I felt bad for Nikola Vucevic. How could I not?
While I know some wallowed in frustration over missed layups and bricked 3’s, I could not help but simply feel an overwhelming sense of “bummed.” Not only was the big man a two-time All-Star, but Bulls fans saw exactly what he was capable of when he arrived in Chicago last season.
Sure, it may have been in a completely different setting than this season, one that allowed for his usage rate to stay much closer to what he grew used to, but the guy still averaged 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds on an efficient 47.1 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from downtown. New teammates aside, that stat line is far more indicative of the player Vucevic is than the one we saw over his first 14 games this season (13.4 points with a 40.0 FG% and 26.3 3PT%).
• In fact, that’s why I couldn’t be mad. We already saw how good Vucevic could be in a Bulls uniform last season. Again, the circumstances may have been different and the record may have been worse, but the vision of how he could exist with Zach LaVine on this Bulls roster was clear. Then, that vision became all the more clear with the addition of other versatile offensive weapons this offseason, ones who could better utilize the big man’s playmaking ability and (theoretically) find him even easier buckets. So when he started the season as rough as he did, I wasn’t mad the Bulls overpaid for some kind of good-stats-bad-team guy, I was just bummed it was taking this long for him to adapt. The fact LaVine, DeRozan, Ball, and Caruso all clicked effortlessly only made it stand out more. But the proof was always there: Vucevic is a big-time player, and that is why I can’t say I was shocked to see him walk off the United Center floor with 30 points and 14 rebounds in a monstrous 133-119 win last night.
“I have confidence in my game and, obviously, I’ve been playing at a high level for a long time, so I knew it was going to come,” Vucevic told reproters on Monday night. “But, obviously, when you go through struggles it’s never easy, especially because you feel like you’re not helping your team. And that was kind of the biggest things for me because it’s a new team and we’re trying to establish something. And when you feel like you’re not helping as much as you should, it just bothers you, it annoys you.
• Honestly, what Vucevic described above is exactly why I think it took this long for him to breakthrough. As an unselfish player wanting to experience the smoothest transition possible, the more he missed shots the less he wanted to take. Instead, we saw him still thrive as a screen-setter and passer, but the timidness to score the basketball likely came from a fear of not best helping the team. Put differently, I think Vucevic wanted to make sure everyone else got fed first, particularly after his rough start. And while that might be admirable, he needed to realize the ultimate way to help his teammates was to power through this slump. We all watched him do that last night.
Just watch each reaction after Vooch hits that shot.
You can just tell everyone was so pumped to see him hit that and finish the half strong. Fun stuff.
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) November 30, 2021
• What we saw from Vucevic against Charlotte isn’t going to become some kind of a nightly occurrence. After all, the Hornets have been one of the more questionable teams when it comes to defending the rim this season, and they were also absent of starting center Miles Plumlee. But there is little doubt a game like this should give Vucevic some newfound confidence. Not to mention, the game should also open up the entire roster’s eye to how best to get the big man involved.
• More on all the goodness from last night’s bucketpalooza below:
The Bulls Were Built for Exactly That Sort of Offensive Explosionhttps://t.co/zabxFU184S
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) November 30, 2021
• Lonzo and LaMelo Ball battled for only the third time in their NBA careers last night, and the older brother took the series lead! LaMelo still had himself a solid game with 18 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds, but he finished as a -9 on the night with just a 5-15 performance from the field. His sibling’s defense was a big reason why, as Lonzo stuck to LaMelo’s hip and held him to just a 33.3 percent clip when the two went 1v1, according to NBA Stats Matchup Data.
“Just try to take him out of his rhythm,” Lonzo said when asked about guarding his brother. “Melo likes to get comfortable and dance with the ball a lot. When he starts doing that, he’s really dangerous to guard and stuff. For me, it’s just trying to make him get out of rhythm.
• Lonzo finished the night with a much more efficient 6-8 performance from the field with 16 points and 8 assists. He may have provided the less flashy performance and played the overall lesser role, but (in true big brother fashion) all he cared about was the W: “I play to win,” Ball said. “I’m still the big brother at the end of the day, and I got to stack my wins.”
• Seriously, though, shoutout to Lonzo and all of his teammates for keeping the ball moving. Chicago finished with a season-high 35 assists, and the offense flowed better than coffee through my digestive system (Too much?). Everything seemed to go the right way on that side of the ball … well, almost everything. The Hornets must have watched plenty of film on this Bulls team because we did see them slip into a zone defense several times throughout the game. While Chicago was eventually able to overcome it, Charlotte still ignited a 21-6 run to start the 4th quarter because of it. They forced the Bulls into some bad long-range shots and cut off most of the ball movement that built Chicago its large lead. But, hey, at least it didn’t prove disastrous, and at least it was another opportunity for the Bulls to learn from their mistakes.
• THEY KEEP GETTING BETTER. LEAGUE SHOULD BE SCARED.
The @chicagobulls had three players record at least 25p/5r/5a last night:
✅ Nikola Vucevic (30/14/5)
✅ DeMar DeRozan (28/5/6)
✅ Zach LaVine (25/6/5)
It's the first time in franchise history that's occurred, and the first time it's happened in the NBA since Jan. 18, 2010. pic.twitter.com/PeLmVL4ipF
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) November 30, 2021
• Lol this is great.
• Never change, Chicago.
United Center is chanting "Lonzo's better" with LaMelo at free-throw line late, with a few "fire Nagy" chants mixed in as well it sounds like.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) November 30, 2021
• Oh, so that is why Arturas Karnisovas signed Tyler Cook to a two-way deal. Got it. Makes sense.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 30, 2021
• Was this me? I’ll never tell.
They really turned $100 into over $20K with this insane Bulls/Hornets Same Game Parlay 🤩
— br_betting (@br_betting) November 30, 2021
• I’m proud of my Alma Mater for letting the Bears here it.
“Fire Nagy!” Chants Go Downstate, Jackson Backs His Coach, MNF Madness, Awful Scheduling Luck, and Other Bears Bulletshttps://t.co/kPLI6dkEdy
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) November 30, 2021