If the Chicago Bulls Want Any Chance in Game 5, It Starts With the Role Players

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If the Chicago Bulls Want Any Chance in Game 5, It Starts With the Role Players

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls already needed more out of their role players ahead of an elimination Game 5 in Milwaukee, but the Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso news has only underscored that point.

News dropped on Tuesday morning that LaVine had entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Roughly 24 hours earlier, we also learned that Caruso’s availability for Game 5 was in question due to a concussion. To be clear, neither player has officially been ruled out before tomorrow’s 6:30 p.m. CT tip-off, but there is clearly an uphill battle for both to play. Caruso would have to pass all concussion protocols just three days after suffering the head injury, while LaVine would have to test out of the isolation.

Fortunately, the Bulls are no stranger to playing undermanned. Between past injuries to Caruso and LaVine, as well as long-term midseason absences for Patrick Williams and Lonzo Ball, practically every player on this bench has clocked important minutes. So while being called upon to contribute at a higher level will be nothing new for many players, the environment will be.

Outside Caruso (who I view one notch above a typical “role player” anyway), Chicago’s role players have already struggled mightily in the team’s first playoff series since 2017. We’ve watched Coby White average just 6.3 points per game on 25 percent shooting from downtown. Meanwhile, a guy like Tristan Thompson has played just roughly 8 minutes per game. Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. have provided nice sparks off the bench, but most of their impact has come on the defensive end. Unfortunately, they’ve also supplied no real threat as perimeter shooters or off-the-dribble scorers.

Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams have both had their moments, but they are the two rotation members with the least NBA experience. Expecting them to be high-end contributors at this stage in their career isn’t particularly fair to them.

Still, if the Bulls want any chance at avoiding the gentleman’s sweep, one of those names listed above is going to have to find a way to contribute. And specifically on the offensive end. The Bulls bench has been outscored in three of the four games played in this series thus far. The one game where the Bulls were able to win this battle came – unsurprisingly – in their lone Game 2 victory. White, Green, and Jones combined for just 10 points, but it was just enough to beat out the combined 8 points from Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, and Grayson Allen.

Of course, that poor performance wasn’t going to stick for the Bucks’ more experienced role players. And we saw that on full display in Game 3 and Game 4. Allen went on to drop a combined 49 points in the Bucks’ two blowout victories at the United Center, shooting an absurd 11 of 14 from behind the arc. Connaughton may have only splashed three of his own buckets from downtown, but he still combined for an important 16 bench points in those two games.

We also can’t forget about Portis, who moved into the Bucks’ starting lineup after Khris Middleton went down with an MCL injury. Portis absolutely rocked the Bulls over the last two contests, pulling off an 18-point and 16-rebound double-double in Game 3 and a 14-point and 10-rebound performance in Game 4.

“Their stars are going to be their stars, so it’s going to be tough to take them out. Their role players … have done a really good job of stepping up,” Zach LaVine said after the Bulls loss on Sunday. “It’s tough to account for that. Whenever we’ve adjusted, they’ve done a good job of countering that.”

LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vučević have needed to play better at times. But we have to commend the Bucks’ elite defense for forcing them to rely on the supporting cast. And, to the Bulls’ credit, they’ve also forced the Bucks to do this on a handful of possession, but the difference has been the Bucks’ role players stepping up and knocking down their shots.

Indeed, players not named Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jrue Holiday over the last two games have shot a combined 60.2 percent from the field for Milwaukee. If we look at players not named LaVine, DeRozan, or Vučević, Chicago has seen a combined 42.1 percent performance from the field. That’s just not going to cut it.

The series has really highlighted how few reliable shooting options and experienced bench bodies sit on this roster. We can talk a lot more about it once the offseason arrives and we must evaluate free agency/draft options. But we have to see whether or not any of these current role players can first give the front office one last reason to keep them from making some drastic summer changes. For the sake of the Bulls’ playoff life, I hope they do.

Author: Elias Schuster

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