Bulls' bench ready 'any given day,' makes good in win over Raptors


Bulls' bench ready 'any given day,' makes good in win over Raptors

Three weeks ago in Boston, Tony Snell began a seven-game shooting slump in which he shot 30 percent and lost not only his spot in the starting lineup but also the rotation. Aaron Brooks logged a DNP-CD — his third consecutive healthy scratch — as did Bobby Portis, whose NBA resume to that point consisted of 22 minutes as the Bulls fell to the Celtics, their third consecutive loss.

Still, on Monday night, when those three reserves combined for 51 points on 54 percent shooting in a come-from-behind victory over the Raptors, it was less a surprise and more another chapter added to what's been as unpredictable a team as there is in the league. For that trio, which accounted for nearly half the Bulls' 104 points, playing time had been sparse because of depth. And when that depth wilted, they were ready and willing to pave another path to success.

"We have a bunch of looks on this team," Brooks said after the game, "and you never know on any given day."

It was Brooks and Portis closing the gap on a nine-point Raptors lead by scoring the Bulls' first 19 points in the second quarter. Brooks' 27 minutes were a season-high, with his quick drives to the lane resulting in a pair of three-point plays and an assist to Portis to begin the period.

Portis, seeing extended minutes with Joakim Noah (shoulder) on the shelf, then scored in the paint on consecutive possessions, followed by five points from Brooks that gave the Bulls the lead. Portis' 20-footer capped a 19-8 run that brought the Bulls back from what looked early on like another lethargic performance, this time against a tough Raptors team sporting a 10-7 road record, second best in the East.

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Brooks, who tied season-highs with 17 points and five assists, kept finding the paint in the second half. And where his aggressiveness resulted in points in the first half, it opened up the outside for arguably Tony Snell's best performance in a Bulls uniform.

Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose combined for 23 points in the third quarter to give the Bulls a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and Brooks' objective for the second unit was direct.

"That’s your goal every time you go in for the end of the third quarter and the fourth is to make sure the starters don’t have to come back in," Brooks said. "The longer they can rest, the better it is for us."

Snell heeded those words. The swingman had played nine minutes in the Bulls' previous three games, twice a healthy scratch, scoring 15 points in his last four appearances. He topped that point total in a single quarter, pouring 16 of his season-high 22 points in the final stanza. The additional minutes came as a result of Doug McDermott's scratch minutes before tip with a sore right knee.

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Snell scored on a pair of drives, two mid-range shots and connected on two of his season-high four 3-pointers as the Bulls pushed their fourth quarter lead to as many as 13 points. The starters got their rest, and Snell capped off his performance with two free throws to seal the victory. The new role Snell played for a night was a stark contrast from his starting spot he held in 21 of the Bulls' first 25 games. But he stayed ready. And when his name was called, he flourished.

"After I took him out of the lineup, he took it like a champ," Fred Hoiberg said after the game. "'Whatever you think we have to do, coach, to win the game.' I told him to keep himself ready."

The Bulls' bench has been a sore spot to date. They rank 23rd in points per game and field goal percentage, and Noah's injury at a time when he was playing his best basketball was difficult, Portis' blossoming (12 points, nine rebounds) notwithstanding.

But for a night the bench was instrumental in the victory. The 51 bench points — Kirk Hinrich didn't shoot in nine minutes — weren't a season-high, but given Jimmy Butler's season-low scoring output (five points, 2-7 FG), just one starter logging a positive rating (Taj Gibson, +5) and Derrick Rose missing nine of his last 12 shots, the bench points were a season-best.

Inconsistencies continue to plague the Bulls, and they're still looking to heed Hoiberg's plea to play 48 good minutes. Still, the bench without its leading scorer took a step forward on a night in which the Bulls needed it in order to earn an important conference victory against an East contender.

"They played great basketball, man," Rose said of the bench. "That was, I think, the difference in the game, the way that they came out and played. It seemed like they knew where the ball was going, who was going to have the ball, and it looked more organized."

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.