The Bulls blew through four preseason games in seven days, a pace coach Jim Boylen acknowledged by resting his starters for one.
But now it gets real. Wendell Carter Jr. made his debut Sunday in Toronto after sitting the first three games with a bruised tailbone, but the second-year big man only played first-half minutes.
Thursday’s preseason finale at the United Center against the Hawks is an opportunity to extend minutes, set rotations and square off against a young, rebuilding team looking to make a similar jump. Here’s what the Bulls’ preseason has shown so far:
Zach LaVine is playing with a proper edge
The preternaturally gifted scorer often is accused of being an empty calories player, spouting empty words. Those who are around LaVine on a daily basis see his work ethic and care factor and say otherwise.
LaVine has made no secret of his desire to represent the Bulls at the 2020 All-Star game at the United Center. But through three games---he sat with the other starters last Friday in Indiana---he isn’t trying to get there with a head-down, selfish approach.
LaVine has shown leadership, an improved commitment at the defensive end and his 23.3 points in 23 minutes proves he still scores in bunches. Boylen deserves some of the credit for LaVine’s focus, challenging him to be a better two-way player. Veteran Thaddeus Young also has been in LaVine’s ear. But LaVine put in the work and is playing like a man on a mission.
Coby White is fearless
The first-round pick said all the right things about playing with confidence when the Bulls used the No. 7 selection on him. But so many 19-year-olds have uttered similar sentiments and then looked overwhelmed.
White isn’t that. His speed and scoring ability have demanded a rotational role. And who cares if he’s not a point guard yet, with just five assists in 105 minutes? His ability to push the ball and play off it will be critical for a second unit that will feature the defensive-minded Kris Dunn.
White still needs to eliminate his tendency to take long 2-pointers and learn to finish better. And the point guard knowledge needs to come eventually. But for now, unleash him and let his athleticism do the trick.
Boylen and the Bulls are playing like a modern NBA team
In the three games the regulars have played, the Bulls have attempted 38, 37 and 49 3-pointers. The 49 3-pointers versus the Raptors would’ve represented a franchise, regular-season record.
After taking over for the fired Fred Hoiberg last season, Boylen drew widespread criticism for his publicly stated plan to slow down the offense and build it back up with proper fundamentals. Furthermore, last season’s roster, particularly down the stretch as the Bulls fielded gloried G League lineups, didn’t lend itself to perimeter shooting.
The additions of Tomas Satoransky, Luke Kornet and White help. So does a more versatile roster with multiple ballhandlers. This approach isn’t going away this season.
Carter needs to stay on the court
The defensive-minded big man consistently draws praise from coaches and teammates for his communication skills and ability to read the court. There also are raves for his offensive potential.
However, it’s getting to the point where the Bulls need to see it consistently, not talk about it. Between thumb surgery limiting him to 44 games in an otherwise promising rookie season and now Carter showing some rust---and some nice plays---Sunday in Toronto, consistency and reliability needs to follow.
After all, Carter never fully mastered the art of avoiding foul trouble last season. His interior defense and rim protection will be critical for a team challenged in both areas.
The Bulls need to broaden Lauri Markkanen's offensive game
The good news is Markkanen shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range in three games. The bad news is over half of Markkanen’s shots have come from behind the arc.
Markkanen is too talented---and too much a matchup nightmare---to be relegated to a spot-up shooter. During his dominant February stretch last season, Markkanen displayed a dribble, drag-step move that seemed unguardable. Offseason talk centered on his bulking up for more post play.
This is where Markkanen’s rebounding is so essential. He has the ability to push the ball up the court himself. There’s nothing wrong with Markkanen shooting 3-pointers. But he’s at his best in motion, with multiple offensive options at his disposal.