditional starters – with the exception of an injured Patrick Williams – eat significant minutes from the jump. And head coach Billy Donovan practically confirmed as much on Monday afternoon.
“My feeling is to try to make sure those guys get a good run just because four preseason games is not a lot and it’s a new group,” Donovan told K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “So them playing together a good portion of the game is important.”
What does a “good portion of the game” equate to? Well, we’ll find out tomorrow, but I have to imagine it will be somewhere around 24-27 minutes a night. Donovan took a similar approach with his new team last season, with LaVine averaging 26.2 minutes and Coby White averaging 28.2 minutes per game over their four preseason games. Perhaps the 30+ veterans like DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic see a little less clock with a taxing regular season ahead, but I have to imagine each player also wants to be out there to get a feel for their new teammates.
After all, this entire organization saw how complicated learning on the fly during the regular season could be post-trade deadline, so I expect everyone to use these exhibition games wisely.
The starters: Duh, we addressed that above.
The style of play: Donovan wants to play fast. The Bulls head coach made clear at Media Day that he thought the team’s offense took a step backward in terms of his preferred style of play after the trade deadline last season. Now, with the addition of a transition point guard like Lonzo Ball and another athletic wing in DeMar DeRozan, the ability to play fast is sitting in their lap. But how fast is too fast? We have to remember that Nikola Vucevic is not known for his wheels. Likewise, he has been one of the more frequent post-up players in the league in recent years and can thrive as a playmaker down low, so the Bulls will surely want to play to that strength, right? We also can not forget that DeMar DeRozan is one of the best pick-and-roll playmakers in the NBA, and it would be silly not to let him flaunt that skill with a strong screener like Vucevic, great C&S threat like Ball, and tough cutter like LaVine alongside him. So while I do believe this Bulls team will look to push the pace, the preseason will give us a better idea of exactly what that means for this roster.
The Battle: While a majority of the attention will be on this starting group, what we see off the bench could be just as important. The Bulls have two roster spots (as well as a final two-way contract) up for grabs, and while the expectation is for both Alize Johnson and Stanley Johnson to be on this team come opening night, Matt Thomas, Tyler Cook, Daniel Oturu, and Ethan Thompson will likely not go down without a fight. All of these guys will have something to prove in the minutes they get this offseason, and I’m sure Arturas Karnisovas will have a very close eye on all of them.
The Johnsons: As we noted above, Alize and Stanley make the most sense for this roster based on recent experience and position alone. But who will end up ahead of who in the rotation? We talked a bit more about this in Monday’s bullets, but Donovan named Stanley as someone the team has used in Patrick Williams’ absence during training camp. Does that mean he will earn more clock than Alize over the next few weeks or will the coaching staff split it evenly to make a true comparison?
The Second Man in the Middle: Tony Bradley is remarkably important to this team. The 23-year-old projects to be the go-to backup center for this roster, and this will arguably be the most responsibility he’s had during his young career. I’ll be curious to see how comfortable he looks out there with the second unit, and whether or not he can show early signs of being the strong rim-protector this team desperately needs.
The Rookies: If you want to see Ayo Dosunumu and Marko Simonovic in action, this is the time to do it. Neither is currently in line to carry much of a role when the season starts, but maybe they can change that with some strong preseason play. We’ll see.