Bulls will keep it basic, but preseason opener a chance to continue jelling

Bulls will keep it basic, but preseason opener a chance to continue jelling

Thirteen NBA teams will begin their respective preseason schedules on Monday night, and none will do so with a more unfamiliar roster than the Bulls. With eight new faces, including three starters, the team that takes the United Center floor against the Milwaukee Bucks will be far from a finished product. It’s why Fred Hoiberg said the Bulls will take Game 1 slow, keep the first unit together for stretches in the first half and hand the reins over to the younger players after halftime.

Still, Hoiberg is looking at tonight’s preseason game – and beyond – as another opportunity for his relatively new team to jell. The Bulls had a live practice Monday morning, a contrast from a regular season shootaround normally seen the day of a game, taking advantage of the minutes that will be spaced out in the game to, in effect, get in another two-a-day session. Jimmy Butler noted that the “different vibe” many of the players have spoken of has come from Hoiberg’s attitude.

“Just how much he’s looking for everybody to be a perfectionist,” Butler said. “Whether it’s catching a rebound with one hand or making a bounce pass here when you’re not supposed to, I think that’s holding everybody accountable to where they’re not going to mess up.”

That continued the theme seen early in training camp. The Bulls have practiced each of seven days since opening camp last Tuesday, all in an effort to form chemistry with a group that returns a little more than half of its minutes from a year ago.

“He’s been working us hard,” Dwyane Wade said of Hoiberg. “He’s been getting us mentally ready and prepared, and he’s done a good job of delegating to his coaches when he needs to.”

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Hoiberg spoke briefly with his team about keying in on Milwaukee’s tendencies; the Bulls will focus on transition defense, protecting the paint and rebounding against the Bucks. But their primary focus, which will remain through the preseason slate, is on improving themselves. In addition to young players getting valuable minutes, putting that starting unit on the floor in game situations is something that can’t be replicated in practice.

“This is what you work hard for, to get out here and have these moments,” Wade said. “We’re gonna have some moments where it’s going to look good tonight. We’re going to have some moments where it’s going to look awful. And that’s what the coaches get paid for, to come in and break down the film and tell us what we can get better at, and pat us on the back for the moments that we had good.”

The starters will play between 10-12 minutes in the first half – Taj Gibson will open at power forward, with Hoiberg admitting he will continue rotating starters at that position as the preseason goes along – and take another step in their process of jelling.

“You just can’t simulate that game action in practice, so for a guy like Wade to go out…it’s a start to working his way up to the shape he needs to be in for opening night,” Hoiberg said. “But we’ll get our top guys together, play them a lot of minutes together in the first half, them most likely sit those guys in the second.

“You want to go out there and perform well. Again, we’re going to keep it very basic tonight and we’re going to work on a lot of things…It’s about going out there and worrying about ourselves tonight. And if you ask any coach in the league, these first couple games, that’s what it’s all about.”

Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'


Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'

It’s tough to call the position battle for the backup point guard spot on a Lottery-bound team important, but here we are two days into the Bulls’ season.

It won’t move the needle in NBA circles and Dwane Casey won’t be putting in additional time getting ready for Saturday’s game, but there appears to be potential for change in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.

One day after an embarrassing display in a season-opening loss to the Sixers, Hoiberg said the Bulls have yet to make a decision on a potential lineup change for tomorrow’s affair against the Detroit Pistons. Kris Dunn, who missed Thursday’s game for the birth of his first child, was not at practice on Friday and may or may not be available for the home opener.

That could prompt changes after Cam Payne, inserted into the starting lineup, was largely ineffective, failing to score on 0 of 4 shooting in 21 minutes.

“We’re gonna see how practice goes today and then make that decision,” Hoiberg said. “It’s still up in the air on what we’re gonna do.”

The loss certainly can’t fall on just Payne, as the Bulls went lifeless after a 41-point first quarter that had them in the lead after 12 minutes. From there the Sixers outscored them by 29 in the second and third quarters, facing little resistance from a Bulls defense that doesn’t appear to have made much improvement from a year ago, Dunn or no Dunn.

Philadelphia shot 48 percent from the field, scored 20 fast-break points and 46 points in the paint, cruising to 102 points through three quarters before reserves finished things off. Even with Dunn the defensive prospects don’t look good, meaning Hoiberg might have to make changes to ignite the offense that scored just 35 points in those second and third quarters.

The Bulls could go a few different routes. Zach LaVine’s hot hand in the first quarter – 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting – saw the ball in his hands, and he even added two assists.

“It's a collective effort. You've got to have all five guys out there trying to play the right way and again, we found a recipe with Zach, especially in that first unit, where we let him bring the ball up the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We ran a couple actions where he was the facilitator and we put Cam in the corner. So a lot of that will be dictated by who has it going on a particular night and last night it happened to be Zach, so he was the one that was doing a lot of facilitating.”

Past a point guard-less lineup, the backups to Payne – Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis – could also see extended minutes going forward.

Arcidiacono had 8 points and 8 assists in 28 minutes, though the majority of those stats came in garbage time. Still, he hit a pair of 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over, and five of his assists resulted in makes at the rim.

Ulis, acquired off waivers last week, could inject some life into the second unit.

“He’s ready. He’s done a good job in practice,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve gone through the system with him as far as what we expect and if there’s a point in the game where he can go out there and we feel he can help us, I’m confident that he’ll go out there and give us good effort.”

The point guard rotation isn’t the key to unlocking the Bulls as a lockdown defensive team, or no longer suffering the offensive dry spells that happened Thursday. But in a season that’s already showing signs of adversity, shaking up the lineup might be Hoiberg’s only chance.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.