'The Pecking Order' with Bulls Outsiders' Matt Peck: preseason

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'The Pecking Order' with Bulls Outsiders' Matt Peck: preseason

Preseason NBA action is such a tease. Unlike NFL preseason, which seems completely pointless in recent years, NBA starters play some real minutes in preseason games. Still, by the time you reach the fourth quarter, both benches are emptied, and the conclusion feels like a completely different game compared to what you watched an hour ago (can you tell I’m writing this the morning after the Bulls’ scrubs blew a 20+ point lead against the Pelicans? I’m not bitter or anything).

Still, unlike NFL offensive coordinators hiding most of their real playbooks in preseason, NBA teams try some of the stuff they’ve been working on in training camp. Which has led to some fun and encouraging moments for Bulls fans through their first two exhibition games. 

For this week’s “Pecking Order,” I thought I’d share some of my favorite things from the first week of preseason, and what I still want to see before the real games start on Oct. 23. 

The Pecking Order – preseason

1. Let’s start with something fun that happened last month — fans got a glimpse this week — in the latest episode of the team’s “Run With Us” series (by the way, if you’re not watching those, you’re missing out). They feature great behind the scenes look at practices, new player arrivals and, most importantly, Jim Boylen and Lauri Markkanen cannonballing into a lake in Finland. Yes please.

Anyway, in Episode 3, we see Ryan Arcidiacono upset Zach LaVine to win Boylen’s 1-on-1 tournament. As Archie hoists the custom-made title belt and his teammates cheer, you feel that this group is really bonding early in the season. Cheesy? Yeah, maybe. But after such a depressing season filled with long faces last year, it was wildly refreshing to see something like that. When the Bulls cough up a late lead in a random January game and Jim blows a gasket, Archie might need to pull out that title belt and be the Charlie Conway to Jim’s Gordon Bombay, reminding him that games are supposed to be fun.

2. Coby White’s “Wow, bro!” moment from draft night is already turning into the greatest and easiest catchphrase. As I watch White's lightning quick coast-to-coast speed, his acrobatic attacks to the basket, or even his better-than-expected defense, my first thought is, “Wow, bro!” Coby’s the real deal, and I can’t wait to see more. Also, he should file a trademark request for “Wow, bro!” ™.  That’s way better and more deserving than LeBron’s Taco Tuesday nonsense. Seriously, LeBron. Everybody likes tacos. Get over yourself.

3. Speaking of the backcourt, Tomáš Satoranský won the starting point guard job on Wednesday night. He had a rough start, committing a few turnovers. But once those jitters settled, he played extremely well, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes. That’s efficiency, baby. 

Satoranský's smart and unselfish play feeds into the other guys on the court. Did you hear the Bulls assisted on 38 of their 49 made baskets against the Pelicans? The ratio was even more impressive at halftime (24-of-30) before the starters gradually made their exits. That kind of ball movement and team execution is…not what we saw last season. More, please.

4. Former Bulls fan favorite Robin Lopez and his twin brother Brook playing on the same team will be a gold mine of NBA Twitter content this season. Did you see their back and forth jabs following their victory over the Bulls when asked about their respective bucket celebrations?  If not, go find it right now. Seriously. I’ll be here waiting. We don’t deserve this content, but I’m so happy we’re getting it.

5. Zion Williamson. Oh. My. God. Remember all those people who wondered if his game would “translate” to the NBA? Ha, bet they feel sheepish. Zion (12-of-13, 29 points) and LaVine (10-of-16, 28 points) won the game balls for their respective teams, and we’re all hoping we see them square off in the Dunk Contest come February.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy every opportunity you can to watch this kid play. I love White, don’t get me wrong. But watching Zion on the United Center floor last night had me cursing the stars like a young, overacting Leo in R&J that the draft lottery didn’t go the Bulls' way (sports fans like Shakespeare references, right? No?  Just me? K.)

6. Zach LaVine is a bucket-getting machine. He made it look so easy in so many ways on Wednesday night. His first All Star nod is coming, folks, bet on it. Go to your local market and load up on LaVine Cuisine. Buy their entire inventory. I will only be eating LaVine Cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner from now until April. That’s gotta be a healthier diet than the cows, pigs and beer diet I’ve been leaning on for about a decade now. If I can make the change, you can too!

