Bulls

Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

Thaddeus Young walked to the waiting throng of reporters at Friday’s morning shootaround with a laugh and a smile.

“Can’t say I didn’t know this was coming,” the veteran said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Young landed in stories expressing frustration over his role, and with his morning comments, reiterated his desire to play more while maintaining the professional reputation that has defined his 13-year career.

Young got his wish during the Bulls’ abysmal showing in an 83-73 home loss to the Hornets, logging 26 minutes, 33 seconds. But at what cost?

Young received more playing time than Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ publicly stated cornerstone of the rebuild. At one point in the second half, Markkanen sat for 14:47 game minutes.

Pretty much everybody except Young and Ryan Arcidiacono endured a brutal night offensively. The Bulls set an NBA-season-low for points and shot 30 percent, including 20.6 percent from 3-point range. They also got outrebounded by 15.

But it’d be one thing if Markkanen had been playing poorly of late. After enduring a lengthy slump to start the season, Markkanen has been trending upward this month. Four of his previous six games produced 20-point outings and he entered Friday night shooting 52.6 percent on the month.

When Markkanen sank a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, he was 4-for-9 at the time for 10 points. Turned out, those were his final points.

“I don’t think so. I think he understands that I’m going to ride with guys who are playing well or guys that make the run, just like I have with him,” coach Jim Boylen said, when asked if his decision could affect Markkanen’s rhythm or confidence. “I overplayed him in the first half. Second half, it wasn’t the same rotation. That’s just part of the game.

“I have a scripted rotation. But it’s not in stone.”

Later, Boylen piled on all the starters. After scoring 10 first-half points, Zach LaVine missed his first seven shots of the second half and only scored two points after halftime. He and Markkanen were a combined 8-for-31.

“Overall, the first group was not good,” Boylen said. “Archie played well. Thought he was into the game. He found his shot, found his rhythm. So we let Archie roll a little bit. That’s going to happen. You’re trying to find guys who can help you make a run, get back in the game. We battled back.”

Playing Young more is fine. And indeed, the Bulls erased a 15-point deficit to cut it to two before defensive lapses led to back-to-back 3-pointers from the Hornets.

But if Boylen isn’t going to play Young at small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison out, playing time at power forward is going to be a storyline every game. Either Young isn’t happy or Markkanen, a franchise cornerstone, sits.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Boylen said, when asked if Young could play some small forward. “We’ve talked about it.”

Like Young, who expressed frustration over his role while emphasizing he’ll do what Boylen asks, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker.

“I didn’t talk to Coach about that,” Markkanen said of his lengthy second-half absence. “Obviously, Thad played well. That’s Coach’s decision. It’s obvious for me that I can play much better. I didn’t play at the level that we need.”

Markkanen didn’t attempt a shot while playing the final 3:58. Did sitting so long affect his rhythm?

“You get a little cold,” he said. “But it’s part of it. You get warm again pretty quickly. Guys do it all the time. That’s not an excuse at all.”

The Bulls need to find a solution for the big-man rotation, which also requires minutes for Wendell Carter Jr. and the raw, athletic Daniel Gafford. A source said Young believed not only would he be playing more minutes this season but closing more games.

“The conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season, things change and come out a little bit differently,” Young said of the Bulls’ free-agent pitch versus his current reality. “The situation is not best-case scenario simply because I am playing 20 minutes a game. But if Coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, 30, I’m with whatever he decides. He’s the man in charge.”

Boylen said he merely talked to Young about leadership and building and his vision for this team’s future when the Bulls pursued Young in free agency. Either way, the current situation is as messy as the Bulls’ offense against the Hornets.

“We sucked,” LaVine said.

On that, everyone could agree.

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

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USA Today

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

The Bulls got back in the win column with a 118-106 road victory over the Cavaliers, and Zach LaVine is ridiculous. Here's some observations:

Zach LaVine did it again

Whatever happens over the rest of this Bulls season, don’t put it at the feet of Zach LaVine. If you take one thing away from this one, make it that.

LaVine was simply tremendous tonight. He finished with a cool 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of play, and shot 16-for-30 from the field (5-for-12 from three; 7-for-8 from the free throw line). After the Bulls fell to the Kings on Friday, LaVine said he was fully prepared for any amount of advanced opportunity that might come his way. He proved that tonight. The Cavaliers threw the kitchen sink (and Tristan Thompson, for a couple possessions) at him, and it didn't matter.

"Just playing the game the way it should be," LaVine said of his performance. "Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention.

"I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

LaVine entered the fourth quarter with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists but was unable to clinch his first career triple double. He did make a modicum of history, though: 

Yeah, getting those last two assists would have been a cool milestone. But Bulls fans will take the sublime scoring performance — and victory — and run with it. LaVine’s fourth 40-point outing of the season doesn’t hurt his All-Star chances, either.

"I ain’t have one before," LaVine said when asked if he was aware of how close he was to a triple double. "Literally like two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists, but the game got out of hand. I’ll get one eventually."

A bunch of good things happened in the third quarter

I’ve harped on it more than a few times this season, but the Bulls are not a good third quarter team. Their 27th-ranked -8.3 third quarter net rating proves it.

Tonight was different. The Bulls pounded the Cavaliers 40-19 in the third period, extending a two-point halftime lead to 23 entering the fourth.

To put it simply: Everything went right. The Bulls turned eight Cavaliers turnovers into 13 points, shot 16-for-21 (76.2%) from the field, 3-for-5 from three and slung 10 assists in those 12 minutes, alone. And though LaVine carried the load in the first half, the Bulls got 28 points in the third from the non-LaVine contingent of the team — a positive development.

"We’ve struggled in the third [quarter] as you all know. I was happy with the way we played in the third, I thought the ball moved, I thought we made good decisions, we finished plays," coach Jim Boylen said.

Notably, Tomas Satoransky finished the night with a fully-stuffed stat line of 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals on 8-for-11 shooting. The Bulls’ second-scorer problem is still a pressing one, but we’ll put it aside for another night. 

Let’s have fun with this one

This win doesn’t assuage most any of the darkest clouds hanging over the Bulls. The Cavaliers are a disastrous team — rated in the bottom eight of the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, and with the league’s highest turnover rate (Cleveland committed 21 cough-ups tonight). And yet, they shot 50% from the floor, 43.3% from the 3-point line and both outrebounded and out-assisted the Bulls. 

But given the mounting adversity facing this team, this game is one fans can afford to have some fun with. The Zach LaVine Show marches on, and will continue to be worth watching.

"I said before the game that our team was frustrated after last night’s game [against Sacramento] and I thought we responded. And I’m really happy for that," Boylen said. "We felt we left some stuff on the table and that we could’ve played better, and we talked about that and we moved on."

Next stop: the UC for the Spurs on Monday.

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Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

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USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

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