Bulls

Around the NBA: Bulls measure up to rivals

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Around the NBA: Bulls measure up to rivals

It's still a bit premature to anoint any team as a prohibitive favorite this early in the season, but based on early returns, the Bulls could, at the least, make a case.

Dogged by injuries all season, the Bulls' depth has been on full display, While nothing as extreme as third-string point guard John Lucas III scoring 25 points and nearly notching a triple-double in the absence of Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson--let alone the fact that another member of the backcourt, Rip Hamilton, was also out and Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer were virtual non-factors Wednesday evening--Tom Thibodeau's repeated message that the team "has more than enough to win," even with key players sidelined, has often fulfilled its prophecy.

Defense has been the key for the Bulls and except for a few hiccups--most notably, the loss to Golden State in the second game of the season and a blowout defeat to Atlanta last weekend--Thibodeau's defense has looked to be in midseason form.

Additionally, an emphasis on pushing the ball in transition and the ability of players other than Derrick Rose to contribute scoring on a nightly basis, something that should be even more potent when shooting guard Rip Hamilton returns to health and gets completely comfortable with his new squad, have also been significant in the team's success.

Various teams that were expected to be league powerhouses this season have got off to slower, more uneven starts, as the likes of the Mavericks, Lakers, Knicks, Grizzlies and Celtics have looked disjointed at times, mostly due to having to incorporate multiple new pieces and injuries.

Cohesiveness, with Hamilton being the only new rotation player, is another area where the Bulls have an advantage, along with squads like the Heat, Thunder and surprising 76ers, coached by former Bulls head coach Doug Collins.

While Oklahoma City, despite dealing with the fallout of the on-court argument between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and Miami were supposed to be the cream of the crop, Philadelphia has shocked many observers.

Collins' Sixers are young, athletic, versatile and while they don't offer much in the way of star power, their defensive mindset, unselfishness and a strong bench enable them to compete on a nightly basis and potentially ride their strong start to an Atlantic Division title.

But the team the Bulls have their eye on in the East is the Heat, who dropped their second consecutive overtime contest Wednesday night to the Clippers. While it wouldn't be fair to compare Chicago's decisive victory over former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro's bunch to the Heat's loss, which took place after "Lob City" had more time to jell, it's worth remembering for the future.

Speaking of L.A., Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant's back-to-back scoring outbursts--48 points to lead the charge against the Suns, followed by 40 points last night in a win over the Jazz--seem like statement games, showing that despite his advancing age and the Lakers being written off by many, the veteran shooting guard doesn't intend to go down without a fight.

It isn't like he hasn't had to carry a team before, but center Andrew Bynum is a lot more experienced this time around and surprisingly, new Lakers head coach Mike Brown's offense hasn't inhibited Bryant's scoring prowess thus far, while still keeping big men Bynum and Pau Gasol involved.

Rose's eye-popping scoring numbers from last season are down early in the campaign--though his assists are up and the Bulls point guard couldn't be happier about it--and if that trend continues, no matter how successful his team is, a repeat MVP season is probably unlikely.

But how many people thought, before the season started, that Bryant would be the early-season favorite to take home those honors?

It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

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It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

Over the last couple seasons we've had some fun on our Bulls Pregame Live shows with the ever-changing cast of characters at the point guard position. We even brought the point guard roulette wheel to the show a couple years ago when Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne all saw significant time at the position.

Grant began last season as the starter, followed by Kris Dunn and Payne with a little Ryan Arcidiacono mixed in.

But this season was supposed to be different. Dunn showed enough in his 52 game stint (13.4 points, 6 assists per game) in 2017-18 that he entered training camp as the unquestioned starter, with Payne and Arcidiacono as backups. The front office and coaching staff expected the 3rd year guard out of Providence to establish himself as a quality starter with elite skills at the defensive end.

Now, after playing just one regular season game, Dunn has been sidelined again, this time with a sprained left MCL suffered in his debut at Dallas Monday night. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action, which should get him back on the court sometime in early December, right about the same time Lauri Markkanen is expected to return from his elbow injury.

So, what does Fred Hoiberg do now? Initially, you can expect Payne to replace Dunn in the starting lineup, with newly signed Shaq Harrison getting a look in the backup role. In case you don't know much about Harrison, he's an undrafted four-year player out of Tulsa, who spent most of the last two seasons in the NBA G-League. Like Dunn, Harrison is a physical 6'4" defense-first player who should be able to pressure some of the elite point guards the Bulls will face in the coming weeks. The front office showed their level of interest in Harrison's potential by signing him to a two-year NBA contract which includes a guaranteed salary for this season.

The Bulls also signed former Marian Catholic H.S. star Tyler Ulis to a two-way contract after he was released by Golden State in the final cutdown. Ulis started 58 games for Phoenix over the last two seasons, and is lightning quick in the open court. Problem is, he's generously listed at 5'10" which could create some serious issues at the defensive end.

And then there's always Arcidiacono, a Hoiberg favorite who's fundamentally sound, a solid defender and a decent outside shooter. Arcidiacono didn't play in Dallas Monday with Dunn back as the starter and it will be interesting to see how he's used with the coaching staff searching for answers at the position.

From my perspective, the Bulls' best option might be not going with a point guard at all in the starting lineup. Zach LaVine is on the hottest offensive streak of his young career, and he's most effective with the ball in his hands. LaVine played a lot of point guard during his rookie season in Minnesota, and he's more than capable of pushing the ball in transition.

Yes, I know having LaVine defend some of the high-scoring point guards around the league is not an ideal formula for success. The Bulls could move Justin Holiday to the shooting guard position, and see if he can match up defensively against opposing point guards. Again, not ideal.

The Bulls will be facing the likes of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Steph Curry and Chris Paul over the next week and a half, and going without a true point guard might create defensive issues that are impossible to overcome. That's why you should expect to see Harrison take on a significant role in the upcoming games, since he's the only point guard currently available on the roster that has the physical skills to replicate in some fashion what Dunn brings on the defensive end.

Any way you look at it, the Bulls will be in survival mode over the next six weeks, trying to scratch out as many wins as they can until Markkanen and Dunn are healthy enough to get back on the court.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

Kelly Crull, Mark Strotman and Will Perdue react to the news that Kris Dunn will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

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