7. I love both centers the Bulls added this offseason. Watching rookie second round pick Daniel Gafford run the floor, destroy rims and block shots is very fun. What a motor that kid has. But his minutes will be hard to come by if Luke Kornet is healthy. We saw Kornet’s debut last night after he sat Monday with turf toe. Not only is Kornet’s spacing ability on the floor a nightmare for opposing defenses, but he’s a very smart player. He had four sweet assists to go along with his nine points in 16 minutes. 

There was one lineup we saw last night – LaVine, Satoranský', Otto Porter Jr., Markkanen and Kornet – that had me drooling.  Finally, a Bulls lineup with five legitimate threats behind the three-point line. Welcome to the modern NBA, Bulls. A little (lot) late, but better than never. Speaking of centers: bye, Felicio. The goggles didn’t help. Assuming a healthy roster, we’re on our way to seeing a guy with 82 DNP-CDs collect $8 million this season. Talk about living the American Dream.

8. Now, a few things I’d like to see in the remaining preseason games.  First, and most importantly, we need Markkanen to find the monster within. Bruce Banner’s triggers that bring The Incredible Hulk; Bobby Boucher’s tackling fuel; Patches O’Houlihan imploring the nerdy and soft-spoken Gordie, “You gotta get angry!  You gotta get meeeean!  That’s the only way you can play!” 

Pick whichever analogy you want. I’m getting slightly worried that we still haven’t seen that version of Markkanen. Sure, the pick and pop threes are nice, but he’s been far too passive in these first two preseason games. I want to see him use the muscle he added this offseason, and I want to see him demand the ball more. No more Mr. Nice Finland.  We need The Finnisher.

9. This team does appear to be much better conditioned than they were last season. It’s something Boylen’s been harping on, and the Bulls have played with some seriously improved pace so far. You know who looks like they can’t keep up? Denzel Valentine. Granted, he’s on an NBA court for the first time since early 2018, so you’d expect it will take some time for him to get those legs back. 

Valentine could be a very important shooting threat off the bench this season if he stays healthy. But he has looked completely gassed after a few trips up and down the court. His legs lose the lift he needs on his threes after just a few minutes. Are his knees and ankles toast, or is he just out of shape? We need to find out, and quickly.

10. We need to see Boylen’s preferred closing unit finish a game.  I know, I know, why put your most important players at risk in a meaningless game? But watching that game slip away last night with LaVine, Markkanen, Porter and Satoranský on the bench was tough. This is a young team that will have to “learn how to win” this season. 

Who will Boylen trust to close games? Will he prefer Thad Young over Wendell Carter Jr, assuming the latter is good to go when the regular season starts? Will the closing lineup emphasize offense or getting stops? We don’t know yet. For just one of the preseason games, I’d like to see Boylen keep his primary guys on the floor to close out a win.

11. We heard Boylen say Carter might play “a few” minutes on Wednesday before he was scratched. As much as I’m eagerly awaiting Carter's season debut, that can wait until the real games. If he can only play a few minutes, don’t play him at all. The man has a bruised butt, for crying out loud. I know that pain. I have one from sitting on my couch watching all the games: NBA preseason, NHL, NFL, college football, playoff baseball, WNBA Finals, EPL…man, isn’t October the best? #Blessed.

Alright, that’s it. Two down, three to go. Enjoy the rest of preseason, Bulls Nation! We’re so close, and things are looking up!  Till next week. See red, be good. – Peck

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls fail to close another close game in loss to Raptors


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls fail to close another close game in loss to Raptors

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 93-92 loss to Toronto.

0:45 - Reaction to losing another close game

2:00 - Kendall Gill stops by to give Matt Peck a hard time about Derrick Rose

3:30 - On Wendell Carter Jr and wanting more

4:45 - Viewer comment on Bulls shooting 46 three-point attempts

7:20 - Concern over Lauri Markkanen

8:10 - Viewer comment still believing in Lauri

9:40 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford

12:10 - Viewer comment on running more pick n roll w Zach and Lauri

15:35 - Viewer question on Otto Porter and Hutchison

16:30 - Viewer trade idea: Kevin Love for Markkanen

17:15 - Any comfort in coming close to beating two of the top teams in the East?

