Missing Effort, Regression to the Mean? Needed Frontcourt Improvement, and Other Bulls Bullets

Four minutes of Zach LaVine.

No Alex Caruso.

No Javonte Green.

No Derrick Jones Jr.

No Tyler Cook or Patrick Williams.

All of that matters. No question. But does it matter enough to make a 40-point loss acceptable? Nope.

•   If the Bulls lost these previous two games by single-digits – heck, or even less than 15 points – the concern would be several notches lower. However, they not only suffered two of their three worst losses of the season, but they allowed a season-high 138 points in each game on freakin’ national television. Short-handed or not, that’s unacceptable behavior from a team that wants to maintain its spot at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

•   This week was a massive opportunity for the Bulls to prove they belonged where they were. While no one can take away their 3rd-best record in the NBA, they can begin to question the validity of it. Blowout losses happen (the Warriors suffered one against the Bucks the night before playing the Bulls, and the Nets suffered one against the Thunder the night after playing the Bulls), but they shouldn’t happen in back-to-back games for a team that wants to be a contender. We know what this Bulls team can do in the face of adversity. We saw an impressive next-man-up mentality for the first two months of the season, one that never sacrificed identity or effort. And that’s what makes this latest stint all the more frustrating. Why now do we see a lack of effort? Why now do we see a snowball effect instead of a chip on their shoulder?

•   Again, I understand the Bulls are missing several above-average defenders and energy-providers, but Billy Donovan said it himself: “There is enough for us to compete better than we did.” Chicago still shouldn’t lose the points off turnover battle 21-6. Chicago still shouldn’t give up 18 fastbreak points. Chicago still shouldn’t allow a team to shoot 56 percent. Lonzo Ball still shouldn’t commit 5 turnovers. Nikola Vucevic still shouldn’t nonchalantly inbound the ball (leading to an easy Warriors steal and layup). The Warriors deserve credit for taking control of the game in the way they did, but those are self-inflicted and effort-based wounds for the Bulls. Considering they got to this point due to consistency and a relentless grind on both ends, I’m left confused.

•   I honestly can’t help but wonder if the Bulls are simply regressing to the mean. We can all agree the Bulls claiming the No. 1 spot this fast was unexpected. Even those who were high on this team initially could not have pictured a spot over the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks coming. Of course, this isn’t to say the Bulls do not belong near the top of the Eastern Conference (I still think they have shown they do), but I think it’s demonstrating they still have a lot to learn to yet be considered above more proven teams.

•   Now, on the bright side, DeMar DeRozan continues to say all the right things. He sounds like the veteran leader this locker room needs to claw their way out of a funk.

“At some point in the season, every team will have the hump they got to get over.” DeRozan said. “I think we’re at that point, and we got to get over it. We got to learn from it, we got to get over it at the same time. Whether it’s January, February, I’d rather us understand our struggle now than later. We can learn a lot from what we’re going through now.”

•   Can the Bulls learn a lot before tonight’s game? Or before Monday’s matchup with the hottest team in the league? I got to be honest, my confidence level in the team’s ability to bounce back over these next two games isn’t very high, especially when we consider Lonzo Ball might also miss tonight’s game with knee soreness. The good news is the Bulls still have two All-Stars in DeRozan and Vucevic who have plenty of experience carrying a team, but can Donovan adjust on the fly to put them both in a position to succeed? With so many players missing, these two will surely have to be staggered in the rotation, and the Bulls will have to find a way to run an offense that flips off between these two players’ strengths.

•   Speaking of knee issues, we have some very positive Zach LaVine news!

•   While the Bulls try to make up for a number of absences, the Celtics will basically take the court at full health. Yippie. 

•   A healthier Bulls team will get this defensive rating back up … but by how much?

•   With a clear hole at the power forward position and a lack of real rim-protection with Nikola Vucevic, it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe the Bulls can go without adding frontcourt depth at this deadline. Perhaps we’re not looking at a Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes deal (or maybe we are?), but I think this front office has to evaluate their options and find someone with veteran experience who can clock real rotational minutes at the four. Even if Patrick Williams makes a heroic return after the All-Star break, this is still a team that will need more size than what Javonte Green or Derrick Jones Jr. can provide off the bench come playoff time. The Bulls have given up 3rd-most points in the paint on a nightly basis since December 1st. Super icky.

•   As always, good stuff from Mario!

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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