I came into last night’s game with little confidence the Bulls would take down a Philly team that has stood undefeated since James Harden arrived. And that confidence only dwindled further when Nikola Vucevic was officially ruled out roughly an hour before tip-off.
So while I may have still ended the night irked by a five-game losing streak, I didn’t find myself all that angry. What this recent stretch has reminded us is the Chicago Bulls are still very much a work in progress. Not only is there a significant lack of collective experience, but the Bulls have been built so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Bulls rely on a balanced attack more than a handful of teams around the league. They don’t have a Giannis Antetokounmpo or a Joel Embiid or a Nikola Jokic or a Kevin Durant that can drag them through the mud. Sure, DeRozan did it for a little. And, yes, LaVine has his moments. But neither has reached that tippy-top level where they can hoist their team over each obstacle. That isn’t to say it can’t happen eventually (that’s part of where experience comes in), but it’s why the Bulls sit where they do right now.
• Do the Bulls win that game with Nikola Vucevic? Who knows, but the team did miss him last night. The defense got to focus that much more on both perimeter threats without Vucevic’s inside presence and passing skills. Not to mention, the lane found itself clogged at times without his spacing ability. There is also no question his seven-foot frame would have been nice in a matchup with the 76ers’ MVP candidate. No, I’m not trying to sit here and pretend Vucevic would have made a significant difference stopping Embiid, but does he foul a bit less? Maybe.
• Vucevic tends to do a decent job of not sending folks to the free-throw line. You can perhaps chalk that up to a lack of physicality, but it’s not like the 29 minutes of Thompson’s chippiness swung the game in the Bulls’ direction. The backup big man picked up 5 fouls (paving the way for some extra Tony Bradley minutes, which did not go well), helping Embiid match his second-best scoring total of the season at 43 points. The 16 free throws he shot last night were his most in any of the four matchups against the team this season. Again, to be sure, while Vucevic’s size and shooting may have made a bit of a difference, it’s not like anyone on this team was going to contain Embiid. He is as overpowering as he is crafty, and the pick-and-roll he ran side-by-side with James Harden was as lethal as expected.
• I mentioned this briefly the other day, but I think it’s already time to mention it again: Derrick Jones Jr. should get more run. With Vucevic on the sideline, head coach Billy Donovan did turn back to that ultra-small lineup with Jones at center. We first got a real taste of this when Vucevic was sidelined due to COVID, and we continued to see Donovan turn to it at times depending on the matchup. It gives the Bulls an extremely switchable defense and only plays to their strengths of a transition-centric offense. I understand this can’t be used in every situation, but I feel like it can be a go-to look in short spurts against a handful of teams. The sheer athleticism it allows for the Bulls to have on the court is unmatched, and Jones does have the length, verticality, and elasticity to contest shots on end while putting pressure on the rim out of the PnR on the other.
• But, hey, if you don’t want to play him more at center, just give him a bit more run at power forward! I have no question continuing to turn to Jones is a better option than the recent two-big lineup Donovan has tested out. In fact, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls have a +9.3 efficiency differential (94th percentile) when Jones is in at power forward. That’s like, uh, really good. I also can’t help but think about the help he’s brought on the offensive glass. For a Bulls team that continues to get killed in this department, Jones has averaged roughly 2.0 OREBs a game when he clocks at least 20mins of action. His OREB% ranks in the NBA’s 77th percentile, per Dunks & Threes. We saw this on display last night as half of his six boards came on the offensive glass, two of which came accompanied by a quick putback for the score.
• I tip my hat to Coby White. It may not have been the most efficient performance, but his 19 points with the second unit did help the Bulls win the bench points battle for the first time in this season series.
• We dove deeper into just how much things have changed since Caruso and Ball left the floor. It ain’t an excuse … but it ain’t pretty.
No Ball, No Caruso, No Balance for the Bullshttps://t.co/y88dbOadbk
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 7, 2022
• If the Bulls’ updates before every game didn’t make it clear, DeMar DeRozan is one of the NBA’s sneaker kings. He recently went shopping with Complex while giving some cool background on his love for the shoe game. Oh, and he also reminds all of us what it’s like to be an NBA All-Star as he casually drops 12,000 dollars on shoes and clothes at the end of this video. Just your typical Saturday.
• I’m not going to dive too deep into this, but I do think fans tend to forget an athlete is also living a real life. Talk your trash. Tweet your memes. But rarely is it ever worth making it personal.
Russell Westbrook on criticism sparking a response from his wife: "She's reached a point and my family has reached a point where it's really weighing on them and it's very unfortunate just for me personally because this is just a game. This is not end all be all…" pic.twitter.com/1CyoOh9DyR
— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) March 8, 2022
• *deep breath* NOOOOOOOOO!!!
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) March 8, 2022