His words were clear and obvious:
“I think we’re going to address some things in free agency. We need to get bigger, we need some rim protection, we need some shooting. So we’re going to look a little bit in free agency and see what our final product looks like.”
All it took was one game without Lonzo Ball in the starting lineup to know what the Bulls needed to add. Not only did the point guard provide crucial size and defensive pressure in the backcourt, but he was by far the team’s most impactful 3-point shooter. The fact that his absence alone could sink the team’s two-way efficiency so drastically spoke to the Bulls’ roster flaws. And it’s why Karnisovas said what he said ahead of free agency.
Actions speak louder than words, however, and the Bulls’ front office didn’t have much to show for this summer. While Andre Drummond undoubtedly added size and rebounding that this group otherwise lacks, rim protection has never particularly been his bread and butter. Whether it be guarding the pick-and-roll or switching onto smaller defenders, he shares some of the defensive deficiencies that have also plagued Nikola Vucevic.
As for the only other free agent signing, Goran Dragic, it felt even harder to see how he fit into the picture. Drummond would at least give the Bulls another traditional big man and elite rebounder, but what would Dragic provide at 36 years old? If this was Karnisovas’ way of addressing the 3-point shooting concerns, it sure left a lot to be desired. While Dragic has shot a solid 36.2 percent from long range in his career, it’s come on just 3.4 attempts per game. Combine that with the fact that he hasn’t played more than 59 games since the 2018-19 season, and it felt odd to think he could solve many problems for this Bulls team.
Indeed, fast forward to the first preseason game on Tuesday night, and the familiar problems were on full display. The New Orleans Pelicans took control of the interior from the jump, scoring 32 of their 70(!) first-half points in the paint. They went on to win this department 62-50, and this was despite a truly impressive defensive showing from big man Nikola Vucevic (I know, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence either!).
Fortunately, the battle behind the arc wasn’t a landslide win for the Pelicans, but the Bulls’ lack of reliable 3-point shooters was still on full display. New Orleans started the night with back-to-back catch-and-shoot makes, whereas the Bulls’ first two attempts came via a tough Zach LaVine stepback and a contested take by Vucevic.
Then, as Donovan started to mix-and-match bench lineups, it became abundantly clear just how little shooting this team had off the bench. Coby White left early with a knee contusion, which led to a lineup of Alex Caruso, Goran Dragic, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, and Andre Drummond on the floor. The Bulls shot a total of just 27 attempts from 3-point range by the end of the night, which was 10 less than the Pelicans and about one attempt fewer than their league-low average from last season. These 27 attempts were also the second-fewest by an NBA team in a preseason game thus far.
The good news is that we’re talking about just the first of four preseason games. If the Bulls were going to show similar problems to last season, it would make sense for it to happen most in this matchup. With that said, I still think the game served as a reminder of the holes that basically went unaddressed this summer. Now, is it possible internal development and a change of play style can fix those problems? Absolutely. But it’s also somewhat scary to know that’s the only option.