If the Chicago Bulls want any chance of playing Cinderella against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, the team’s All-Stars are going to have to play like … well … All-Stars.
Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic must find a way to go toe-to-toe with the Bucks’ more-proven nucleus of Giannis Antetokunmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. But, even if they do figure out how to do just that, it’s the work around the margins that could ultimately decide the series.
I thought we might as well take a look at how each supporting cast member could impact the upcoming series. As you’ll notice, I decided to leave Alex Caruso out of the post, as I consider him somewhere in between star and supporting cast at this moment. Also, I think we all know what he has to bring to the table for this group to keep things competitive.
Ok, anyway, let’s chat!
I don’t want to put too much on the plate of a 20-year-old who missed 65 games this regular season, but I’m left with no choice.
Williams could very well be the Bulls’ x-factor on both ends of the floor this series. Not only will he likely draw the Antetokounmpo matchup on the defensive end, but he will have to rotate well against this Bucks defense that keeps the ball in motion. His help instincts will have to come through huge in protecting the paint, and his elite physical frame will be crucial to establishing a more physical presence.
Speaking of which, Williams MUST play a physical and decisive game on the offensive end of the court. Opportunities could be plentiful for Williams, as the Bucks prioritize shutting down the Bulls’ “Big 3.” He’s bound to get a handful of open looks off kick-outs and find the ball in his hands after DeRozan draws the double-team. Converting those open 3s will be huge, but attacking the rim will arguably be even more important.
We saw him drop 18 points on the Bucks in a 7-9 performance back on April 5th. Four games later, he scored a career-high 35 points on 10-21 shooting and a 12-14 performance from the free-throw line. The Bucks might have a better defensive frontcourt than the Timberwolves, but the sooner Williams establishes himself as a threat at the rim, the sooner the floor could open up for his All-Star colleagues.
More on all that below:
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) April 11, 2022
Due to the season-ending knee injury to Lonzo Ball, Ayo Dosunmu is in a position to play a substantial role in the first-ever playoff series of his career. He’s started 38 of his past 41 games, earning every single extra minute with a combination of hard-nose on-ball defense, smart shot selection, and much-needed playmaking. The rookie has provided a grounding presence to the Bulls rotation that far exceeds his age, consistently making impact plays at the end of games and taking on some of the toughest defensive assignments.
Obviously, carrying over all this regular season two-way success to the postseason would be ideal, but I’m looking at Dosunmu’s ability to push the pace as arguably his greatest way to impact the series. With Ball on the bench, the Bulls are in desperate need of an offensive steering wheel. Dosunmu can set the tone early by using his transition speed to get the team’s offense out ahead of the Bucks. Whether it be immediately breaking up the floor after a defensive rebound or even taking it out underneath the basket with a pep in his step, this Bulls’ offense is at its best when they can use their athleticism and speed.
On top of that, it will be up to Dosunmu to be the offensive connector in the halfcourt. Not only does he have to prioritize keeping the ball moving, but he needs to keep his eye on Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls will need the big man to get in a rhythm, and Dosunmu has done a fantastic job getting Vooch easy looks at times this season.
In the last two wins (CLE, OKC), the Dosunmu-Vucevic connection has really stood out.
Ayo has 16 asts over those two games, 8 of which went to Vooch. He's found the big man in his spots, placing the feed where Vooch can go right into his shot.
Great stuff by the rookie ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/IwD0iUyhmK
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) January 25, 2022
You know what Coby White needs to do. I know what Coby White needs to do. Even Coby White knows what Coby White needs to do.
One of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league since the All-Star break, the Chicago Bulls need White to provide the offensive firepower we know he’s capable of producing off the bench. White shot over 40.0 percent from downtown over the first 39 games of the season, but the Bulls watched that number dwindle to just 33 percent over the next 21 games. He finally caught fire in the last game of the regular season and shot 6-9 from downtown against the Charlotte Hornets — we can only hope this broke White out of the slump that couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Overall, the Bulls’ bench has been outscored in three of the four games against Milwaukee this season, including 83-59 over the final two regular-season matchups. White will have to play a pivotal role in evening out that playing field.
More on the Bulls’ need for better 3-point shooting below:
Javonte Green became the Swiss Army knife the Bulls didn’t know they needed. He’s been arguably the perfect compliment to a team with three All-Star-caliber players, filling his role to a T on both ends of the ball as a high-energy contributor.
Green has held a +1.6 estimated defensive plus-minus this season, according to Dunks & Threes, which ranks in the NBA’s 89th percentile. Green’s switchability and tendency to play bigger than he is will be huge in every game against a superiorly-sized Bucks team. The Bulls will need him to fly in for extra rebounds and help generate transition points with his active hands. While Caruso is easily the best pocket-picker on this Bulls’ roster, Green has actually sat just inside the top-20 in the NBA in total steals since February 1st (39). He also has a combined five steals in the previous two games against Milwaukee.
I have to imagine Green will likely continue to come off the bench since Patrick Williams is the most size-appropriate option. However, I think this is the perfect spot for Green, as head coach Billy Donovan can better manage when to use his sparkplug tendencies.
If we’re being honest, the Tristan Thompson experience hasn’t been anything special since he arrived in Chicago, but he has a chance to change that with his playoff experience.
Averaging 6.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in roughly 16.4 minutes per game, it’s that latter category where Thompson will have to make a massive impact. The Bucks average the second-most rebounds per game and have the 6th-best REB% in the NBA. Antetokounmpo averages 11.4 boards per game, while Bobby Portis hauls in a career-high 9.1.
While rebounding will surely have to be a communal effort, Thompson has the size and familiarity to help the Bulls most on the glass when Nikola Vucevic is off the floor. Even more important, his OREB% in 57 games this season ranks in the NBA’s 97th percentile, per Dunks & Threes, and the Bulls would love for that skill to shine through considering they sit 2nd-to-last in OREBs per game.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Derrick Jones Jr. could very well end up as the odd man out. Donovan took him out of the Bulls rotation for about an eight-game stretch before he played roughly 19 minutes in each of the final four games of the season. Not particularly a strong shooting threat nor a bulky defender, it could be hard to keep him on the floor at times against this Bucks team.
With that said, I wouldn’t hate if the Bulls just went all-in on athleticism and hustle. Jones’s verticality and knack for making the highlight play could fit right into a playoff environment. Not to mention, he gives the Bulls another switchable defender and transition threat. If Donovan wants to test him out, I sure wouldn’t mind it.
This Bulls team has to show up in Round 1.
DeRozan & White fight for the rebound. White dives on the floor. LaVine’s eyes are up the court. DJJ sprints out in transition. DeRozan hustles in case he can’t convert.
Extra effort + elite athleticism can lead to great things. pic.twitter.com/YpMqRFnoeT
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) April 14, 2022