Bulls

In a much-needed victory over the Hawks, Tomas Satoransky showed just how much he means to the Bulls

In a much-needed victory over the Hawks, Tomas Satoransky showed just how much he means to the Bulls

On a night when Otto Porter left the game at halftime with a left foot contusion, Wendell Carter Jr. played only 13 minutes and Zach LaVine, Thad Young and Coby White shot a combined 8-for-29, the Bulls won by 20. On the road. On the second night of a back-to-back.

Imagine that.

Coming off a loss to the Lakers that would have crushed the souls of most, the Bulls submitted their most impressive game of the season in a 113-93 win in Atlanta Wednesday night. They played hard, out-rebounding their opponent for only the third time this season. They played fast, winning the fast-break points battle 18-6. And they played active, forcing 24 Hawks turnovers while only allowing 30 three-point attempts (a figure Jim Boylen was especially pleased with). 

The story of the night, though, was Tomas Satoransky, who notched a career performance — 27 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting (4-of-5 from deep) — as other stars and franchise cornerstones melted into the background:

“It was super important,” Satoransky said of the win. “I think we were all frustrated the way the last game [against the Lakers] went, but this league is all about that: Forgetting that you almost beat one of the best teams playing 36 minutes of good basketball, and you have to bounce back in another city. I think we did that today and hopefully this can be a turnaround game for us.”

In the bounceback victory, Satoransky flashed the litany of capabilities that made him such an enticing pickup for the Bulls this offseason. He drained catch-and-shoot threes. He probed and pulled up off the dribble when appropriate. He made plays for others in the pick-and-roll, while not sacrificing opportunities to get to the hoop, himself. He was a leader in the fast-break. En route to an efficient 27 points on 13 shots, the 6-foot-7 combo guard routinely abused a favorable matchup against the diminutive Trae Young, and got more than a few great looks either at the rim or from floater range. This is the good stuff right here:

But perhaps most impressive was Satoransky’s work on the defensive end, especially in helping contain Young. The blitzing strategy the Bulls have employed defending pick-and-rolls has been the subject of much derision in the early going this season, but their aggressiveness paid off against a lethargic Atlanta squad on Wednesday. Satoransky and Kris Dunn—who had five steals on the evening—pestered Young all night, combining to hold him to just 9 points and 0-of-8 shooting from three-point range.

“We just tried to make things complicated for him, not to give him open looks, crowd on him,” Satoransky said. “We were aggressive in offense, as well against him, and we tried to run every time we had [the] opportunity.”

Granted, this game was against a short-handed team that isn’t known for its defensive prowess to begin with. But for Satoransky, who was averaging 6.5 points and 5.4 assists on 39.1% shooting (and had yet to score in double digits) entering the night, this type of performance illustrates the ceiling of value he can potentially provide this Bulls team as a playmaker and next-man-up. 

He doesn’t have to smash personal records or play up to MJ-level standards every night—whether this season ends with a playoff berth or a high lottery pick, Satoransky will have a significant role to play in making this team's parts, and the sum of those parts, better.

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Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

When the Bulls selected Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, John Paxson and Gar Forman talked about his rare intelligence, mental toughness and maturity for a 19-year-old prospect.

We saw signs of Carter Jr.’s leadership ability during his 44-game rookie campaign. He took the losses as hard as anyone in the locker room and spoke candidly about the need to change the mindset and focus of everyone on the roster. Carter’s first season ended early because of a broken thumb, but his emergence as a strong voice among the players was only beginning.

With the Bulls getting off to an unexpected slow start to the 2019 season, the now 20-year-old Carter has been a prominent voice in the locker room, saying the players need to feel the pain of the constant losing and do everything possible to turn things around.

Carter has certainly done his part, taking a significant step forward through the first 11 games of his second season. The former Duke star is averaging 13.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and has already notched seven double-doubles — the first Bulls center to accomplish that since Joakim Noah in the 2010-11 season.

After experiencing the physicality of NBA post play as a rookie, Carter put in extra work in the weight room this past summer, and showed up for training camp at a solid 265 pounds. He’s used that extra strength effectively on both ends, banging with the league’s biggest centers under the basket, while also maintaining his ability to switch onto smaller players in pick-and-roll coverage.

Carter also got advice from Bulls television analyst and former NBA player Stacey King to always run hard down the middle of the court after a change of possession to set up opportunities for easy baskets and offensive rebounds. With the Bulls playing at a faster pace this season, Carter's ability to beat opposing centers on the offensive end has already resulted in more scoring chances.

