The sample size is 48 minutes against a team reeling without their only All-Star. Let's just make that clear. But for a 5-19 team with a head coach making his debut on the road against a playoff team, Tuesday night's Bulls performance againt the Pacers went about as well as could be expected.
If, as John Paxson said on Monday, Fred Hoiberg wasn't judged on wins and losses, then we'll do the same for Jim Boylen. The Bulls suffered their seventh straight loss in a 96-90 affair, but something felt different.
While it admittedly wasn't something many people watched for under Hoiberg, the microscope was on the Bulls and, specifically, what their energy level looked like. It was one of the reasons Hoiberg was let go on Monday and one of the reasons the front office believed Boylen was the man for the job.
But even with the bump all teams get in their first game after firing a head coach, the Bulls' effort was there. The Bulls held their ground against a Pacers defense that, despite its shooting struggles, was moving the ball well. The Bulls helped, deflected a handful of passes and had a number of possessions where they recovered, helped and forced an errant Pacers shot.
At the end of the first quarter Boylen, who was off his seat and shouting the majority of the game, got into a defensive stance and willed his team on. The Pacers travelled on the possession.
Jim Boylen out here in a defensive stance on the sideline pic.twitter.com/ijX0f1pcjG— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) December 5, 2018
Though it came against a Pacers team ranked 27th in pace, they held Indiana to 94 poinst - their fewest since Nov. 7 - on 46 percent shooting and 27 percent from deep. It was clear they ran out of steam in the final quarter, but the first half and the early stages of the third were certainly steps in the right direction.
Also of note, we saw plenty of Lauri Markkanen at the center position on the second unit. That probably wasn't the most effective route - Cris Felicio and Robin Lopez were DNPs - but it's a good building block for the future. At some point Markkanen will be asked to play some 5 and to toss him into the fire on a season that won't be judged on wins and losses is fine.
Offensively, well, they could maybe use Fred Hoiberg. In all seriousness, the Bulls are still a major work in progress on that end of the floor. Effort and competitive spirit can help on the defensive end, but skill and execution are what put the ball in the basket. And the Bulls struggled there once again.
They turned it over 18 times and only got to the free throw line five times. That negated what was an otherwise solid passing night, handing out 26 assists on 37 baskets and connecting on 11 3-pointers. Markkanen is clearly still working out rust, shooting 8 of 24 in 32 minutes, while the Ryan Arcidiacono experience appears to be crashing back to the mean (0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist in 29 minutes).
It's going to get worse before it gets better on the offensive end, but the effort was a promising start to the Jim Boylen era.