On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 121-101 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
1:00 - Bulls seemed like they were going through the motions from the start
2:00 - On John Collins career night
3:30 - Few positives from this game
4:40 - Markkanen needs to be a bigger part of the offense
6:10 - On inconsistency from Boylen on his rotation
8:00 - On Arcidiancono’s struggles
11:00 - Comparing Hoiberg vs Boylen each through 24 games
14:30 - Next signature pizza for a Bulls player?
17:40 - How Cam Payne is a Bulls Outsiders fan
22:20 - Fan questions which coach would you rather have: Kukoc or Hinrich?
24:55 - Advice from a Sixers fan
26:15 - Seeing two Boylen’s at the United Center
Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:
There’s not a whole lot to say at this point. The Bulls are 48 games into Year 2 of their rebuild and, now healthy, have somehow taken a step back. What was supposed to be a measuring stick in the second half with a complete roster has now becoming an alarming sign that this team hasn’t improved in any area and they’re trending downward. The latest in a long line of ugly performances might have been the worst under Jim Boylen, spotting a 14-win Hawks team a 20-point first half lead and ultimately suffering their ninth loss by 17 or more points under Boylen.
The same typical responses reverberated in the locker room: the Bulls need to take what they’re doing in practice and put it to use in games; the Bulls need to defend better; the Bulls need to be tougher; the Bulls need to care. At least publicly they haven’t gotten down on themselves or one another. They’re surprisingly upbeat despite having one win in 2019, and it coming at the hands of a tanking Cavaliers. Ironically, one of the reasons Fred Hoiberg was fired was that the team didn’t look disappointed and hurt enough after losses.
But at some point the results need to speak. Boylen said after the game that he’s not judging the Bulls on wins and losses, and even cited that the Bulls didn’t play all that well in their lone 2019 win in Cleveland, committing 18 turnovers. It’s gotten ugly and there’s only so much that can be said. Actions speak, and the Bulls have gone silent the last month.
The most fight the team showed was Bobby Portis taking exception to a Justin Anderson dunk with 11.1 seconds left in the game. He got into a brief skirmish with Alex Len on a free throw attempt. But the Bulls also inexplicably doubled at halfcourt as the Hawks were trying to run out the clock, so the Hawks played on. Ironically, it was the first time all night Atlanta felt suffocated by the Bulls defense…and they still managed to get two free throws out of it.
The loudest the United Center got on Wednesday night was from a small pocket of fans near the Hawks bench chanting “We want Vince!” Carter didn’t get in the game, but if he did he likely would have found open space to score against a Bulls defense that didn’t stop much of anything.
Boylen slowed down the Bulls’ pace when he took over, and it actually led to more efficient defense. The Bulls had the No. 8 defense in Boylen’s first month on the job. The offense was a mess but at least the Bulls were showing improvement. But in the last three weeks that defense has plummeted to 29th in the NBA. Yes, Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter Jr. are gone. No, they are not Paul George and Rudy Gobert.
There was at least a bit of excitement over the previous two games when the Bulls made 27 3-pointers against the Heat and Cavaliers. It came against two of the league’s worst defenses, but even Boylen admitted that the Bulls were looking to increase their pace.
Before the game Boylen said that he felt in his heart that 25 3-point attempts were not enough for the Bulls. Against a Hawks team that led the NBA in pace, the taking was there for the Bulls to at least give it a go and hoist 3-pointers in an up-tempo game. If the defense wasn’t going to improve at least they could continue pushing the tempo and finding open shooters to try and score with a Hawks team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency.
The Bulls took 3-pointers on three of their first four shots. They took 23 the rest of the night. They made 8 of 26 from beyond the arc; Atlanta went 9 of 17 from deep in the first half alone and finished with 15 triples. Markkanen (22 points), LaVine (23 points) and Kris Dunn (16 points) were bright spots, but most of those numbers came with the Bulls trailing a team that got spanked by the Magic at home two nights earlier.
It’s somehow gotten worse. Forty-seven games into the year all the Bulls have to show is that they’ve added a piece in Carter and that LaVine is a capable scorer. They don’t need to win – Zion Williamson would be a worthy consolation prize – but they need to improve at some point. Worse than a lack of improvement is a lack of effort, and a bunch of young prospects with talent are somehow regressing. They’ll continue to say all the right things, but until there’s any sort of results it’ll all feel cheap.