Time is the Bulls Greatest Need, Vooch Can’t Find His Shot, Turning Defense into Offense, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Time is the Bulls Greatest Need, Vooch Can’t Find His Shot, Turning Defense into Offense, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

The number one thing the Chicago Bulls need right now is … time.

With Ayo Dounsmu and 10-day contract player Stanley Johnson also entering the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols on Saturday, the Chicago Bulls have now reached seven players actively in quarantine. While they should, fortunately, be in a position to get a couple of those players back in the coming days, this stretch has still proven to be a substantial blow to the group’s early-season chemistry and momentum.

The Miami Heat – despite missing several of their own starters – were able to take complete care of business against this depleted Bulls crew. And as frustrating as that outcome may have been, it’s hard to blame the Bulls for letting the cards fall that way.

•   Fortunately, time is what will work in the Bulls’ favor this week. The next seven days will feature just two games for the Bulls, one of which will come against the East’s 11th-place team while the other will come against the 4-21 Detroit Pistons. While it’s not necessarily safe to walk into either matchup expecting a victory with so many players on the injury report for Chicago, there is no question this is a fortunate stretch for a team facing so many obstacles.

•   Whether seven players are in Health and Safety Protocols or the entire roster is healthy, Nikola Vucevic can not play like he did last night. The Bulls big man shot 5-15 from the field with just 10 points in a game where the Bulls desperately needed him to have any chance at keeping things close. It is now his 4th game in a row shooting less than 40 percent from the field, showing that his back-to-back games against the Hornets and Knicks were not the get-right performances we all thought they were. Backup Heat center Dwayne Dedmon outplayed Vucevic with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and a +22 on the night. When you’re getting outplayed by a backup center, you know the offensive slump has reached an advanced stage.

“I have never been through a slump like this,” Vucevic said. “I just have to work my way out of it. There is no other way right now. Obviously, I’m not playing well, and I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not doing my job, and I got to figure it out plain and simple.”

•   While I still lean toward believing the two-time All-Star will figure things out, I can’t deny this becomes a stickier situation as each inefficient performance passes by. The Bulls have seemingly done what they can to help Vucevic work his way out of his uncharacteristic first 20+ games. I thought Billy Donovan has done a good job running some more early-game action to get Vucevic in his spots. Likewise, I think Zach LaVine and Co. have been quicker to get him the ball in these spots, setting up a number of open looks the big man has shanked. Vucevic is still having performances like last night where he shoots 0-8 on shots 17-feet or closer. I know this is a new environment, and I know this is a new role. But how much longer can that be used as an excuse?

•   Vucevic is shooting a career-low 51 percent at the rim this season, which ranks in just the 6th percentile. His 39 percent success rate on attempts 4-14 feet from the cup is also a career-low. The turnaround hook in this area on the court has been a go-to move for Vucevic, but he continues to clank basketballs off the front of the rim and shoot just 15-37 on the season. While his offensive role isn’t as big as it once used to be, the Bulls still need him to play at a high level to be the best version of themselves, especially in the wake of so many other injuries. Again, I think he’ll eventually start to play in a more recognizable way, but how soon is “eventually?”

•   Having Alex Caruso back in the mix last night was encouraging, but the Bulls depleted rotation is still struggling to do what they do best: Turn defense into offense. Since the team’s victory over New York on December 2nd, the team has averaged the 27th-fewest turnovers per game (rank 11th on the season). They have lost the turnover battle in four-straight performances, and the Heat took full advantage of their 16-10 victory in that department with 22 points off turnovers compared to the Bulls 14. The less active this team can be at forcing turnovers, the fewer transition opportunities they have to ramp up the pace.

•   The good news is that through all of this annoyingness, the Bulls are still 3rd in the Eastern Conference behind the Nets and Bucks, respectively. And, if we’re being honest, it was hard to imagine a world where Milwaukee didn’t catch back up to Chicago. The reigning champions are regaining health and belong right near the top of the conference, and passing them again could prove quite difficult.

•   One really has to wonder if the NBA is going to start doing something about all of this.

•   You got to respect it.

Author: Elias Schuster

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