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Building Out Real Depth, Superstar LaVine, DeRozan’s Status, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

If you handed me a puzzle and said five pieces were missing, I probably wouldn’t do the puzzle. Not only is placing the last piece of a puzzle arguably the most satisfying feeling known to mankind, but the entire thing would just feel like a waste of time. Why put so much effort into something that couldn’t be finished? Well, the Chicago Bulls showed us why last night.

Despite the absence of DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, Coby White, and Patrick Williams, the Bulls beat the Denver Nuggets by double-digits. They may not have had a finished product in front of them, but they put enough pieces together for us to make out the bigger picture. The Bulls showed that as important as those five individual players are in making the best version of this team, they don’t dictate the style in which the Bulls play or the intensity they bring to the floor.

Again, the Bulls will be the most successful version of themselves with a fully healthy roster, but the fact we can still clearly make out what makes this team great in spite of that is … well … what makes this team great.

More thoughts on what last night’s win means below … 

•   Let’s make something clear: Beating the Denver Nuggets isn’t beating the Golden State Warriors or Phoenix Suns. Like Chicago, the team was heavily depleted with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Austin Rivers, P.J. Dozier, and Bol Bol all on the injury report heading into last night’s game. But last night’s win wasn’t about who the Bulls beat as much as it was about how they did it. The fact Chicago could be down the NBA’s 4th-leading scorer as well as four other key rotation players and still post highlight after highlight in a double-digit victory speaks volumes about where this team stands, as well as the talent level that is now on the roster.

•   There was an endless number of paths to attack the previous regime, but one of the clearest was the team’s depth. Toward the end of the GarPax tenure, when the team was supposedly working its way out of a rebuild, the Bulls relied on names like Denzel Valentine, Ryan Arcidiacono, Chandler Hutchison, Shaquille Harrison, and Luke Kornet too many times to count. Valentine has currently appeared in just 15 games for the Cavaliers averaging 6.5 minutes. Arcidiacono is currently a member of the Marine Celtics of the G-League alongside Kornet. Hutchison is on a two-way contract in Phoenix and has appeared in just three games. And Harrison is part of the 76ers’ G-League affiliate. I don’t mean any disrespect to these individual players, but we all know, as a collective unit, this isn’t an NBA-caliber bench. Not even close.

•   What Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have done in less than two years is build a roster that has NBA talent at spots 1-15. Even though players like Troy Brown Jr., Alize Johnson, and Tony Bradley have fallen in and out of the rotation this season, they have not been a significant blow to this team when asked to carry more weight. Brown served as an important reminder of this last night, adding 6 points with 8 rebounds in a +12 performance. Bradley had a similarly positive contribution, adding 6 rebounds and 1 block in just a little over 12 minutes of play (+18).

•   Guys like Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green have been even more significant examples of this front office’s smart bench building. The acquisition of Green was practically an afterthought at the trade deadline, and the front office then surprised many of us when they handed him a fresh two-year contract this offseason. But the 28-year-old has now become one of the most important role players on the team with his rebounding and transition speed, even starting 12 games. As for Jones, the team made sure to acquire him alongside a first-round pick in the Lauri Markkanen deal, and it’s easy to see why. A five-year vet who went on a Finals trip with the Miami Heat, he has displayed much-needed rim-protecting on one end and real promise in the PnR on the other. Last night, in his first start of the season, he dropped a much-needed 12 points with 9 rebounds.

•   Again, these are all guys we can picture on a competent NBA team. They are players who possess either a specific skill set or the natural athleticism to contribute when called upon. I know it’s silly to praise an organization for, well, doing its job, but it’s quite amazing to see what the Bulls have done even past the starting five in such a short amount of time.

•   I think Zach LaVine said best himself:

•   This also isn’t last year’s Zach LaVine. As good as the guy was in 2020-21, we are finally seeing him thrive in a winning environment. Despite all the roster changes, he continues to be a top-10 bucket-getter and score at one of the most efficient clips in the league. The more he plays alongside this caliber of talent, including a legitimate closer in DeMar DeRozan, the more he understands what it takes to pull out the win. And last night that understanding was on full display. In true superstar fashion, he scored 12 points in the final 3:57 of the 3rd quarter to get the Bulls their largest lead of the night at 77-71. With the Bulls within arms reach the entire game, LaVine knew that was the surge this team needed to put his team in the best position to win.

“Zach was great all the way around, I thought he worked really hard defensively, there was a lot on his plate offensively, not only scoring but facilitating, and he played an exceptional game,” Donovan said after the game.”

•   Like we said yesterday, this should have been the expectation with so many cases already on the team. DeRozan is now set to miss at least the next four games unless he can record two negative tests before his 10-day quarantine is up. Ugh.

•   At least we still have this deadly backcourt.

•   A roster with Vucevic and Jokic is rather confusing, but I’m glad to see Vucevic recruiting! 



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is a writer for Bleacher Nation and a human being. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.