When the Bulls resume post All-Star break play on Thursday night against the Hornets, they’ll do so with a different starting lineup — we learned as much on Wednesday when Jim Boylen reported Chandler Hutchison inactive for the game.
As of right now, it’s not exactly clear which players will make up the team’s first unit. But Boylen might have dropped a hint.
“I think you've seen the [Thomas] Satoransky-[Zach] LaVine-Coby [White] lineup,” Boylen said when asked if there’s anything specific he wants to see out of White down the stretch (to be clear: this was not a question about the starting lineup). “I expect to have that out there as we go down the stretch. Have those guys play together.”
Those happen to be the only three Bulls players to appear in all 55 games this season and the numbers when they share the floor are kind. Per NBA Stats, units with Satoransky, LaVine and White have the highest offensive rating (115.5) of any three-man grouping the Bulls have used this season. They rank fifth in eFG% (55.1), fourth in true shooting percentage (58.9) and play at a pace of 105.68 possessions per game.
Those numbers should appeal to a Bulls team that loves to run and struggles to shoot. And with the logical benefit of increasing White’s opportunity for evaluation purposes, running those three together on the wing seems to make a tremendous amount of sense.
There are downsides, of course. Lineups that feature the trio have a porous 113.1 defensive rating (though, that still adds up to a +2.4 net rating) and plucking White from the bench would leave the reserves completely deprived of offensive creation. Also, the encouraging numbers mentioned above are based on just a 272 minute sample size, which is not even the equivalent of six games.
But to counterpoint: Why not? The Bulls are as banged up as they’ve been all season and exit the break at a low watermark, record-wise (19-36). With playoff hopes quickly melting, now is a prime opportunity for White to get the nod and for the Bulls to pivot fully into development mode. And to be honest, it would just be fun to watch.
Boylen has demonstrated affinity for this trio in the past, mainly after using them down the stretch of a 126-114 loss to the Wizards in the Bulls' final game before the break.
“I like that group of Sato, Zach and Coby. We haven’t done a whole bunch of that. That’s something we’ve looked at the last two games that I think has been good for us,” Boylen told reporters after that game against Washington. “We’ll build off what we can build off.”
Still, there is no way to know his thinking, for certain. When Porter and Hutchison were both sidelined in November, Boylen opted to start Shaq Harrison at the three for four games before Hutchison returned (and Dunn eventually filled in long-term). His love for Harrison is well-documented and going that direction again would maintain the starters’ defensive identity (Miles Bridges is good) while preserving White’s ability to buoy the bench. White, Satoransky and LaVine could always be deployed to close.
Smaller point: there is also the question of the center position. Boylen said yesterday that Daniel Gafford “got his legs back” but it’s not set in stone that he’ll slide back into the starting lineup for Luke Kornet right away. That is something to watch.
So is Boylen’s decision regarding White. If the 20-year-old rookie does make his first NBA start tonight, it will be in a lineup with the potential to keep the Bulls interesting.