Bulls' ball movement stands out in loss to Zion Williamson's Pelicans

Bulls' ball movement stands out in loss to Zion Williamson's Pelicans

Zion Williamson lived up to the hype. The Bulls’ offense created some.

On a night Williamson drew oohs and aahs from the United Center crowd while scoring 29 points on just one missed shot, the Bulls’ ball movement proved sublime. They posted 38 assists on 49 field goals in a 127-125 preseason loss to the Pelicans.

The Bulls’ reserves blew a 23-point, fourth-quarter lead as the Pelicans outscored them 41-18 in the fourth. But for the second straight game, the Bulls attempted at least 37 3-pointers and looked like a well-oiled machine while the regulars played.

Zach LaVine’s 28 points in 24 minutes led the way, while Otto Porter Jr. posted 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

But this game went beyond numbers and into nuance. Twice, including when Luke Kornet started the second half for Cristiano Felicio, coach Jim Boylen sent five shooters to the floor.

The other stint came in the second quarter when Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kornet scored 20 points in 5 minutes. To say this is a luxury for Boylen---and a departure from last season---would be like saying Williamson can dunk.

“I thought at moments we looked like a team,” Boylen said. “We looked like how we want to look.”

As expected, Satoransky drew the start at point guard after Kris Dunn got that assignment in Monday’s preseason opener against the Bucks. After an initial turnover-filled stint, Satoransky finished with 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals, repeatedly moving the ball quickly and accurately.

For the first time, Boylen said he won’t take all preseason to name his starting point guard. Given how well the ball moved with Satoransky starting, he likely is the leader in the clubhouse.

“I had some quick turnovers early. I’m still learning some situations. I’m learning that Zach is quick so you have to give him the pass early,” Satoransky said. “But I think we did a good job of moving the ball. I think we showed how we want to play in the season---moving the ball well, having open shooters and play with pace.”

The assists were more than the Bulls posted all season. And having so much shooting on the floor should do wonders for LaVine, who consistently drew double teams or got blitzed by defenses in pick-and-roll situations last season.

Boylen called LaVine “a special cat” who is “locked in” this preseason.

“When I do drive, defenses are either going to have to stay at home or if they bring help, we have five shooters,” LaVine said. “It definitely opens the floor up.

“The more we play together, I feel the ball is going to pop around the perimeter a little better. (Satoransky) pushes the pace. Even a couple of the turnovers that he had were the right play. He was going to feel out some lobs and backdoors. It’s going to be fun for somebody like me who can get in transition. It helps me move without the ball a lot better.”

The United Center will host the All-Star game in February. Williamson and LaVine would make for a juicy dunk contest.

“I wanted to see what it was like first-hand. I’m a competitive guy,” LaVine said of their respective dunks. “He’s the truth.”

Indeed, the postgame praise flowed for the No. 1 overall pick, who consistently got to the rim.

“I was amazed at his body control for a guy that big,” Boylen said of Williamson. “There were moments where it looked like he wasn’t going to get to the rim and he did.”

The Bulls only shot 17 free throws but consistently had open looks because of their ball movement. Kornet, who finished with nine points and four assists in his debut, added an element the Bulls didn’t previously have.

“It’s good to have Kornet out there,” Boylen said. “He’s a good player. He understands how to play the game.

“We have a chance to be a good team because of the shooting and versatility and different combinations. We did a better job of getting into some combinations we wanted to see. One was Markkanen and Kornet.

“We’ve added experience and intelligence to this team with Satoransky and Kornet and Thad. When you don’t have an agenda and just play the game, it’s really fun and freeing.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 83-73 loss to the Hornets.

0:30 - Will Perdue makes a cameo to start the show

1:00 - On only scoring 73 points

4:55 - Is this loss worse than the Celtics loss last season?

6:30 - Viewer comments on the loss and shooting too many threes

8:00 - Discussion on Thad Young minutes vs Lauri Markkanen minutes

12:10 - Viewer comment asking what would the Outsiders say if head coach

15:05 - Viewer comment on Tomas Satoransky

17:20 - Viewer trade idea for Terrance Ross

20:25 - Viewer comment on Coby White struggling

21:25 - Viewer comment on Kris Dunn starting

23:50 - Our ideas for other ‘theme’ nights for Bulls games

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said numbers was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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