The Chicago Bulls have a lot to figure out in a little amount of time.
While they clinched their first playoff berth since 2017, the Bulls certainly didn’t do it in style. Chicago has lost 14 of their last 21 games, including three-straight blowout losses to the Heat, Bucks, and Celtics. The team has held just the 26th-ranked net rating since the All-Star break, and it’s led to a tumble down to the East’s 6th seed.
Still, as sour as the past few weeks have been, the fact that this organization has found itself locked into a playoff series is undoubtedly sweet. It’s been a long-time coming for a team starving for relevancy, and the foundation built this year should make a difference moving forward. But before we think about next year, we have to see if this group can make the most of the playoff opportunity right in front of them. And their ability to do so could be impacted by their decision-making over these final two games.
Not only should head coach Billy Donovan consider giving banged-up talent like Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso extra rest, but he should consider extending the leash on guys like Patrick Williams and Coby White. Two role-players who are positioned to play vital roles come next week, it’s hard not to think both could benefit from building individual momentum in these final two games.
Williams has played in just 10 games since returning from his 65-game absence this season. Over that span, he’s averaged just 7.0 points with 5.0 rebounds in some up and down performances. The second-year forward showed his fair share of rust upon his return, but he started to make his presence felt as the games flew by. While he tallied just 5 points in the Bulls’ Thursday meeting with the Celtics, he did manage to score double-digit points in each of the three prior games. He also snatched at least six rebounds in each of those battles.
Williams has flashed his explosiveness and raw athleticism several times throughout the past 10 games, and he’s done it while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from downtown. It’s left all of us wanting more … and now could be the perfect time for Donovan to give us more.
“I think I’m getting better,” Williams said after the team’s loss to the Celtics. “I love the fact that he’s [Billy Donovan] open like he said to you guys, but he’s also open to me about what he wants to see from me. He doesn’t hesitate to pull me over to the side and tell me after a play, ‘hey you should have kept it there or on this play you should of,’ he tells me what he saw and you kind of have a dialogue back and forth about what I saw and what he saw.”
Resting some of the team’s stars and tagging Williams to be the frontman on a handful of possessions could go a long way toward building trust before the playoffs. Whether it by facing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, or Jimmy Butler, Williams’ switch-ability and athletic frame could prove helpful on the defensive end and in the rebounding department. Likewise, as opposing defenses surely hone in on DeRozan and LaVine, the more confident Williams is cutting off the ball and attacking his spots on the floor, the better. The opportunities are going to be there when the lights are bright, so feeding him extra opportunities now could prove huge.
So Patrick Williams just did this on back-to-back possessions: pic.twitter.com/PVOZNPjKzO
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) April 3, 2022
The same can be said about Coby White. After averaging 14.0 points per game on 40.0 percent from downtown over his first 39 games of the season, the Bulls sparkplug has fizzled out. White has shot just 33.0 percent from behind the arc over his last 21 games, scoring just under 10.0 points a night. The third-year guard has practically shot the same amount of attempts per game, but he’s completely fallen out of rhythm.
For a Bulls team that already shoots the fewest 3’s in the league and lacks consistent perimeter shooting, White’s hot hand could be a necessary tool in close playoff games. However, considering he is as poor as he is on the defensive end, it’s nearly impossible to keep him on the floor if he isn’t hitting these shots. Using these last couple of games to draw up extra looks might be the only chance the Bulls have to light his flame again.
Even more than just finding him on catch-and-shoot opportunities, I’d like to see the ball in his hands with more chances to attack the rim. White is actually shooting a career-high 64 percent at the rim this season, which ranks in the NBA’s 75th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Sometimes all it takes to get into a rhythm is seeing the ball fall through the net, so the Bulls should encourage him to use his speed and hunt high-percentage looks inside (especially against a Hornets defense that ranks 19th in opponents’ points in the paint per game).
Look, I recognize the most important thing will be for the Bulls’ three stars to be firing on all cylinders come playoff time. But a team’s supporting cast becomes that much more important in the playoffs. Both White and Williams are likely to have their name called upon in some pretty big moments coming up, and the Bulls might as well use these last two games to help prepare them.