Here's where Thaddeus Young will help the Bulls offense most

Here's where Thaddeus Young will help the Bulls offense most

Halfcourt basketball is still important.

In an era dominated by transition offense, 3-point shooting and deploying as many athletes as possible, there’s still something to be said for efficient basketball when the game slows down.

Consider that the fastest-paced team in the NBA last season – the Atlanta Hawks – played nearly 83 percent of their possessions in the halfcourt. No team had more transition possessions per game than the Milwaukee Bucks – 24.5 – and yet that accounted for just 21.5% of their total possessions.

The Bulls are serious about running next season. They ranked 24th in transition frequency and 23rd in pace under Jim Boylen last season despite having the NBA’s third youngest team. But they drafted the ultra-quick Coby White and acquired Tomas Satoransky, who last year ran the point for the ninth fastest team in basketball and played in transition more frequently than all but six teams.

But sandwiched in between the Bulls’ overhaul of the point guard position was the signing of Thaddeus Young. And what that three-year, $41 million signing did was bring balance. The Bulls want to run, but it won’t mean much if they’re unable to compete in the halfcourt.

Here’s why Young will help.

The Bulls were 28th in the NBA in field goal percentage inside 5 feet, making just 58% of their attempts. That included a 66.3% clip from Robin Lopez, which remarkably put him in the same territory as Karl-Anthony Towns (66.8%), Kawhi Leonard (66.4%), Joel Embiid (66.0%). But if you take away Lopez’s numbers – he signed with the Bucks this offseason – the Bulls’ number dropped more than a whole percentage point to 56.9%, which would have edged out only the Knicks for 29th place.

How relevant is the statistic? Well, the Warriors (66.7%) and Bucks (64.8%) led the NBA in the category and the bottom four teams were the Cavs, Bulls, Hornets and Knicks, who had a combined win percentage of .295.

How does Young help?

The 31-year-old made a transition of sorts this past season with the Pacers. Perhaps it was Myles Turner’s improved 3-point shooting – he made 38.8% of his 196 attempts – or something schematic from head coach Nate McMillan, but in 2018-19 Young played closer to the basket than ever before.

Per Basketball Reference, 46.4% of Young’s field goal attempts came within 3 feet of the rim last season, the highest rate since his 2010-11 season in Philadelphia (46.8%). It was a considerable jump from his career rate of 41.7%, too.

But Young’s efficiency didn’t dip with the increase in shots at the rim. In fact, Young shot 67.9% from inside 3 feet which was also the second-best mark of his career (73.5% in 2011; Young was really good in 2011). His career field goal percentage from inside 3 feet before last season was 64.9%.

Young also ditched his midrange shot in his final season with the Pacers. Shots between 10 feet and the 3-point line accounted for just 7.6% of his total field goal attempts. That was easily the lowest mark of his career – a good sign – by a wide margin (11.1% of his attempts were midrange shots in Year 1 with the Pacers). Prior to last season, a whopping 21.6% of Young’s attempts were of the midrange variety.

3-point attempts accounted for 17.4% of Young’s total attempts, which was actually lower than his 2018 mark of 20.9% – though Turner’s 3-point prowess likely accounted for that slight dip.

What does it mean for the Bulls? It’s far too early to analyze how Boylen may deploy Young. He’s obviously going to begin games on the bench but should play significant minutes late in games alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and potentially Lauri Markkanen. The inside-out spacing he provided Turner should be the Bulls’ goal and is likely one of the reasons they went after him so heavily, inking him to his three-year deal in the first minute of free agency on June 30.

Young’s prowess around the rim might also indicate that Luke Kornet will play ahead of Daniel Gafford on the second unit. Gafford is essentially a rim runner at this incredibly early stage in his career, and it’s tough to envision a fluid offense with Young and Gafford on the floor together. That second unit is already going to have serious spacing issues because of the lack of 3-point shooting.

Just 25.6% of Myles Turner’s field goal attempts came inside 3 feet. The Pacers moved him all around on offense, something Kornet can do more easily than Gafford at this point in the latter’s career. That’s splitting hairs at this point in the summer. Young’s most important minutes will come next to Carter or Markkanen.

The Bulls want to run and, if Boylen allows it, they will. But they’ve also addressed a critical area in the halfcourt, finding a player in Young who excels around the rim.

Young won’t have much effect on the Bulls’ transition – he didn’t even log enough transition possessions last season to be in NBA’s database, and his individual 98.14 pace was dead last on the Pacers a year ago – but when the Bulls slow it down and enter halfcourt sets, they’ve got a reliable big man who should help one of the Bulls’ biggest weaknesses from a year ago.

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

After getting a look at each point guard in the starting lineup this preseason, Jim Boylen finally got a look at what appears to be his starting lineup for Opening Night. 

Tomas Satoransky started as the point next to Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That group was down 10-7 when Carter subbed out at the 8:36 mark but looked better in later stints in the game. 

Carter was noticeably slow on his first step on his defense, specifically on plays where Raptors center Chris Boucher was able to use his speed and length advantage to finish at the rim. But he was solid on the glass, even chipping in on the offensive rebounding side of things, grabbing 3 offensive boards in the first half alone. 

Carter was clearly re-adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball and as play-by-play broadcaster Stacey King noted during the game, he "just doesn't have his legs underneath him." He was 1-6 from the floor, struggling to get lift as he went up for putback layups around the basket. 

That being said, he was decent, more so on the defensive side of the floor where he became more active as the game wore on.

In his 16-minutes stint, Carter posted 2 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and a block, while picking up 3 personal fouls. 

Outside of Carter's return stint, the Bulls new-look starting group looked solid and offers hope as we approach the start of the NBA regular season.