The Bulls fell to the Brooklyn Nets 117-111 at the United Center on Saturday night. Here are three observations from the tough loss:
The Bulls finally play a bit of "big boy basketball"
Bulls color commentator Stacey King loves to refer to physical plays on the court as "big boy basketball", and the Bulls definitely played big boy basketball on Saturday night despite the final score. The Bulls outrebounded the Nets 56-40, and this included an impressive +12 margin on the offensive glass. But that wasn't where the Bulls' physicality stopped in this one.
With the perimeter shots not falling, the Bulls finally committed to driving hard to the basket, racking up a whopping 41 free throws, including 12 from Zach LaVine alone.
Despite all the offensive boards, the Bulls ended up getting destroyed in the points in the paint category, and this why we added the caveat "a bit" of big boy basketball. The Bulls were outscored by 20 in points in the paint and a big part of it was this system, which appears to have the Bulls big men kicking the ball out to the perimeter, regardless of how many defenders are actually in front of them in the paint.
The Bulls' newfound love of the 3-point shot is great, though a few years late to the party, it definitely makes sense for the Bulls to play this very modern and aggressive style. But when that "modern and aggressive style" forces your bigs to become tentative on offense, bad things can happen.
And being outscored by 20 in paint points while having a +12 advantage in offensive boards definitely qualifies as a bad thing.
Wendell Carter continues to show growth
This one might as well be a permanent observation, as Carter impresses every time he steps on the court or speaks to the struggles of this team. Carter collected another double-double, notching 18 points ad 14 rebounds. And the most encouraging thing from Carter's scoring output was that 8 of his 18 points were from a season-high 8 trips to the free throw line.
It would be great if we could see Carter empowered a little bit more from the elbows and in the post, as his passing prowess isn't shown off often, but tonight's two assists were a small window into what he can do as a passer.
Carter shooting 3-pointers — which was very much a reality during his time at Duke — seems like a decades-old memory, and whether by choice or the coaches' system, he is not taking them. But his offense has taken a big step forward this season because so far, he is converting over 60% of his baskets after shooting 48.5% from the field last year.
If the Bulls start to empower Carter a bit more, giving him offensive possessions to use — and maybe even a spot on the "Leadership Committee" — then we could see things turn around for this team sooner than later.
Zach LaVine puts up a big-time scoring effort
The Bulls accomplished a few great things offensively and pretty much all of those great things were a result of Zach LaVine going supernova.
LaVine scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half, including going 9-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch. LaVine shot 45.8% from the field and despite having 1 assist and 3 turnovers, his decision making was solid throughout.
He did not collect a steal for the first time in six games and his 3-point shooting left a bit to be desired (3-for-10) but overall it was a great performance from LaVine, who finally put together the type of explosive scoring performance that Bulls Nation was expecting from him at the start of the 2019-20 season.
Bulls defense shows a collapse of epic proportions
The Bulls defense was OK in spurts but if we are going to be absolutely honest, the wheels fell off hard in this one.
In certain possessions, especially late in the game against Spencer Dinwiddie, the Bulls went to switching the pick-and-roll rather than their normal semi-trapping system. This did not work extremely well, as Dinwiddie — who has never been known as a high-volume free throw guy — ended up getting 15 free throw attempts knocking down 14 of them.
And on top of Dinwiddie, the Bulls allowed six different Nets players to score in double figures, and this was on a night where Kyrie Irving's absence was supposed to make it very possible to shut Brooklyn down.
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