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."

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, and tonight helped further confirm this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob", Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what Boylen is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished the Bulls win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

After getting a look at each point guard in the starting lineup this preseason, Jim Boylen finally got a look at what appears to be his starting lineup for Opening Night. 

Tomas Satoransky started as the point next to Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That group was down 10-7 when Carter subbed out at the 8:36 mark but looked better in later stints in the game. 

Carter was noticeably slow on his first step on his defense, specifically on plays where Raptors center Chris Boucher was able to use his speed and length advantage to finish at the rim. But he was solid on the glass, even chipping in on the offensive rebounding side of things, grabbing 3 offensive boards in the first half alone. 

Carter was clearly re-adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball and as play-by-play broadcaster Stacey King noted during the game, he "just doesn't have his legs underneath him." He was 1-6 from the floor, struggling to get lift as he went up for putback layups around the basket. 

That being said, he was decent, more so on the defensive side of the floor where he became more active as the game wore on.

In his 16-minutes stint, Carter posted 10 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and a block, while picking up 3 personal fouls. 

Outside of Carter's return stint, the Bulls new-look starting group looked solid and offers hope as we approach the start of the NBA regular season.