An Early Statement Victory, the Defense is Legit, Bench Boys Show Up, and Other Bulls Bullets

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An Early Statement Victory, the Defense is Legit, Bench Boys Show Up, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Last year’s 111-108 win over the Portland Trail Blazers was impressive. I’d also consider the 102-96 win over the Boston Celtics on ESPN a pretty solid win. But the fact of the matter is that over at least the last four seasons, the Chicago Bulls have not had a regular-season win like the one they had last night.

The team’s 107-99 victory over the Utah Jazz had me yelling at the television for all the right reasons. From start to finish, it was the most complete basketball game we have seen from this new-look roster, and for the first time in a long time, the organization showed the NBA they mean business.

•   I’d be lying if I said I was not somewhat skeptical of this team’s 4-0 start. While I’ve always been high on this group’s potential, it was hard to take much away from three wins against potential NBA bottom-feeders and one against a banged-up, offensively mucked-up Raptors team. This is why the team’s first two battles with playoff-caliber opponents were going to be extremely telling: Were the Bulls just another squad who beats up on bad teams and struggles against the rest? Or were they truly a reinvented organization that can go mono y mono with almost any group on any given night? Well, a 12-0 run to finish with just a one-point loss against the Knicks followed by a 107-99 win over last year’s best Western Conference team suggests the latter. In fact, I can now officially say that I have not felt this good about a Bulls team since the early 2010s.

•   The Jazz were the last remaining undefeated team in the NBA. They had the league’s top net rating and the 2nd-highest true-shooting percentage. Put differently, they started the regular season as hot as they finished it in 2020-21, and the Bulls looked like the better team. The team not only showed tremendous hustle from start to finish, but they played to their strengths. Everyone was noticeably more active off the ball on the offensive end, and players repeatedly put their athletic heads down to get to the free-throw line for a season-high 30 attempts (Utah, who came in leading the league in attempts, shot just 19). Chicago also proved to many doubters last night that their defensive execution is no joke. Not just any team can force one of the league’s most efficient offenses into 20 turnovers, while also holding them to a dismal 38.0 percent shooting from the field and 28.9 percent from downtown.

•   Even more impressive, the Bulls outscored the Jazz 25-8 on points off turnovers, as well as 13-8 in the fastbreak. The offense’s transition skills were in full effect, and their ability to control the pace of play at some of the game’s key moments was just as impressive as … well … everything else.

“I think you are trying to build out an identity of how you want to play,” Donovan said after the game. “This is the most consistent game I thought we played to an identity. I thought we ran consistently the majority of the game, I thought we played with really good pace. I thought we played downhill and got to the basket. We got to the free throw line 30 times … this was, to me from an identity standpoint, how we want to play. I thought it was one of the better games from start to finish.”

•   What continues to amaze me about this team, particularly after watching a youthfully distraught roster over the past few seasons, is the level of confidence. There is no question the halfcourt offense has sputtered at times this season as the starting lineup continues to get acclimated, but it has yet to really affect the outcome of the game. For example, after letting the Jazz go on a 13-2 run to bring the game within five with 2:13 to go, the Bulls showed no signs of distress. DeRozan and Vucevic took matters into their own hands and quickly put the dagger into a hopeful Utah team. I guess it just goes to show why you invest in top veteran talent.

•   Vucevic deserves a round of applause. I know that sounds weird after a 4-19 performance from the field, but he was truly the best example of how resilient this new Bulls team looks to be. Despite having issues all night with big man Rudy Gobert, he hit two-consecutive buckets with the team up five to help ice the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still frustrated he shot enough bricks to build a 3-bedroom, two-bath condo, but those two shots remind us exactly why he is the top-ranked big man he is. Also, can you imagine how much more lethal this team will be once he locates his previous All-Star-level shotmaking? Knockdown a couple more of those 3 footers, the Bulls’ offense takes a huge step in the right direction.

•   Everyone worried about the DeMar DeRozan fit and overpay, yet the Bulls are off to a 5-1 start with him averaging 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Everyone worried about the Bulls’ defense, yet the team sits the 5th-best defensive rating and 3rd in opponent turnovers. Everyone worried about the Bulls’ lack of depth, especially with Patrick Williams now sidelined, yet last night, depth is exactly what helped seal the deal on the best win of the season.

•   Tony Bradley and Derrick Jones Jr. got their first taste of extended minutes last night, and they probably could not have filled their role better. Bradley looked the rim-protecting presence this team has desperately needed, finishing with a +19 behind four rebounds and 2 blocks. Derrick Jones Jr. did much of the same, using his length and athleticism to add 3 blocks, 4 points, and a +18 performance to the board. I still expect we will see Alize Johnson in stints moving forward, as this frontcourt rotation might be matchup dependent, but there is no question both players earned themselves a lot more playing time tonight.

•   DeMar DeRozan was 9-10 on shots inside 15 feet last night. Once again, this is why you pay the man.

•   By the way, I can’t remember the last time I saw Zach LaVine show this much emotion and play to the crowd. He is a relatively reserved guy on the court, but to see him break out of his shell like this speaks volumes about the way he feels on this team.

Author: Elias Schuster

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