The Bulls finished up a difficult road trip on Thursday against the Nuggets with an embarrassing 135-105 loss. They went 0-5 on the trip and now have lost nine straight games, giving them the second worst record in the NBA.
While it wasn't pretty, we're trying to take five things we saw on the trip.
Lauri Markkanen is a different player when he gets going early
Thursday was Lauri Markkanen’s best performance of the road trip, and unsurprisingly it came in the game where he attempted 10 first-quarter field goals. He went 6-for-10 in the opening 12 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers, driving twice to the basket for nice finishes and hitting a baseline jumper.
It was a sight for sore eyes for a Bulls team that has an incredibly low 91.4 offensive rating in first quarters under Jim Boylen; that’s worst in the NBA by more than 8 points per 100 possessions. It was also good for Markkanen, who is averaging 4.0 points on 36 percent shooting in first quarters this season. It’s by far Markkanen’s worst shooting quarter (he’s at 47.4%, 44.6% and 43.6% in the final three quarters) so to see him start quickly was a good sign.
He had two attempts in the first quarter against the Lakers, four against the Jazz and four against the Warriors. He doesn’t need to attempt 10 every first quarter like he did against the Nuggets, but he needs to start aggressive. It changes how he plays the rest of the night like it did Thursday.
Jabari Parker needs to be in the rotation until he’s dealt
Jim Boylen had his reasons for yanking Jabari Parker out of the rotation, and maybe they were warranted. But it’s also clear that the timing has been correct to put him back in the rotation, and credit to Parker for being ready in that moment.
In the final three games of the trip Parker was really solid offensively, shooting 17 of 27 while averaging 14.6 points. It was much needed for an offense that simply couldn’t keep up with opponents most of the time. They’re going
He’s got his warts, he doesn’t have a good positional fit and he definitely isn’t part of the future. But Parker’s return to the rotation should continue. If it isn’t to help the team competing and playing better it’s becoming a nice bump to his trade value.
We’re still waiting for Kris Dunn to put it together
No one is more happy to come home than Kris Dunn. It was a largely forgettable trip for the Bulls’ point guard, who after a 17-point, 7-assist night in Portland was invisible for four games. In five road games he averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 assists. He shot 36.7 percent and just never seemed to mesh with the rest of the offense. He has his moments, but far too few of them.
His lack of 3-point shooting and drawing fouls is beginning to be a real concern. We knew Dunn wasn’t an elite 3-point shooter but he was making a concerted effort to get to the basket more often this season. While he seems to be finishing better around the rim – and he had a thunderous dunk against Denver – he simply isn’t drawing fouls and getting to the line. That’d be fine if he was an elite passer in this offense, but he simply isn’t. He runs basic pick-and-roll fine and drops off to bigs on drives at times, but overall there hasn’t been a lot of “wow” from Dunn like we’ve seen from Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen – and even Wendell Carter – at times this season.
It’s going to be a long 37 games
The belief as the injury-plagued Bulls trudged along during the first month of the season was that, once healthy, there was simply too much young talent to think about the top of the NBA Draft. After all, teams like the Cavaliers, Suns, Knicks and Hawks had far more precarious short-term situations and the Bulls, playing in the East, would at least remain competitive and beat similarly talented teams.
While we didn’t exactly learn this during the trip, the reality is the Bulls will smack dab in the mix for the league’s worst record this season. With Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the starting lineup the Bulls are 1-12. Part of that is the schedule – 11 of those 13 opponents are at or above .500 – but there simply isn’t enough chemistry between these three for it to yield results. Add in the midseason coaching change and the difficulty that puts on a young team and you’ve got a recipe for a disastrous final 37 games.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing –heard of Zion Williamson? – but it’s an unfortunate truth that the Bulls aren’t as far along as we thought they’d be. Rebuilds take time, and it appears the Bulls will have very little to show for when they enter 2019 training camp. The Bulls have the sixth easiest schedule to finish the year, including two games against the Cavs and two against the Knicks, but progress the rest of the way can’t be measured in wins and losses. It’ll be looking at the Lauri-LaVine-Dunn three-man lineup numbers, LaVine’s ability to work off Markkanen (when Lauri is looking for his shot) and Dunn’s aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
Chandler Hutchison is finally getting consistent run
It might have been the front office’s doing, but credit to Jim Boylen for finally giving Chandler Hutchison consistent run. The Bulls rookie played 25 minutes or more in every game during the road trip, the first time he’s logged that many minutes in five straight games.
It was promising, too, that his best games came in the final three of the road trip. After logging big minutes on the road he didn’t falter, scoring 11, 12 and 12 points against Utah, Los Angeles and Denver. Hutchison had scored in double figures twice this season, and he’s now done it three consecutive games. The increase in minutes has helped, but Hutchison was also 15 of 25 in that stretch. He doesn’t do much creating but seems to be in the right spots at the right time. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds and had a steal in the last four games of the trip. He was a real bright spot.