Bulls

Bulls Talk Podcast: 10 reasons to be optimistic about Bulls this season

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: 10 reasons to be optimistic about Bulls this season

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Will Perdue, Justin O’Neil, and Kevin Anderson go over the start of Bulls training camp and why there are reasons to be hopeful for Bulls fans.

Perdue also explains why he thinks Zach LaVine will be a Top-10 player in the league.

The trio tells you the one thing they are most optimistic about, and the one thing they are most worried about this season. They’ll also debate if Dwyane Wade signing with the Cavs was the right move for LeBron James & Co.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

Bulls opener includes quick blitz, miscues and an impressive Markkanen debut

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Bulls opener includes quick blitz, miscues and an impressive Markkanen debut

Observations from the Bulls’ season opener, a 117-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors Thursday at Air Canada Centre.

It happens quickly: An encouraging first quarter and all its good vibes went away in a matter of 90 seconds to start the second, when a two-point deficit turned into 10 as the Bulls’ second unit failed to continue some positive habits established in the first quarter.

The slim margin for error is actually less than that, considering the Bulls don’t have enough firepower to compete or a player who’ll create his own shots for long stretches.

It was early but the Raptors’ 20-2 run ended the game even though there was more than 34 minutes left. The score was 45-25 and everybody in Air Canada Centre knew it was just about over.

“That was the key stretch of the game. They got downhill, they picked us up (defensively). We didn’t respond well to that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They got in the paint, spread us out and hit shots.”

Clearly their roster was already depleted in the wake of the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident, so Hoiberg had to dig even deeper into his bench than he’d like.

“Obviously we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and figure out what we were gonna do with lineups because we haven’t played those lineups the entire preseason,” Hoiberg said.

First look: You can tell Lauri Markkanen will struggle a bit with his strength, as he’s just 20 years old in his first NBA action. On a couple occasions, he drove the ball hard to the basket right into the mammoth Jonas Valanciunas, and put up quality attempts.

“I have a lot to improve but if I had any nerves for the first game, those are out now,” Markkanen said. “I let the game come to me. I’m not forcing anything.”

The stat line looked good for someone in his position, scoring 17 with eight rebounds in 33 minutes but the spirit of how he played was the most encouraging thing.

“That’s what we like about him, he has no fear,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was really good, to go out and put up 17 and 8 in his first game, he had a couple shots he normally is gonna make. So yeah, he was real good.”

He also gets aggressive on defense to block shots on the weak side, leading to harder rim runs and a 3-point play in the third quarter where his long stride got him from the top of the key for a layup without a dribble.

It was a stretch where he scored a quick eight in the third, and he reiterated he’s a confident player and his first game did nothing to dim that belief.

“He was great, I loved how aggressive he was,” Robin Lopez said. “He put himself into good spots out there on defense and offense.”

Playing hard/hard lessons: Even though they were down 20 multiple times, the Bulls didn’t completely fold. Part of it was DeMar DeRozan going just 11 on two of nine shooting, but the Bulls consistently played hard—one of the few things Hoiberg can hang his hat on as a coach.

“Obviously something we talked about a lot is playing through adversity, playing through the tough times,” said Hoiberg, noting the Bulls had a few chances to cut the Raptors lead to 12 in the second half.

Denzel Valentine was four of seven from 3 but was also a minus-19 in his 25 minutes of run, a feat matched only by Cristiano Felicio, who played 16 minutes.

“I was proud of the guys in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “I thought (Kay) Felder gave us a big lift off the bench with his pace, with his speed.”

Felder wasn’t shy in his 15 minutes, getting up nine shots and hitting two, but had six assists as he was the only Bull to get in the lane with any regularity. Considering one of the things the Bulls lack of shot creation, finding ways to compromise the defense will be critical if they are to stay close for long stretches.

But with that comes the risk of turnovers—which is something the Bulls will likely struggle with anyways. Coughing it up 19 times for 27 points is an example of “thin margin for error”.

“You turn the ball over 19 times, you give up eight offensive rebounds to one guy, it’s gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said, referring to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 23 points and 15 boards.

The long line: The 3-point line was supposed to be the great equalizer on some nights for the Bulls, considering they want to get up shots early and often in this offense.

