The Bulls dropped to 4-8 on the season with a hard-fought 124-115 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. Here are four observations from the loss:
The flood gates have officially opened from 3-point range
The Bulls' struggles from 3-point range have been well-documented, but there was always a belief that if Chicago's premier marksmen could trend closer to their career averages from deep, the offense would be one of the best in the league. The Bulls didn't blow the Bucks out of the water with their 3-point shooting, but it was effectively the only thing that kept them in the game in the first place.
Chicago shot an impressive 41.9% from the 3-point range, especially considering that so many of the attempts from Zach LaVine and Coby White—who combined to shoot 10-for-22— were high degree-of-difficulty shots.
Over their last two games, the Bulls are shooting 32-for-76 (42.1%) from 3-point range. While they are not likely to shoot above 40% from 3-point range all season, the Bulls are a better shooting team than their 32.4% 3-point percentage coming into Thursday night indicated. They finally appear to be righting the ship in terms of their aggressive perimeter shooting.
Tomas Satoransky continues to show his value
Tomas Satoranksy wasn't extremely aggressive in his first month as a Bull, averaging 5.8 points and 4.4 assists per game as he eased his way into a lineup full of players he had never played with before (sans the currently injured Otto Porter). While it is still extremely early in the season, Sato appears to be turning a corner in terms of his comfortability with the team.
Satoransky helped get the Bulls into an offensive groove early on, and his playing style has also seemed to rub off on Zach LaVine a bit (and again, just a bit). In the first half, Satoransky and LaVine combined for 15 points and 7 assists, and, in the team's multi-ballhandler system, he and LaVine seem well on their way to making a great duo in the backcourt.
The initial thought with the Sato signing was that he would be the perfect floor general to direct the show, and so far that is proving true.
He finished the night with 10 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals, and continues to provide an excellent mix of outside shooting and defensive IQ. Specifically, Sato was great on Thursday using his ability to "dig" from the weakside in help defense to strip Bucks players who were rolling to the rim. We are only 12 games into the season, and it appears he may already be outplaying his current contract.
The third quarter landslide showed up yet again
The Bulls racked up 8 turnovers in the third quarter, which led to a run of Milwaukee dominance, outscoring the Bulls 32-20 in the period. Despite shooting below 15% from 3-point range in the third, the Bucks pummeled Chicago's reeling defense, finishing the period with a +10 advantage in points in the paint.
Along with the turnover issue, the Bulls went ice-cold in the third from the field, shooting 33% in that frame and only getting to the free throw line four times compared to the Bucks 17 third-quarter free throw attempts. Overall, the Bucks dominated the Bulls with "big boy basketball," finishing with a massive +40 advantage in points in the paint by the end of the game. But Milwaukee's energy and aggressiveness in getting downhill during that third-quarter run effectively sealed the game for the Bucks.
(Bonus observation) Lauri Markkanen disappears yet again but shows a few positive signs
The biggest issue for Lauri Markkanen this season — outside of simply not hitting his shots — has been an extreme lack of aggressiveness for a player perceived to be a franchise cornerstone. His game wasn't impressive enough to merit an 'official observation' but it was intriguing enough to be touched on.
It was recently reported that Markkanen is fighting through an injury right now, but even so, it was quite jarring to see him only take two field-goal attempts in the second half of this game, missing both.
Despite being quiet on offense in the second half, Lauri still finished the game a +4, scoring only 11 points, but leading the team in both rebounds (8) and free throw attempts (6). The free throw attempts, specifically, are encouraging, seeing as he was already averaging a career-high 4.6 free throw attempts per game coming into Thursday night.
He shot 33.3% from 3-point range on the evening which, while not great, was actually better than his woeful season average from deep (27.3%). Whether or not Markkanen's shooting starts to turnaround quickly, getting to the charity stripe will help help Markkanen gain confidence as he continues to try to get back to his usual standards.
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