The Bulls coaching staff is still hoping Carter will develop his shooting range to the point where he can be a consistent threat from three-point territory, but at this point that’s not a high priority in the offense. Carter is outstanding in the pick-and-roll, setting solid screens and then rolling hard to the basket for lob passes. He also has the ability to pop out to the elbow area for midrange jump shots.

With all the preseason conversation focused on the possibility of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen making the jump to All-Star consideration, Carter is the player making the biggest leap early in the season. And his increased production is coming without designed plays being run for him.

The Bulls’ offense doesn’t call for multiple entry passes into the low post, but we saw during Carter’s one season at Duke that he has a nice touch shooting jump hooks from close range with either hand. Carter’s offensive game figures to expand in the coming seasons, but his skill in protecting the rim and controlling the defensive backboard already makes him extremely valuable to what the Bulls are trying to accomplish.

Plus, we already know that a competitive fire burns deep inside the 20-year-old Carter. After former teammate Bobby Portis torched the Bulls for 28 points and 11 rebounds in a come-from-behind victory for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last month, Carter vowed it wouldn’t happen in Tuesday’s rematch at the United Center. 

“No words need to be said. We’re not letting that happen,” Carter said to reporters. “Bobby is going to want to put on a show. I’m not going to have it. I hope he’s watching this. I ain’t having it.”

Portis’ stat line in the Bulls’ blowout win following those comments? In 19 unproductive minutes, he tallied just 7 points and 3 rebounds on 3-of-9 shooting.

The Bulls’ 20-year-old locker room leader made sure he backed up his pregame comments. Now, he says he’ll look for something to fire up his teammates for every game left on the schedule.

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Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Jim Boylen has plenty of pet phrases. Role acceptance is one of them.

And if you want to get the Bulls coach rolling, ask him about Kris Dunn’s performance in that department.

“Big time. Big time,” Boylen repeated, for good measure. “He just wants to win. He’s the first guy in the breakfast room. You have to be in the building 45 minutes before [practice]. He’s in 1 hour, 45 minutes before. He does his workout 45 minutes before everybody else with Coach [Nate] Loenser. He is locked in. He cares. He always cared. And he’s playing winning basketball. I’m really happy for him.”

There may be no greater compliment from a coach to a player than to say one is playing winning basketball. Relayed Boylen’s comment, Dunn didn’t take it lightly.

“That means a lot. That’s what I try to do,” Dunn said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I come from a winning program at Providence. I know what winning looks like. And I know what it takes to win.”

Right now, that involves Dunn accepting his role as a reserve aimed at wreaking defensive havoc on opponents. When Dunn scores 13 points, as he did in Tuesday’s victory over the Knicks, it’s a bonus.

There’s a lot going right with Dunn’s game these days. He leads the NBA with 25 steals, posting multiple steals in seven of 11 games. He has tallied 30 assists to just nine turnovers in 224 minutes, emblematic of solid decision-making. And he’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field — a figure made even more impressive by his anemic 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“I take pride in my defense,” Dunn said. “The second unit, I think we have good defenders in our group. Archie [Ryan Arcidiacono], he’s a dog. Thad [Young], he’s a dog. Coby [White], he’s a dog. I could go on and on. We try to come in and bring great energy and try to maintain the lead or, if we’re down, try to get it back.”

But Dunn’s biggest area of growth has been his role acceptance. It’s not easy losing a starting job, particularly when it comes on the heels of executive vice president John Paxson publicly challenging Dunn. And then the Bulls acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign-and-trade transaction, drafted White and re-signed Arcidiacono.

Multiple outlets reported over the offseason that Dunn and his representatives wanted a change of scenery. The Bulls, league sources said in July, held trade talks with several teams, including the Grizzlies, regarding a sign-and-trade transaction for Justin Holiday.

Instead, Dunn returned. And since the first day of voluntary September workouts, he has maintained a positive attitude.

“It’s a good team we have. I just wanted to be a part of it. We have a lot of talented players, a good group of guys. I wanted to buy into what Coach is preaching, buy into the system,” Dunn said.  “All in all, I feel my game can go anywhere — starting, coming off the bench. Wherever you put me at, I’m a hooper.”

This example hasn’t been lost on young players like the rookie White.

“That’s my dog,” White told NBC Sports Chicago. “We’re part of the bench mob. Ain’t that right, KD? I love playing with KD. I know he’s going to compete at both ends. If things aren’t going well, he can turn the game around with his energy. He’s passionate. You love to play with people who play hard and want to win.

“Our relationship has grown on and off the court. He has instilled confidence in me. I haven’t been shooting it well before [Tuesday night]. KD told me to keep being aggressive and keep shooting. He’s always encouraging his teammates. When one of us does something good, he’s the first to hype us up.”

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