Lonzo Ball Deserves Even More Love, Alex Caruso's Status, Nuggets Again, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Lonzo Ball Deserves Even More Love, Alex Caruso’s Status, Nuggets Again, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Like a (dishonest) parent, I’m here to say I love every single Bulls player the same. I want to ensure they all get that tip of the hat they deserve for this shocking 16-8 start — a start that currently has them just .5 a game back of the Brooklyn Nets for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

DeMar DeRozan has gotten plenty of props for his remarkable clutch play. Zach LaVine has maintained his spot among the league’s elite scorers. And Nikola Vucevic was recently celebrated for a bounceback that helped the Bulls pull off a 3-0 record last week. With all of that in mind, I feel like I need to take Lonzo Ball out for ice cream.

•   Don’t get me wrong, Ball has been praised plenty this season, but it’s easy to forget his impact on a game-to-game basis, especially when he shoots 6-24 from the field in back-to-back performances. Yet, Ball still deserves some recognition for the role he played in the team’s undefeated week and latest surge up the league ranks. Despite that most recent lackluster shooting performance, Ball is still one of the team’s more efficient scorers with a career-high 54.3 effective field goal percentage, which sits in the league’s 85th percentile. More importantly, however, has been his continued emphasis on ball movement and playmaking. Ball dished a total of 21 assists in each of his three games, the most we’ve seen from him over a three-game stretch this season.

•  Likewise, he recorded back-to-back 3-block games against the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, which is the first time he’s done that in his career. And while Alex Caruso is – rightfully – the beginning and end of most defensive discussions in Chicago, it’s the backcourt tandem of him *and* Ball that has been so effective. Ball added three more steals to his season total last week, moving him into 6th place among the league leaders. According to Basketball-Reference, the pairing of the league’s 6th-best and single-best pocket-picker holds a +9.2 point differential, which is the second-best of any two-man combination besides DeRozan and Caruso (+13.2). Ball’s help defense has always been strong, but it’s his on-ball pressure that seem to have taken another step in the right direction this season.

•   Ball may not be commanding the bottom of the net on a regular basis, but he is filling the box score better than a large chunk of the NBA. His overall two-way skillset this season is starting to mimic what many thought they would see when he went off the board with the 2nd pick in 2017. As Bulls radio announcer Chuck Swirsky pointed out, Ball is the only NBA player to currently have 100+ rebounds, 100+ assists, 40+ steals, and 20+ blocks on the season. Look at his nightly averages, and he joins Stephen Curry as the only other player to average 10.0 or more points with at least 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and a 40.0 percent clip from downtown.

•   Ball might as well be the best representation of what this Bulls team brings to the table. Individually, no one player is accomplishing anything statistically overwhelming. An exception could be made for DeMar DeRozan’s lethal 4th quarter numbers, but he generally is not doing anything he has not done before – on paper. The same can be said for Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and Ball. Again, generally speaking. The group rather works together to thrive in their respective roles and create a balanced product on both ends of the floor (4th overall Net Rating). Put differently, the team has truly been the epitome of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

•   Alex Caruso clocked just 8 minutes in the Bulls 111-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. He came into the contest questionable with a tweaked hamstring, and Billy Donovan said after the game that the training staff decided to end his night early because they didn’t like how he was moving. Instead of trying to give it a go again tonight, it appears the Bulls might be ready to give Caruso a full game off. I want to assume since he has not officially been ruled out that this is simply a day-by-day situation, but we all know hamstring issues can linger.

•   The Denver Nuggets are about as banged-up as any team in the league, yet The Athletic still has them listed as the 8th-best squad for good reason. If anything, Nikola Jokic has played better than he did during his MVP campaign so far this year, averaging 26.1 points, 6.4 assists, 13.6 rebounds on 59.0 percent shooting from the field. Denver was able to hold things to just a 6-point game without Jokic the first time these two met, so it’s hard to hate their chances at an upset in Chicago tonight.

•   The Bulls won the rebounding battle 50-38 in their first matchup with the Nuggets, which included winning the offensive glass 17-7. I think it’s safe to say this played a big role in their ability to edge things out, but replicating this dominant performance will be a sizable challenge with Jokic back in the lineup. On the flip side, one thing this team hopes not to replicate is their clip behind the 3-point line. They went just 8-31 against the Nuggets while allowing them to shoot a much better 14-37.

•   We could probably post this after every game.

•   A lot of movement in the NHL right now.

Author: Elias Schuster

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