Bulls

Bulls observations: Coby White shines but Bulls falter late vs. Suns

Bulls observations: Coby White shines but Bulls falter late vs. Suns

The Bulls dropped their eighth game in a row — this one, a winnable 112-104 defeat to the Suns. Here are some observations:

We’ve got another Coby White game, folks

The rookie guard was fantastic for the Bulls, finishing with a career-high 33 points on 11-for-22 shooting (7-for-13 from 3) in 33 minutes. That’s White’s first 20-point game since Jan. 10. His last one before that was on Nov. 23. 

It was a much-needed performance.

White began on the right note with a stretch in the latter half of the first quarter in which he ripped eight quick points, showcasing his rocket burst and knack for transition creation.

 

That spurt was part of an 11-0 first period run that vaulted the Bulls from down eight to up three in just over two minutes. Bleeding over into the second, that run eventually swelled to 22-3. And in the second half, he went human torch. He sank three 3-pointers in a row to break the Bulls out of a third quarter lull, then dropped nine points in a flash to kick off the fourth (though he didn’t score after the 9:23 mark). 

 

The rest of the Bulls’ reserves (Cristiano Felicio, Shaq Harrison and Adam Mokoka — injuries, man) combined for 18 points but the Bulls improbably won the bench battle 51-15. A good night for those arguing that White’s development is best accelerated in his current role.

RELATED: Podcast: Coby White drops career high vs Suns

A winning formula goes awry

Entering play, the Bulls led the league by gaping margins in turnovers forced per game (18) and percentage of points scored off of turnovers (19.7 percent). When they’re at their best, they’re poking balls free, scooping ’em up and running.

That winning formula played out to a tee in the first half as the Bulls built a 17-point lead (they led 57-47 at the break), scoring 24 points off of 16 turnovers along the way. Those are impossible numbers for a two-quarter span. 

But the third quarter was the same old story. The Suns opened with a 13-0 run and, despite a blizzard from White, won the period 36-23. The fourth saw Phoenix separate even further. On the whole, the Suns coughed up just three turnovers in the second half compared to the Bulls’ 14. 

Deandre Ayton took over down the stretch

Early on, it looked like the Suns would have a red carpet to the rim all game. When the Bulls called a timeout down 13-8 with just over five minutes elapsed in the first quarter, the Suns had 10 points in the paint and Deandre Ayton had already lost Daniel Gafford for three open dunks (Felicio subbed him out for the first time just 4:23 into the game).

The Bulls flipped that script for part of the game. Ayton had a season-high seven turnovers (five in the second quarter) but he completely dominated when it mattered most. Ayton notched 12 points and eight rebounds (seven offensive) in the fourth quarter, extending possessions in demoralizing fashion left and right. He was a man amongst boys, finishing with 28 points and 19 rebounds (10 offensive) on 12-for-20 shooting.

As a team, the Bulls lost the rebound battle 47-38 and points in the paint 54-42. Entering play, they were 30th in the NBA in restricted area field goal percentage allowed and 25th in points per paint allowed per game since Wendell Carter Jr. went down. Tonight, that weakness was exposed.

The doldrums continue

That’s now eight losses in a row for the Bulls — this one of the extremely winnable variety. 

Mental lapses (crucially, an ATO turnover down by eight with just under three minutes to play) abounded down the stretch, the shots stopped falling, and the stops and defensive rebounds stopped coming. The Bulls ended the night with a season-high 25 turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Suns had five players in double figures (including a combined 57 from Ayton and Devin Booker) and got timely buckets all around, especially from Cam Johnson. It all culminated in a 112-104 loss where the Bulls were outscored by 20 in the second half.

Next up: The second night of a back-to-back against the Wizards on Sunday.

Hawks could be facing big changes after rebuild hit a snag last season

Hawks could be facing big changes after rebuild hit a snag last season

Much like the Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks were considered a team capable of contending for a playoff spot in the East in 2019-20 if everything broke their way.

In the summer of 2019, the Hawks added a pair of top 10 lottery picks in DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish to their young stars, Trae Young and John Collins, and many analysts predicted a double-digit increase over their win total from 2018-19.

But just five games into the season, Collins was hit with a 25 game suspension for violating the terms of the league’s drug policy, and the Hawks sank to the bottom of the conference standings. Atlanta did show some improvement after Collins returned, but they still owned the fourth-worst record in the NBA at 20-47 when the regular season was suspended. 

