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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Thad Young on relationship with possible Bulls front office target Chad Buchanan

Thad Young on relationship with possible Bulls front office target Chad Buchanan

Thaddeus Young is a professional on and off the court.

He’s a reporter’s dream, consistently accessible and open to answering pretty much any question.

This context felt necessary for this day and age, where information sometimes can get misrepresented by the third or fourth iteration on social media.

NBC Sports Chicago asked Young three questions about Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan, who spent two seasons with Young in Indiana and has been identified as a candidate of interest for the Bulls’ expected offseason front-office additions. One league source described Buchanan as “a top target.”

These questions came in a vacuum. They were strictly about Young’s impressions of Buchanan and not presented with context about the Bulls’ intrigue with the executive. No questions were asked about Young’s impressions of the Bulls’ current management structure, so Young’s positive thoughts about Buchanan shouldn’t be read as negative thoughts about anyone else.

The Bulls, who have spent weeks gathering input from myriad sources on various candidates, surely have other executives on their list. But with Buchanan identified as the first actual name, Young’s time with him offered the opportunity for some insight.

NBC Sports Chicago: What’s Chad like?

Young: Chad’s great. He’s unbelievable with the players, unbelievable with culture and being involved with you. And it’s not just you but your family also. His kids used to always play with my kids. His wife and family would come to the games. He’s one of those guys you know you can go to and talk to and have conversations with. The biggest thing is he cares about building something great. He cares about the product. He cares about the franchise. And he cares about people.

Q: I know (Pacers president) Kevin Pritchard is big on establishing culture. Is Chad similar?

Young: Chad was very, very responsive to anything we wanted to do. Any time I went in there to have a conversation with him, he would say, ‘What can we do better? What can I do to help you? What can I do to help the team?’ A lot of times, my response would be, ‘We have to go out and play.’ But that shows how much he cares about the system and cares about what he’s putting on the court.

Q: Did you know him before he arrived in Indiana (in 2017)?

That was my first time meeting him. He was great from Day One. He walked in and helped set the culture and tried to build something special with those guys.

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How Zach LaVine is staying positive as Bulls' season reaches breaking point

How Zach LaVine is staying positive as Bulls' season reaches breaking point

Zach LaVine has seen his fair share of adversity. In his first three NBA seasons in Minnesota, the Timberwolves logged a 76-170 record. In roughly two-and-a-half with the Bulls, the team is just 68-152. That’s 144-322 overall.

“I’ve done a lot of losing my whole career,” LaVine said, with a note of dry lightheartedness, after the latest defeat — a 103-93 home loss to the Charlotte Hornets that kicked off a gauntlet of a post-All-Star break slate for the Bulls. “I've been frustrated from the get-go, so I want that to change.”

None of the above is intended as a knock on LaVine. To put it lightly, this Bulls’ season — the third of a once-promising rebuild — has underwhelmed to this point, but he’s been among the only bright spots.

On the court, LaVine has taken steps forward as a scorer, closer, two-way player and all-around playmaker. Tonight, despite shooting just 8-for-22 from the field (the Hornets swarmed him with multiple bodies, as most opponents do, all game), he notched seven rebounds and seven assists — his team-high 14th game this season with minimums of at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.

And off it, LaVine has represented the Bulls with grace at every turn. After each game, win or lose, he puts on a brave face and shoots straight to myriad prying reporters. To pundits hoping to force a slip-up on his discontent, he stays professional and optimistic.

“I just understand the situation that we're in,” LaVine said of how he handles the duress of being the leader of an underperforming team. “And, just me, I'm a glass half-full type guy. I think I say things how it is still. I'm frustrated, I think everybody is. You know, we've been losing, but I take pride in what I do on the court each and every day.”

The loss to the Hornets was a splash of freezing water after Chicago played splendid host to All-Star festivities the previous weekend — a weekend that saw the Bulls organization repeatedly derided and ended with reports that ambiguous change could take hold come the offseason

This, just over halfway through a season that began with talk of a playoff berth and a blossoming young core. A next step.

“Hell no,” LaVine said when asked if he garnered any sympathy from other players in regards to the Bulls’ situation over the weekend. “They[‘re] waiting to play us it seems like, so we gotta take that as a challenge, 'cause when guys come in here they try to get that win… We're fighting, everybody knows we're undermanned right now but nobody cares. It's a dog-eat-dog world out here.”

Unfortunately, the Bulls have been kibble more often than not, of late. At 19-37, mired in a season-long seven-game losing streak and with a novela-length injured list, the eighth seed is all but a distant glimmer. But, in LaVine’s words, they’re not on vacation yet.

“You gotta stay locked in,” LaVine said. “You can't be looking at that April date. You gotta look at it glass half-full, you can't be on vacation mode or looking to where you're gonna be at. We got a lot of season left and we gotta stay locked in.

“This is our job, this is our dream job, his is something millions of people wish they could do good or bad. You know, it's a tough situation, nobody likes being in a losing situation but you get to see who's fighting with you and who's not, too.”

The Bulls certainly fought tonight, though that framing will induce eye-rolls from a large swath of the fanbase. After a lackluster first half, the team stormed back from down 21 to within two points at one point in the third quarter. Ultimately, that rally fell short.

But the season marches on — injuries, tough shooting nights and all. 

“I'm good. I know what I gotta go out there and do. Gotta go out there and do our job it shouldn't matter what our record is,” LaVine said of the mental trials ahead.

“I just try to be me. Don't try to be anybody else.”

The Bulls could do a lot worse.

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