This has felt like a very crazy week for the Bulls. Lots going on. We’ve seen more losses in winnable games and another win over the lowly Pistons. Swirling around the game action we’ve had more injuries surface, more intriguing Jim Boylen quotes, more minutes for the “grit and toughness” squad, and more underwhelming performances from the supposed stars of the roster. To top it off, Bulls fans were hit hard in the feels on Wednesday night when the team honored recently retired Bulls legend Luol Deng at the United Center with many of his old teammates in attendance. *Reaches for the nearest box of tissues*
I feel in need of a good long nap before we get to the weekend back-to-back. Before that nap, though, here are the biggest thoughts occupying my tired mind in Week 5 of the Bulls’ regular season. It’s the Pecking Order.
- I’m getting really sick of the 4th quarter collapses.
In losses to Brooklyn (sans Kyrie Irving) and Milwaukee (twice), the Bulls coughed up three more winnable games with painful collapses in the 4th quarter. In the first of their two recent matchups, the Bucks gave the Bulls every opportunity to steal one. Milwaukee missed a boatload of free throws (34-47). They shot 18.2% (WHAT. EW.) from downtown and turned the ball over 22 times. To his credit, Ryan Arcidiacono performed admirably when Jim Boylen tasked him with guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo down the stretch. (WHAT. EW.) Archi forced a Giannis midrange miss at the 1:35 mark and the Bulls only trailing by three. But Lauri Markkanen, among others, failed to corral the defensive rebound and Eric Bledsoe made them pay with a second-chance bucket. A missed Zach LaVine three on the other end and another Bledsoe bucket meant curtains for a golden chance at an impressive win against a respected opponent.
Two days later, the Bulls allowed the Nets to score 43 points in the final twelve minutes after bouncing back from an ugly start and taking leads into the 3rd and 4th quarters. The fact that 20 of Brooklyn’s 43 points in the final frame came courtesy of the recently Bulls-spurned Spencer Dinwiddie added extra pain to the evening.
That dude can ball.
Thank goodness we waived him to free up that roster spot for Michael Carter-Williams...Wait, what do you mean MCW isn’t leading the Bulls’ second unit with face-palming plays and bricked shots anymore? When did that happen? (Aaaah, the “Three Alphas” season. Fun memories.)
In their second attempt to knock off Milwaukee, the Bulls again were in it late. But awful nights from Markkanen and LaVine led Boylen to leave his second unit on the floor late into the 4th. That’s something we’ve now seen several times through the first 15 games. After a Coby White three gave the Bulls a 99-98 lead with 6:23 remaining, the Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run. Zach and Lauri checked in at the 5:04 mark, but all the supposed star duo could collectively provide was two free throws from Lauri. Zach had a bad turnover on a crucial possession, Lauri had a shot in the paint blocked by Brook Lopez, and both missed all their field goal attempts.
Yes, young teams like the Bulls usually struggle to finish close games. Yes, Lauri and Zach are underperforming. But this string of collapses in winnable games is a concerning trend. If you look at their net rating by quarter, it’s not a pretty picture. Per stats.nba.com, the Bulls are tied for 9th in the NBA with a 1st quarter net rating of +5.8. Their 2nd quarter rating of -1.2 ranks 19th, 3rd quarter rating of -4.6 also ranks 19th, and 4th quarter rating of -10.3 ranks 27th.
Jim can preach about needing to start games better, especially at home. He can praise his guys for winning first and second quarters all he wants. But it’s impossible to ignore the numbers. The Bulls perform worse as the games go on. Some of that is young players failing to close. It’s also an indictment on a coach who can’t adapt and make the proper in-game adjustments. But yeah, Archi sure played the Greek Freak tough! *facepalm*
- Just when you thought we were finally going to have a healthy season…
Just kidding. Who needs a healthy roster? The already-limited Bulls, that’s who. But here we are, in late November, and we’re already dealing with injuries to several players. Sure, some are more important than others. Based on his poor shooting and defensive exposure before being removed from Boylen’s rotation – and the emergence of Daniel Gafford – I’m sure Bulls fans are more than fine with Luke Kornet taking all the time he needs to get those sinuses cleared out or whatever sinuses need to be good sinuses. (Making myself LOL at “good sinuses.” What are “bad sinuses”? Sinuses that live on the other side of the tracks and peer pressure you into skipping school? Moving on…)
The foot injury to Otto Porter Jr. is a gigantic concern. Yes, he’s been middling at best so far this season. But in the Bulls’ first win over Detroit, you saw exactly what he can provide when healthy and playing well. We saw it immediately when he arrived via the trade with Washington last season. Now his backup, Chandler Hutchison, is dealing with “sore shins” that caused him to miss Wednesday’s game. That’s on top of the hamstring injury that held Hutch out of training camp and the first several games of the season.
Just as concerning as the injuries themselves are the vague updates we’re getting from Boylen and the Bulls’ medical staff. Boylen recently said, “Otto's is a slow, meticulous process. As symptoms subside, he gets better. Some days those symptoms are less, and some days they are the same as the day before. So that's where that's at. He's working at it. He's trying. Again, this is a tough one. It's not a definitive thing. I'm sorry I don't have more answers for everyone. We're just trying to do the best we can with it."
Does anybody know how to interpret any of that? Now we’ve also learned that Otto’s second MRI revealed a bone bruise in his foot that was “not apparent” in the first MRI. He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks. Who’s got any confidence that reevaluation will bring good news? Not this guy.
As for Hutchison, Boylen’s comments on Otto’s backup and his shins are equally confusing. But here’s a sample from Wednesday: “He’s out tonight, and that’s about as much as I can tell you. It doesn’t seem to be a quick fix; I don’t want to give you a timetable there.” Awesome.
