Bulls Insider

Bulls' winning formula on display amid 8-3 start to season

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

The Chicago Bulls’ eighth victory in 11 games wasn’t in doubt at the time.

But if you want a snapshot of why the Bulls sit where they do, a three-second sequence that pushed their lead over the Dallas Mavericks from 12 points to 14 with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining isn’t a bad place to start.

Dorian Finney-Smith drove baseline, somewhat out of control, and tried to pass back to Dwight Powell in the lane. Like a cornerback stretching out to defend a pass, Alex Caruso flew down the lane to break up the pass, securing the ball on the floor.

“It wasn’t as much of a dive as it was kind of a tackle,” Caruso cracked.

With his career-high-tying sixth steal in the books, Caruso, from his back and still on the floor, fed Nikola Vučević, who quickly found Lonzo Ball. The king of the hit-ahead pass — “QB1,” Caruso said — threw an overhead baseball pass to Zach LaVine, who threw down a 360-degree dunk that brought the house down and LaVine a technical foul.

“Those are easy baskets.  You can’t play-call those plays,” coach Billy Donovan said of Ball’s throw-ahead passes. “If you can generate that inside your personnel, it’s a huge advantage.”

 

The Bulls are finding plenty of those in their impressive start. And the sequence underscored many of the forces at work in their dynamic start. Aggressive defense. Unselfish play. Athleticism.

“We’re just kind of finding ways to win.  And I think that’s the sign of a good team,” Caruso said.  “And I think we have a lot of ways to get better. That’s the most encouraging thing to me.”

The Bulls rank 11th in steals with an aggressive defense that made life difficult for Mavericks All-Star Luka Dončić. They rank fourth in points off turnovers with 20.5 per game. And LaVine, with 23 points, sits sixth in the NBA in scoring, two behind DeMar DeRozan, who endured a rare off night.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ball said. “It’s a brand-new team. We’re trying to build a new culture here. And 8-3 isn’t too bad.”

The high-profile offseason acquisitions by management are a big reason why.

Ball fell one short of his career high with seven 3-pointers in 10 attempts. He’s now up to 44.7 percent from 3-point range after connecting at a career-high 37.8 percent last season.

Keep in mind this is the same player who shot 30.5 percent from 3-point range during his rookie season with the Lakers.

“He deserves a lot of credit,” Donovan said. “He has put an incredible amount of work in to get himself to that level.”

Caruso entered the night third in the league in steals and fourth in deflections and has been a physical pest defensively all season. Add in a season-high 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting on a night the Bulls reached Donovan’s goal of placing at least five players in double figures and there’s plenty to like.

“I got a couple catch-and-shoots. I tried to be aggressive,” Caruso said. “I think that was something that I don’t think I got away from, but I don’t really force on offense. We got guys who we play through, 25-point-plus scorers that we run offense for, and I try to play my role. But part of me being aggressive is playing off them.”

DeRozan, who shot just 7-for-20, still contributed 17 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

And throughout, the Bulls hounded Dončić at every turn.

Perhaps the best part about the Bulls’ 8-3 start is they seem less impressed than anybody. They know there’s more work to be done. It’s a serious-minded group, committed to the craft.

But for one play, they had some fun.

“It just gets the building going for real. It was a great play,” Ball said of the sequence that led to LaVine’s dunk. “At the end of the day, it is just two points. But it sparks us on the court. It sparks the fans. The energy is great.”

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