Bulls

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pacers tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pacers tonight on CSN

 

Watch as the Bulls take on the Indiana Pacers Saturday on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

 

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls bounce back?

After a 3-0 start, the Bulls have now lost two in a row. The 117-104 loss to the Knicks was the first half of this back-to-back and was probably the team's worst performance of the season. Getting back on track against an Indiana team that is off to a slow start at 2-3 would be a good sign that the Bulls' 3-0 start wasn't just a flash in the pan.

2. Dwyane Wade on a back-to-back

Wade is coming off his best game as a Bull. He scored a season-high 35 points in an otherwise lackluster showing from the Bulls in the loss to New York. Saturday's game in Indianapolis will be the first back-to-back of the season. At 34, it will be interesting to see how Wade recovers. Fred Hoiberg has been conservative with Wade's minutes so far, keeping him just under 30 minutes per game through five games. Wade played 33 minutes against the Knicks.

3. Rematch with the Pacers

For the second time in the young season the Bulls are playing a team for the second time. The Bulls beat the Celtics in the season opener at the United Center, but then lost a close one in Boston six days later. After beating the Pacers 118-101 on Oct. 29, the Bulls head to Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping to avoid the same fate as the trip to Boston. In the first meeting with the Pacers, the Bulls went up 21 at halftime and Doug McDermott scored a game-high 23 points.

4. Keeping Paul George in check

Paul George is the Pacers' leading scorer so far at 24 points per game. His two biggest scoring games, 30 points against the Lakers and 25 points against the Mavericks, were both Pacers' wins. Those two games were also the Pacers only home games so far. Indiana is 2-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.

5. Better ball movement

The Bulls had a season-low 15 assists, and just two in the fourth quarter, in the loss to the Knicks. Rajon Rondo still led the team with five assists, but shot just 2-for-10 from the field. In the previous game, a loss at Boston, the Bulls also dished out a then season-low 21 assists. That is not a positive trend. Rondo's production has dipped recently, but the absence of injured guard Michael Carter-Williams could also be hurting the offense.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: How will the Bulls fill their PG need? Options in draft and free agency

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How will the Bulls fill their PG need? Options in draft and free agency

Mark Schanowski, Mark Strotman and Kendall Gill discuss myriad topics, including where Otto Porter Jr.’s role stands heading into next season, how the Bulls may improve at the point guard position this summer and who they could potentially target in the NBA Draft.

4:15 – Analyzing where Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter can improve next season

11:40 – Potential Bulls’ free agent PG targets

16:36 – Draft analysis and Darius Garland’s and Coby White’s potential fit in Chicago

23:04 Other targets for the Bulls in the first round such as Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver

25:34 – Damian Lillard/NBA Playoffs discussion

 

 

Season in Review: Zach LaVine shows promise in Year 1 of new deal

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Zach LaVine shows promise in Year 1 of new deal

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter  | Wayne Selden

Preseason expectations: The Bulls’ decision to immediately match the $78 miller offer sheet the Kings gave Zach LaVine was telling. Despite an ugly first season in Chicago, LaVine clearly had the trust and commitment from the Bulls front office to be the healthy player they had hoped he could become. Armed with that $78 million contract and the 47th highest annual salary, expectations were set high for the 23-year-old.

He also set them for himself, noting at Media Day that the upcoming season would be different because it was his first healthy offseason in years. That mattered, and there was optimism that LaVine could become the kind of scorer he was prior to tearing his ACL. The potential to form a 1-2 punch with Lauri Markkannen and set into motion the next chapter of the rebuild was a necessity for a Bulls team without much talent around them on the offensive end.

What went right: He proved his worth. We’ll get to some of his shortcomings later, but it’s impossible to deny that LaVine was worth every penny in Year 1 of his new contract. He was 18th in the NBA in scoring – 16 of the 17 ahead of him were All-Stars – and posted career-bests across the board. He was critical in the first six weeks of the season while the Bulls were without Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. LaVine was the constant in the first half of the season, took on an enormous usage burden, and kept the Bulls afloat.

LaVine is never going to be a pass-first option, and the notion of him running the point at any time for the Bulls isn’t a great one, but he did distribute fairly well. Of note, his pick-and-roll game with Wendell Carter and pick-and-pop action with Lauri Markkanen were both beneficial plays. LaVine looked comfortable in that action and it will add another element to his game once the Bulls find a point guard to run the offense. Having ball handlers and initiators on the wing is a bonus, and it looks like the Bulls have a capable one in LaVine.

We’ll also add that his free throws were a nice touch. LaVine averaged 13.6 drives per game, 12th in the NBA among qualified players and fourth among non-point guards. It resulted in 3.2 free throw attempts per game, trailing only James Harden among all players with at least 13 drives per game. LaVine averaged 6.0 free throw attempts per game, a career-best, and had a knack for finding open windows that allowed him to get to the basket. He should only improve in that category as the Bulls add pieces around him to give him more space to work.

What went wrong: LaVine still hasn’t done much to improve his defense. LaVine’s DRPM was 194th among 227 guards, and if advanced numbers aren’t your thing then the eye test proved as much. He still has trouble staying with defenders away from the ball, he doesn’t provide much in the way of help defense and at times he still looks uninterested. Granted, he was asked to do so much for the Bulls offense that he’s allowed to take some plays off on the other end, but he spoke a big game about being able to improve as a defender and we didn’t really see it.

It wouldn’t be as big an issue on another team, but the Bulls are desperate for defensive help. They ranked 28th in efficiency for a second straight season, and for as much firepower as they’ve racked up on offense, the wins won’t come until the defense improves. It’s not on LaVine to be a lockdown defender, but improvements are needed.

The Stat: 19 on 51%

Call it cherry-picked but this is still excellent company that LaVine and Lauri Markkanen find themselves in. Whether you think LaVine will become a star or simply be a scoring piece to complement around other top options, his trajectory is promising. In the limited minutes he and Markkanen have played together, it’s clear the two pieces work as a 1-2 scoring punch. This, of course, allows the Bulls to focus on other areas like drafting a defender in Wendell Carter Jr. or adding shooting on the wing in Otto Porter. There are plenty of steps to take during a rebuild, but finding two guys who score efficiently night in and night out is a big piece of it.

2019-20 Expectations: What does LaVine have in store for Year 2? He proved he can be a primary scoring option – though he may cede those responsibilities to Lauri Markkanen – and was an above average distributor on the wing. He can drop 20 points in his sleep, has no problem getting to the free throw line and improved his 3-point field goal percentage. The next step is to improve on his efficiency, which should be helped out if Markkanen can take his own next step and take some of the burden off LaVine. LaVine goes from a nice scorer to an All-Star if he gets his percentages up to 48/39/85 (last year he was 46/37/83).

He'll continue to be called upon as a leader, too, as Jim Boylen gives him more responsibility in such a role. Incredibly, he’ll be entering his sixth season in the NBA this fall. He said multiple times that the Bulls need to learn how to win, and the roster will be looking to LaVine on how to get that done.