Zach LaVine had never been to the playoffs. Coby White had never been to the playoffs. Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Williams, Lonzo Ball, and Troy Brown Jr. had never been to the playoffs. Heck, Javonte Green had only one postseason appearance under his belt.
While both DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso came with long playoff runs on their resume – and Nikola Vucevic at least had a couple of first-round exits in his back pocket – this was still a Chicago Bulls team that was so collectively inexperienced. And it showed.
“There were situations that our team went through for the first time,” head coach Billy Donovan said in his end-of-season press conference. “I think there were a lot of moments like, ‘wow, I kind of get it now.’”
In a roster that was aggressively strung together starting at the 2021 trade deadline, only LaVine, White, and Williams remained in a Bulls uniform from the start of that 2020-21 season. Many were skeptical of what this team could accomplish for that reason exactly. Would all the new pieces fit? Would they have enough time to build chemistry?
DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine quickly put many questions to bed as they vaulted the organization into the East’s top spot for roughly half the year. The talent on the Bulls was obvious, but there has still proven to be no substitution for experience.
As a grueling season dragged on, we saw the Bulls tumble down the totem pole. They floundered to the tune of a 1-15 record against the top-3 teams in each respective conference. While there might have been a number of factors at play, there is no question one was the lack of collective and individual experience. Indeed, this is a big reason why we’ve heard the front office and players stress the importance of continuity moving forward. And this is also why we heard Donovan emphasize that the organization’s first playoff appearance in five seasons – despite its brevity – remains pivotal.
Donovan gave a great example of just how impactful the first taste of playoff action can be. He spoke specifically to the knowledge Patrick Williams got to gain in just his second season in the league, sharing something the 20-year-old communicated to him in a conversation following the postseason.
“I had a really really great conversation with Patrick yesterday,” Donovan said. “We ended up taking him to Milwaukee last year for a playoff game, and he had obviously been out for 5 months. And he’s watching and watching and he’s trying to learn and watch film. He said to me, ‘the most intense game I played was the Clippers game here at home. It was coming down to the wire and there were three minutes left and it was just every possession, every moment was so intense.’ And he said, ‘I’ve never felt anything like that [going] into the playoffs, and it was like that every possession.’
Those are just things as a coach, you try to expose, show, teach, as much as you can. But there is nothing like going through it, so I do think there is a lot of success in that.”
While Williams having this realization early in his career could prove crucial to his accelerated development, I have to imagine this is something that stood out to each and every playoff newbie on the roster.
The postseason presents an entirely different challenge – one that is centered heavily around consistency, physicality, and mental toughness. I agree there is absolutely no way to fully understand just that without witnessing it firsthand. It’s why we so rarely see a champion that hasn’t had at least a couple of spoonfuls of postseason action before hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
None of this is to say the Bulls should feel as if this small bite of playoff basketball is all they need to take the next step. The work still needs to be put in, and the roster tweaks still need to be made. However, I have little doubt the organization and its players are better off having gone through this harsh series with Milwaukee than if it never happened at all.
For more thoughts on where the Bulls can go from here, check out the post below:
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) May 3, 2022