After 11 games, the Bulls are on pace to finish 26-46, though they’ve endured a significantly difficult stretch of their schedule in short-handed fashion and done so while playing competitively.
That’s why we ask: Is your Bulls’ fandom glass half-full or half-empty?
Zach LaVine is working on three straight games with 30 or more points and four in five. Coby White has posted the first two double-digit assists games of his young career. Other than turnovers, a teamwide issue we’ll explore later, there’s lots to like offensively.
Defensively, the pairing is again part of teamwide issues, which is why the Bulls' net rating in their team-high 278 shared minutes is minus-9.5.
What has stood out in the early going is how Billy Donovan isn’t afraid to utilize LaVine as the primary ball-handler and place White off the ball. Of course, this look could be abetted by Tomáš Satoranský’s absence. However, LaVine and White have fared well overall against some high-profile backcourt matchups.
LaVine’s dagger 3-pointer against the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and his 10 3-pointers in an entertaining shootout against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers stand out as early-season highlights.
All hail Garrett Temple and Thad Young.
As the lone free-agent signing, Temple didn’t initially move the needle much as a veteran journeyman. But after watching him play, it’s easy to see why he works his way into virtually any rotation.
He’s shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range on high volume, averaging 4.4 attempts in 26.4 minutes per game. Throw out his ill-advised foul on Buddy Hield’s four-point play, and his individual and team defense has been solid.
It’s no wonder that Temple is a part of most every lineup with a positive net rating.
Meanwhile, Young is back in his preferred role after a season spent largely on the perimeter. After missing four games to a leg infection, Young is shooting 60 percent with his 3-point attempts down more than two per game. His back-to-the-basket, hook and flip game remains strong.
Satoranský started strongly before a positive COVID-19 test sidelined him.
The veterans’ stabilizing play is beneficial in two ways. It gives coach Billy Donovan stopgap options for closing lineups. And it does nothing to diminish their trade value should management explore such options this season.
Forget the schemes or the rotations for a second and just focus on this: There has been no drama and it’s clear players respect Donovan. It’s easy to see why he has developed a reputation as a collaborative, player-friendly coach.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of Jim Boylen, whose publicly stated “shock and awe” style not only fit his personality but also aligned with what management and ownership sought when he replaced Fred Hoiberg. But it’s a noticeable difference. And it has led to aesthetically pleasing offensive basketball.
Donovan’s offense has featured plenty of ball and player movement and less isolation. It has given players freedom and seems to fit with Arturas Karnisovas’ publicly stated preferred style of play. Add LaVine’s midrange game revival to Young’s back-to-basket return.
The defensive rating is 29th, and by a wide margin -- a full 1.1 points per 100 possessions worse than the 28th-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves. Turnovers, which will be explored next, have hurt. The Bulls rank 30th in allowing 20.4 points per game off turnovers.
Though they rank just 13th in second-chance points allowed, the Bulls also have struggled to secure critical defensive rebounds. They’ve allowed three four-point plays.
Generally speaking, the Bulls also have ceded far too much dribble penetration, gotten hung up on screens too much and allowed shooters too much space either through poor closeouts or poor recognition when they play drop coverage. Transition defense has been non-existent at times.
It’s a lot.
The Bulls are playing faster. They rank second in PACE behind the Washington Wizards, averaging 104.73 possessions per game.
Donovan has said he doesn’t view that as the main culprit for the Bulls’ league-worst 17.8 turnovers per game. Simply put, the Bulls have succumbed to simple defensive pressure at times, particularly in the first few games.
The growing pains inherent in the decision-making maturation for LaVine (4.1 turnovers per game) and White (three per game) also have played a part. And it can’t be discounted how disjointed the rotations have been because of COVID-19 positive tests of safety protocols.
Like all teams, the Bulls also had a shortened training camp. Unlike all teams, they did so under a new coach, with a new system and having not played since March.
But the issues need to be cleaned up.
Otto Porter Jr.’s health
Donovan called keeping the veteran, two-way wing healthy as one of the most important storylines of the season. He brought him off the bench initially in part because it made sense to start rookie Patrick Williams but also to help preserve Porter.
It didn’t work. Even with Porter’s minutes at just 23.5 per game, he left the Lakers’ loss early with back spasms and missed the Clippers’ loss with lingering back pain.
Porter is shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range and is averaging a career-high 19.6 points per 36 minutes, albeit in a small sample size. In short, he makes a huge difference at both ends when he plays.
So he needs to stay healthy.