Jim Boylen didn’t waste any time in his introductory media session to confirm Lauri Markkanen would return to the starting line-up Tuesday night at Indiana and Jabari Parker would return to the bench role he held at the beginning of the season. So, what else should we watch for in Boylen’s debut against the Pacers?
Boylen told reporters to expect a gradual change in style on the offensive end. Fred Hoiberg preferred a fast-paced offense, with a heavy dose of 3 pointers. Look for Boylen to use his big men as facilitators in half-court sets, especially since Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and back-up center Robin Lopez are all willing passers. And, don’t be surprised to see Markkanen playing center at times since Boylen is intrigued by how the talented 7 footer can take advantage of match-ups against slower defenders.
With Kris Dunn sidelined for all but one game this season, the ball has been in Zach LaVine’s hands on most offensive possessions. That’s led to LaVine putting up big offensive numbers (he currently ranks 10th in scoring at 25 ppg), but very little team success (5-19 record). It’s also led to LaVine being worn out physically and mentally from the strain of trying to carry the scoring load. With Markkanen now back and Dunn and Bobby Portis not far behind, the burden on LaVine to create shots should start to diminish. Look for LaVine to be put in more catch and shoot situations where he should be a more efficient scorer.
It was interesting to hear Boylen immediately commit to playing Parker as primary scorer/facilitator with the 2nd unit. As the highest paid player on the roster, Parker expected to be the starting small forward this season, but it only took a couple of pre-season games for the coaching staff to decide Jabari would be better served showcasing his scoring skills and minimizing his defensive weaknesses by playing with and against reserves. Parker has played much better over the last half dozen games, but it’s obvious Boylen hasn’t changed his opinion on how to utilize the #2 overall draft pick in 2014.
The new coach should benefit from having a much more talented reserve group in short order. Once Dunn and Portis return from their knee sprains, Boylen will be able to call on Parker, Portis, Ryan Arcidiacono and Lopez off the bench, instead of Cam Payne, Shaq Harrison, Cristiano Felicio and raw rookie Chandler Hutchison. That should instantly give the Bulls more consistency on offense and avoid the nightmare quarters that have killed their chances to win games on a variety of occasions this season.
Boylen’s 1st challenge will be facing a quality Indiana team that may or may not have leading scorer Victor Oladipo available. Officially, Oladipo is out indefinitely because of a sore knee but reports indicate the All-Star guard is working hard to come back and could return as early as Tuesday night’s game against the Bulls. The Pacers won an earlier meeting at the United Center when the Bulls blew a 5 point lead with just under 6 minutes to play. Oladipo scored 25 points in that game, while Myles Turner added 18 points and Tyreke Evans chipped in with 13 off the bench.
3rd year forward Domantas Sabonis has emerged as a productive reserve for Nate McMillan’s team, averaging 14.5 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 64% from the field. Indiana has lost 2 in a row, falling to 13-10 which is good for 5th in the Eastern Conference as we pass the quarter pole of the season. Both teams are well rested, so the Bulls will have to be at their best to have a chance to end a 6 game losing streak.
Given what Boylen told the media on Monday, it’s pretty obvious what keys he’ll be writing on the whiteboard in the visiting locker room before tip-off.
1. OWN THE DEFENSIVE BOARDS. Boylen referenced the fact the Bulls currently rank 27th in defensive rebounding, which means keeping Turner, Sabonis and Thaddeus Young off the offensive glass will be a point of emphasis. Reducing 2nd chance opportunities would be a positive step for the new head coach.
2. TRANSITION DEFENSE. Another critical step would be improving the team’s transition defense. The Bulls have had a tough time getting matched up after missed shots, with the hustle to stop fast break chances not always apparent. Boylen will demand his players sprint back on defense, and with a nearly full roster available in the near future, he can take any offenders out of the game immediately.
3. BETTER EXECUTION ON OFFENSE. Boylen suggested he’ll start implementing a different style on offense, which probably means trying to work the ball inside and run some sets off the passing skills of Carter Jr. and Markkanen. The new coach talked about crisper passing and better cuts which should be a natural expectation given John Paxson’s indictment of the lack of spirit and energy this season and his personal challenge for the players to raise their level of competitiveness.
NBC Sports Chicago’s Kelly Crull is with the team in Indianapolis, and she’ll join us courtside with any late developments on Bulls Pregame Live Tuesday night at 5:30. We’ve also got an All-Star panel in studio with Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Horace Grant joining me to analyze what the coaching change will mean in the short and long term. You can also watch the game on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app starting at 6 p.m., followed by reaction from the new head coach and some of the key players on Bulls Postgame Live. Bulls Outsiders wraps up what promises to be an interesting night for Chicago sports fans, on and off the court.