A loss to the Denver Nuggets isn’t some kind of ugly blemish on the season resume. They have the back-to-back MVP stationed at center and have easily been the league’s best 3-point shooting team to start the season. I mean, seriously, would anyone be surprised if we watched this crew make a run to the Western Conference Finals next season? I don’t think so.
Look a little past the L on the game log, however, and this might have been the Bulls’ most discouraging loss of the season.
- A team trying to prove they belong among the Eastern Conference playoff staples doesn’t lose in blowout fashion at home after three days of rest. While I understand that some rust may have accumulated over those few days, there is no excuse for playing with zero energy and zero focus. And head coach Billy Donovan knows it.
“There are a lot of things we did to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Donovan told reporters after the game. “There is always some form of adversity that hits the game. And we’ve got to be better thriving in that. We’ve got to be better thriving in the struggle. I think what happens is sometimes, when there is a struggle, it can snowball. And we’ve got to be able to embrace those kind of moments.”
- All things considered, the Bulls have actually done a decent job in the “competitive spirit” department this season. They have fought back from numerous double-digit deficits and have taken down several well-respected teams (unlike last season). The energy and effort they have played with – all while having Lonzo Ball on the sideline and Zach LaVine in and out of the lineup – would be Jimbo Boylen-approved. But the fact we saw that completely disappear against the Nuggets is concerning, as is the fact that head coach Billy Donovan still believes this group struggles with adversity.
- The whole point of continuity is to have a group that plays comfortably and confidently. I know we may only be 13 games into a new season, but there isn’t any reason the Bulls should ever look that disjointed in a game. They shouldn’t be slipping back into iso ball or hanging their head after a bad possession, especially when we consider the number of veterans they now have on this team.
- Now, if there is anything the Bulls can tell themselves to feel better, it’s that sometimes Nikola Jokic is just going to take over a game. While the big man may have only scored 8 points on Sunday night, nobody impacted the game more. He dished 14 assists with a game-high +29, repeatedly finding the open man and taking full advantage of the Bulls’ lackluster defensive effort. It was truly a masterclass in setting up your teammates, and there wasn’t much the Bulls could do about it once he got going.
- Similarly, Michael Porter Jr. played like a robot programmed to get buckets. He sank 6-9 shot from downtown on his way to a season-high 31 points. The Bulls did a decent job contesting some of his shot attempts, but they let him get into a rhythm far too early.
- The 3-point shooting was a major concern coming into this game, and it will continue to be against any opponent that shoots above league average. The Nuggets drained 13 shots from long range compared to the Bulls’ 6-22 performance. I truly remain dumbfounded by this front office’s decision not to invest further in perimeter playmaking this summer. We saw how catastrophic the lack of shooting could be as last season dragged on, and (*shocker*) we’re seeing the same thing happen early on this year. When other teams get into a rhythm from long range, the Bulls don’t have the firepower to strike back.
- This is also a serious problem when we consider how the Bulls want to play. Whether it be DeRozan, LaVine, or Vucevic, all three of these players do their best work in or near the paint. Getting downhill has been a huge priority for this offense, but that will become easier and easier to defend with a complete lack of reliable kick-out options. Whether it be Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Alex Caruso, or Andre Drummond, the Bulls rely on too many role players who can’t help keep the opposing defense honest.
- Speaking of 3-point shooting, it sure would be nice to have Lonzo Ball back in the lineup. Morten Stig Jensen wrote a good piece about how much the Bulls continue to miss their starting point guard:
- I always think about how surreal it must be for rookies to take the floor with NBA superstars.
- EXCUSE ME!?
- If anyone ever questioned how good Joel Embiid was, I think the last two games put it into perspective. Rarely in today’s league do we see someone dominant in that many facets of the game. Perhaps this is the start of his MVP run.
- Congrats to Andre Drummond! Halfway to DeMar!
- One step closer to getting Giannis in a Bulls uniform!
- As long as Justin Fields looks great, the Bears can lose as many games as they want this year.
- Got to keep talking about the future.