Did I mention that Lauri is still likely playing through an oblique injury – one the Bulls didn’t disclose until two weeks after it happened – and Coby White tweaked an ankle during warmups before the Pistons game?
- Daniel Gafford is very fun to watch.
He also appears to be more than qualified to play meaningful minutes. And not just in the G-League. (As my pal John pointed out on a recent Outsiders episode, the “G” in G-League stands for Gafford. I guess the “N” in NBA stands for daNNy duNks.) With his breakout performance against the Bucks on Monday, Bulls fans must be wondering: 1) If Gafford was so positively affecting the game, why didn’t Boylen use him down the stretch of a winnable game? 2) If Gafford is this effective, why did it take 14 games – many of which featured an underwhelming Kornet – for Boylen to give him a chance? And 3) What does all of this say about the talent evaluation abilities of Boylen, his staff, and everyone else in Advocate Center offices? *Uncomfortably grabs collar*…
- Speaking of players who can’t get an opportunity, what on earth is going on with Denzel Valentine?
If there were ever a chance for Denzel to get out of Boylen’s doghouse and onto the court, Wednesday night was it. No Otto, no Hutchison, and a Pistons team that has one of the weakest wing depth rosters in the league. But still, no Denzel. Shaq Harrison (a guard) got the start at SF. Ryan “I Take Charges” Arcidiacono continued his regular usage off the bench with 21 minutes. Denzel couldn’t even get onto the floor in garbage time. (That’s partly because Boylen apparently doesn’t believe in garbage time when his team is winning. See #6.) If Boylen can’t find any minutes for Denzel in a game when the Bulls are down two wings and are up to twenty points late, when will he ever find time for him? Not to mention Denzel’s most useful ability, three-point shooting, has been one of the Bulls’ greatest weaknesses so far this season.
Why is Denzel on this roster? If Boylen refuses to play him at all, then trade him if you can or waive him. All you’re doing right now is wasting a roster spot. With injuries piling up, maybe you could find somebody useful to take that spot? But what do I know?
- Jim Boylen says lots of stuff. On Wednesday night, he quoted his friend Tom Izzo. It was weird.
After the win over Detroit, Boylen praised the efforts of Shaq Harrison in his first meaningful minutes of the season by citing a phrase coined by his friend and former colleague Tom Izzo. “P.P.T.P.W.” stands for “Players Play, Tough Players Win.” Cool.
Shaq might embody that saying in Boylen’s mind, but he didn’t play for Izzo at Michigan State. He played at Tulsa.
…Didn’t Denzel Valentine spend four years at Michigan State playing for Izzo? Hmm…
- About the final minutes of Wednesday’s victory.
With the Bulls up 100-80 with 4:51 remaining, the following players were on the floor: Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoranský, and Shaq Harrison. The four normal starters weren’t subbed out until the 1:32 mark when Shaq remained for mop-up duty. Why did Boylen feel the need to play his primary starters for those three extra minutes when the game was already in hand? Did he feel that a Pistons comeback was still possible? I know the Bulls have given up leads in the 4th quarter several times this season, but it would’ve taken a meltdown of epic proportions to blow that lead. I’m just glad nobody got injured.
Also, I’m not sure what’s weirder: Boylen playing his starters down the stretch of a blowout or playing his second unit down the stretch of a close game. Neither is a good thing, in my humble opinion.
- I really enjoyed Derrick Rose’s interview with Will Perdue.
I am not the Rose Hater that Kendall Gill makes me out to be. I just don’t think it’s healthy for Bulls fans to live in the past when the rocky and worrisome present demands our full attention. That being said, you should definitely check out the interview if you haven’t already. It’s fantastic.
- I felt all the feels on Luol’s big night.
Good for the Bulls for signing Luol Deng to a one-day contract to allow him to retire here, where his NBA career began and blossomed. Good for them, also, for honoring Luol during a break in the action on Wednesday night. The video tribute was great. Even better was seeing Luol hang out in the owner’s suite with former teammates Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas (dunks! LaMarcus Aldridge!), Jannero Pargo, John Lucas III (Revenge on LeBron Game!), Nazr Mohammed (LeBron Shove!) and Aaron Gray (Aaron Gray!) …like I said. All the feels. Cheers to Luol on a great career.
- Tomas Satoranský finally showed us something.
It wasn’t an other-worldly performance, but it’s a start. In two recent games, Sato scored the Bulls’ first five points and never scored again. His assist numbers have been mediocre, and he hasn’t looked to shoot much despite a blistering 46.3% from beyond the arc. 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-5 from deep, plus 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals is a solid night at the office. Satoranský and Boylen both spoke recently about his need to be more aggressive to help the Bulls’ struggling offense. Hopefully, his game on Wednesday was a good start.
- I’m excited to watch Jimmy’s new team on Friday night.
The Bulls will host another reunion on Friday when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat visit the United Center for the final game of this homestand and the first game of a weekend back-to-back. The Heat’s fast start (10-3, currently 3rd in the East) has surprised many. They’re getting solid production from a pair of rookies, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro. But it’s Jimmy leading the way, averaging 18.7 points, 7 assists and an NBA-best 2.7 steals per game. I haven’t watched the Heat much so far this season, but I like what I’ve seen. They move the ball well and play solid defense. I’m excited to watch them on Friday night. And by excited, I mean terrified.
Thanks for reading. Here’s hoping for a few more wins and some good news on the injury front. I also wouldn’t mind more 20-point games from Lauri. Please. For the love of God, please.
Till next time. See red, be good. - Peck
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