Jim Boylen has said it time and time again. He wants a player-coached team.
With now 33 games under the Bulls’ belt, the seeds of that philosophy are beginning to bloom. And at the forefront, the ballhandling boons of the offense: Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine.
It starts with the chatter.
“Him [Satoransky] and Zach have a good banter during the game — hey, whattya see, whattya like, hey I got this, I got that — and that's what you hope to have,” Jim Boylen said at a recent practice. “It takes time, it takes a familiarity, it takes reps, and those are exciting things for me.”
“I'm a really social guy and I feel like every time [the team] is on the same page, obviously we play better,” Satoransky said of his motor-mouthing on the floor. “As a point guard, you try to listen to what [your teammates] are thinking about the game, when they feel most comfortable.”
“Sometimes, he chats in a different language, so we gotta pick that up a little bit,” Boylen added of Satoransky, with a chuckle.
Satoransky said he talks to LaVine “a lot” and it’s apparent in the interplay between them. The two have shared the floor for more minutes (872) than any other two-man pairing on the team, and lineups featuring them sport a cumulative net rating of +3.0 (+9.7 in 374 December minutes). They’re in constant dialogue on the court, working together to find soft spots in opposing defenses, and have developed an unnatural chemistry on a few different actions.
This strongside backdoor cut (a play they both separately referenced), for example, has been popping up more and more often, of late:
“The more you play with somebody, he's an extremely smart player,” Zach LaVine said of Satoransky. “He's keyed in on a lot of things, if it's a backdoor, if it's a lob, or how teams are playing me.
“He's also done a better job of being aggressive, because when he's aggressive it helps me out because then [opponents] have to play his shotmaking ability, as well.”
Satoransky’s minutes are up to 31.3 minutes per game in December — a stretch in which he’s averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per contest — and he’s picked up his shooting (58.8% FG, 50% 3P% in his last five) after an extended dry spell, as well.
LaVine is averaging 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 38.9% 3-point shooting (8.3 attempts) this month. Their ascendance is trickling down to the team’s surging starters.
“When you have a lot of young guys and there are lineup changes, it affects you. I feel we’re getting established,” Satoransky told our K.C. Johnson, after the Hawks game. “And I feel I have good chemistry with KD [Kris Dunn] and Zach.”
Of course, Dunn’s impact can’t be overstated. Since his insertion into the starting lineup, the Bulls have the second-rated defense in the NBA, and on the season, the Bulls now boast the league’s fourth-rated defense. In 256 minutes together this season, the current starting unit of Satoransky, LaVine, Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. owns a +10.7 net rating (107.2 offensive, which is fine, and 96.5 defensive, which is downright stingy).
But for all the positives, an offense still mired in the basement of the league has yet to fully come along. That process is equal parts based on chemistry and results, and communication is key to both.
"We're building that ownership and that recognition and putting it together," Boylen said. "And that's kind of Tomas' background, I think KD's grown with that, Zach is more verbal this year on what's out there, what's going on, how they're playing him.
"It's part of the overall team growth, of being together, playing together... It's been good."
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