Player Development

Collins’ suspension was the biggest factor in the Hawks’ disappointing season, but the coaching staff didn’t get anywhere near the production they expected from Hunter and Reddish in their rookie seasons. Hunter started 62 of the 63 games he played in, averaging 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. But after leading Virginia to the national title in 2019, the rook didn’t shoot the ball as well as the Hawks expected, converting just 41% of his attempts from the field and 35.5% from 3 point range.

Reddish was even worse, falling out of the rotation at times because of his erratic play. The former Duke star shot just 38.4% from the field and 33.2% from long distance, though he did play better later in the season, averaging 16.4 points over his last 10 games and shooting 50% from the field (40% on 3s).

Young was an All-Star starter in his second NBA season, ranking among the league leaders in points and assists with averages of 29.6 and 9.3 respectively. Even while being forced to take so many difficult shots against double-teaming defenses, Young’s shooting percentages of 43.7 from the field and 36.1 on 3s were respectable.

The Hawks were also hoping second year guard Kevin Huerter would make a jump, but his development was slowed by injuries. Huerter started 48 of the 56 games he played, averaging 12.2 points per game, but he only shot 41.3% from the field. 

Offseason Decisions

The Hawks made a couple of trades before the deadline to try and shake up their underachieving roster. The biggest one netted shot-blocking, rim-running center Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets in a multi-team deal, and even though he never got a chance to play a game this season with the Hawks because of a foot injury, Capela should be a good fit with their young perimeter players. 

The Hawks also re-acquired veteran center Dewayne Dedmon, who left the team in free agency the previous summer, and he fits the team’s style of play with his ability to knock down open 3s. The two big men should help stabilize a defense that was one of the NBA’s worst, giving up an average of 119.7 points per game. Atlanta is also excited about the potential of former Maryland big man Bruno Fernando, who played well in limited minutes during his rookie season.

The Hawks could go in a number of directions with their high lottery pick. They could pursue a new backcourt partner for Young with Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball potentially available. Or they might go for the best player on their draft board with forwards Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija, and big men James Wiseman, Obi Toppin and Onyeka Okongwu among the players considered possible top five picks. 

Atlanta is also projected to have approximately $49 million in cap space, giving them the ability to chase some of the bigger names available in a down year for free agents. Second-year coach Lloyd Pierce has made it clear he would like to add more veterans to the locker room to lessen the burden on Young to carry the load in just about every area. 

Outlook

Pierce made it clear he’s tired of losing, telling a selected group of reporters, including The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, in a recent Zoom interview session, “There’s going to be a major shift for our team going forward, and the focus starts with our core five and the evaluation is about each guy’s growth individually,” Pierce said. “I put it out there, and I stand behind my comments of we need to make a major jump next year.”

With Capela signed for the next three seasons, the Hawks should be a better defensive team going forward. The key will be be in the development of Hunter and Reddish, and finding a veteran or two to stabilize a young roster. Vince Carter is expected to retire, plus the Hawks aren’t likely to bring back veteran point guard Jeff Teague, so general manager Travis Schlenk will have to shop wisely with his cap space this off-season. Reserves DeAndre Bembry, Skal Labissiere and Damian Jones will all be restricted free agents. 

Having two young stars like Young and Collins to build around is a huge plus, but player development and free agent success will be the key to the Hawks possibly making a playoff run next season.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

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Bulls star Zach LaVine expected to participate in NBA's HORSE competition

Bulls star Zach LaVine expected to participate in NBA's HORSE competition

Let's take a break from the roller-coaster Bulls front office search for a moment of levity, shall we?

Zach LaVine is set to participate in a televised H-O-R-S-E competition with other notable NBA/WNBA players and alumni, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The competition will reportedly be broadcast on ESPN.

LaVine has stayed busy during the NBA's hiatus, participating in online Call of Duty and NBA2K tournaments, albeit to limited success. A game of H-O-R-S-E should be more suited to his strengths. This season, LaVine separated himself as one of the premiere tough shot-makers in the league, and he's got some tricks up in his bag that most in the competition couldn't dream of achieving.

We know you're done with the dunk contest Zach, but... Could we just get one 360 from the free throw line? As a treat?

Chris Paul and Trae Young were also listed by Wojnarowski as participants, though it appears details are still be finalized. In any case, we'll certainly be watching.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.