Bumps and bruises make assessing Bulls' frontcourt difficult

Bumps and bruises make assessing Bulls' frontcourt difficult

While the point-guard position battle has rightfully taken front-and-center stage early in the Bulls’ preseason, just as important will be how Jim Boylen decides to utilize his retooled frontcourt.

That is, once he has the full complement at his disposal.

Though the injuries to Wendell Carter Jr. (bruised tailbone) and Luke Kornet (turf toe) aren’t considered to be serious, their absences and the subsequent trickle-down effect it had on the rotation showed a glaring weakness in the Bulls frontcourt during their 122-112 preseason loss to the Bucks on Monday.

In the loss – which did not feature the Bucks’ three top players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton or Eric Bledsoe – the Bulls’ frontcourt was limited to starters Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felicio, sixth man Thad Young and rookie Daniel Gafford.

Individually those four posted solid lines, with Markkanen’s 14 points and 5 rebounds leading the way. Gafford feasted on a small Bucks frontcourt in the second half and finished with 12 points, though he committed five fouls and missed a few bunnies around the rim. Felicio played well with the first unit and Young gave the Bulls much-needed effort on the defensive end.

Collectively, the group was dominated by a Bucks frontcourt that didn’t have Antetokounmpo and played the Lopez twins a combined 36 minutes. The Bucks shot nearly 60% on 2-pointers, made 17 3-pointers and scored 122 points despite committing 25 turnovers. Carter was dearly missed on the defensive end, and Young had to play on the perimeter when paired with a rim runner in Gafford, and that negated any real contributions he could make offensively; Young was 2 of 8 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. That wouldn’t have been the case with Kornet, a 3-point specialist and underrated defender.

It was a meaningless preseason game, and Boylen has said he plans to experiment with different groups as often as possible over these five games. And while Carter isn’t expected to be out much longer – his tailbone keeps stiffening up on him when he warms it up – and Kornet is expected to return for Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Bulls can’t afford these injuries that sunk them a season ago.

“This team has versatility,” Boylen said at Monday’s shootaround. “What I’m hoping for is durability and availability.”

Again, Carter and Kornet are simply dinged up. Gafford’s elbow scare turned out to be nothing, and his energy and effort on Monday seem to indicate that he’s feeling healthy. But injuries add up – as the 2019 Bulls know all too well – and for a relatively shallow roster that has publicly announced that they’re gunning for the postseason, it can’t afford to be less than 100 percent for more than a short stretch of games.

Injuries in the preseason also take a toll on rhythm and chemistry. Boylen wants to experiment with lineups, but Carter hasn’t played in a live game since Jan. 15, a span of 265 days. He has played 436 minutes with Lauri Markkanen, fewer than he played with Jabari Parker.

Kornet is a newcomer who hasn’t been able to do much on-court work. If the Bulls opt to play a fourth big man – instead of rotating Markkanen, Carter and Young at the 4 and 5 spots – it’ll likely be Kornet, who provides similar defensive prowess as Gafford but can stretch the floor. The Bulls shot 38 3-pointers on Monday. They’re gunning.

“The one thing we have to do is get healthy, and that’ll be an adjustment when Carter comes back and Kornet comes back,” Boylen said, “because they’re gonna be in that rotation. So we’ll just keep doing the best we can, that’s all we can do. We’ll evaluate it film-wise, we’ll evaluate it statistically, and I’m a big gut guy, too. So we’ll see where that goes.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)

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

Bulls Outsiders


Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”