But C.J. Miles took the Bulls playbook and used it against them, scoring 22 points in 20 minutes, hitting six of nine from 3-point range. Overall the Raptors, a team that was middle of the pack at best in that department last season, come into this year with an added emphasis.

It showed, as they hit 13 of 29 compared to the Bulls making 11 of 33. Justin Holiday was off, hitting just four of 12 and was five of 16 overall.

“You put a big key on Miles, making him bounce the ball. He hit some tough shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s who he is, that’s what he does. They hit shots, they got it in the paint and spread it out.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' season opener against the Toronto Raptors tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Pace and Space

The Bulls offense had a distinctly different feel to it this preseason than in years past. Yes, the lack of Jimmy Butler certainly had something to do with that. But it’s evident that Fred Hoiberg is getting closer to coaching the brand of basketball he’s most comfortable with. The proof is primarily in the 3-point shooting. To put it lightly, the Bulls have been chucking from deep.

Here are some of the raw numbers. The Bulls averaged 32.8 3-pointers per game in the preseason, which ranked fifth in the NBA. And it wasn’t just one or two players taking outside looks. The Bulls had seven players attempt 3.4 triples or more per game. They ranged from point guard (Grant) to shooting guard (Valentine) to small forward (Zipser and Holiday) to power forward (Mirotic, Portis and Markkanen). These long-distance shots are coming from all over.

That could be a reason that the Bulls’ pace was way up from last year’s regular season. Now, pace (how many possessions a team averages per game) doesn’t necessarily mean a team is running fast breaks and hoisting shots at the earliest opportunity. But what it does mean for the Bulls is they’re getting quick open looks from beyond the arc. Their pace in the preseason ranked 12th in the NBA, but at 105.2 possessions it was much quicker than a year ago (97.72). It’s still preseason, so all paces are up around the league, but you can tell this Bulls offense looks different.

2. The Holiday Season

You’ll probably be sick of “holiday” puns by the end of the month, but it’s Opening Night so let us slide by just this time. There was optimism when the Bulls signed Justin Holiday that the 28-year-old could be a rotation player and a fill-in while Zach LaVine recovered from ACL surgery. Never an efficient offensive player, the Knicks were much better defensively with him on the floor last season, and on a Bulls team losing Butler there was a need for a wing defender.

And if the preseason proved anything it’s that Holiday is going to be more than a rotation player. That’s not saying all that much on a Bulls roster void of premier talent, but Holiday is likely the Bulls’ best healthy player at this point. He was stellar in the preseason, averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He shot 57 percent from beyond the arc and averaged a team-high 29.3 minutes. Holiday simply looked the part.

Expect Holiday to lead the Bulls in field goal attempts most nights, and expect him to defend the opposition’s best player (DeMar DeRozan tonight). Again, this isn’t to say he’s necessarily a building block for the future or is going to make fans forget about Jimmy G. Buckets. But it’s nice to know the Bulls seemed to have hit on a free agent this offseason. Holiday enters the regular season with plenty of confidence.

3. Looking for progress

Unless he explodes in a good way, it’ll be too early to tell this year whether Lauri Markkanen is a piece of the future. He’s 20 years old and needs to put on muscle and learn the NBA before we decide what he’ll be. The same can’t be said for the other Bulls’ first-round picks.

Valentine is just in his second season, but he’ll also be 24 years old in less than a month. Drafting a college senior in the first round means he needs to be ready to play right away. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Valentine had an up-and-down preseason: He made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers, but he only took 16 2-pointers in 112 minutes, showing a lack of diversity to his game. The speed just isn’t there. Perhaps Kris Dunn’s injury will allow him to facilitate some. Defensively, he still needs to show improvement. This will be a big year for the second-year guard. Now is his time to show he can be part of the rebuild.

Lastly, Jerian Grant wasn’t a Bulls first-round pick but when you deal Derrick Rose (albeit the non-MVP version) you need to have something to show for it. Grant looked the part in preseason and probably would have won the job over Dunn even if Dunn didn’t dislocate his finger. But Grant, as a combo guard, could be part of the team’s future as a reserve that gives Hoiberg options in the backcourt going forward. He was good in the preseason and will get his chance to shine in a starting role. What he does with it will be something to watch for, and he gets a big test tonight against Kyle Lowry.