20:30 - Viewer comment on losing games

23:00 - Viewer comment on Coby should start

24:05 - Viewer comment pandering to John Sabine

24:40 - Sabine shares his weird dream that involves Jim Boylen

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

In Bulls' loss to Toronto Raptors, Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford rejuvenated the United Center

In Bulls' loss to Toronto Raptors, Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford rejuvenated the United Center

Monday night, 14,775 fans attended the Bulls' latest in a line of hard-fought defeats: a 93-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors. That's the smallest reported crowd at the United Center for a Bulls game since Dec. 16, 2004.

For stretches, though, it felt like a full house. 

"The UC was great tonight, the fans were awesome," Denzel Valentine said.

The starters carried the team, to start: Of the Bulls' 50 first-half points, 46 were scored by Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. But it wasn't the usual suspects that pushed the Chicago faithful's decibel count to levels unheard of in the earlygoing of this season.

Thank Valentine and Daniel Gafford, in large part, for that. With the Bulls trailing 61-58 at the 4:45 mark of the third, Jim Boylen turned to a bench-dominated unit of Coby White, Valentine, Thad Young, Gafford and LaVine to spark his group. It was a potential tipping point in the game: The Raptors were in the midst of an 11-3 run and the Bulls' offense was fizzling. White, Valentine, Young and Gafford had four points between them upon entry.

With that move, the fates tilted towards the home side. For a time.

"It was great minutes from them," Satoransky said of Valentine and Gafford after the game. "I think [Denzel] is feeling more himself right now. And DG will always bring that energy. He's one of the most athletic guys I've ever seen, his energy... will always refresh our game."

It certainly did in this one. Gafford blocked three shots and notched 10 points over the game's final quarter-and-a-half. Valentine scored all 13 of his points for the night after that juncture in the third, shooting 5-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-7 from 3-point range. The Bulls finished the night 12-for-46 from 3-point land.

"Just energy," Valentine said, of what that bench unit brought. "We started playing defense. It started on the defensive end, started in transition, getting rebounds. Played with a little bit more life. Playing with each other too. We were moving the ball together."

"We go in, we produce with the minutes that we get," Gafford said. And on what the fans gave back: "There was definitely energy. I was blocking shots, Denzel was knocking down shots, we were getting stops on defense. We were doing everything we needed to do to win the game, and the crowd helped us do that."

Of course, they didn't do it alone. In spite of not scoring, White played a solid defensive game and finished the night with eight rebounds and five assists. Young and Kris Dunn each hit crucial 3-pointers in the third. But watching Valentine and Gafford ignite the home crowd made it even more surreal that neither of them cracked the regular rotation until mid-to-late November.

"We got a bond," Gafford said. "He finds me when I'm open, and I find him when he's open... We just go out and play basketball."

That strategy helped the Bulls build an 85-77 lead with eight minutes left in the game, but the team's good fortunes faded fast from there. After an alley-oop from Valentine to Gafford gave them their 84th and 85th points of the night, the Bulls didn't score for the next five-and-a-half minutes of game action. The Raptors surged down the stretch. The Bulls scrapped, but ultimately faltered when it mattered most.

Both Gafford and Valentine found themselves in the Bulls' closing lineup — Valentine by way of the hot-hand, Gafford in Carter's stead after he fouled out with just under four minutes remaining. A Valentine transition layup, Markkanen 3-pointer and Gafford layup represented the Bulls' only points of the final eight minutes.

"We gotta learn how to put it away. If we can't at the end of the third quarter, we gotta put it away at the beginning of the fourth," Gafford said. "We just gotta learn how to put it away, seal the deal." 

But, as a team, they didn't. And thus, the bottom line doesn't change. The Bulls won a(nother) moral victory or two tonight, but when the final points were tallied, they were on the short end. That's the only stat that matters, especially to those 14,775 that stood behind their team, in person, tonight.

"It’s disappointing when we don’t win games. It’s disappointing when we don’t win home games," Boylen, who has presided over only 10 home victories in his tenure, said. "Nobody is running from that."

"No excuses, nobody cares, we just gotta come out and play hard and learn from our mistakes," Valentine said. "It's tough, because we lose the last three and we were up in the fourth [quarter], I think, in all of those games. So it's tough. But hopefully at some point we'll figure it out."

Gafford and Valentine provided a jolt, but because of the result, they're only would-be heroes — their combined performance amounts to nothing more than an all-too-familiar silver lining. In some ways, that stings even more.

"That's why this game is so frustrating," Satoransky said. "Because I know we were there. Fans were engaged and I think we played very well, and we missed a lot of shots. You know, that always hurts."

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