Coby White

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

The Bulls welcome the Raptors, currently on a three-game losing streak, to the United Center on Monday. It is the second game in as many nights for each team. The matchup tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago; unitl then, here's what to watch for:

Raptors last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 8 — L at 76ers: 110-104

  • Dec. 5 — L vs. Rockets: 119-109

  • Dec. 3 — L vs. Heat: 121-110 (OT)

  • Dec. 1 — W vs. Jazz: 130-110

  • Nov. 29 — W at Magic: 90-83

Storyline(s) for each team

Both of these teams enter tonight on the back-end of back-to-backs — the Raptors got essentially trounced by the 76ers (they didn’t pull to within single digits until the game’s final two minutes) in Philadelphia Sunday night, and are riding a three-game losing streak into Chicago, overall. It’s a slight reality check for a team that began its first post-Kawhi Leonard campaign 15-4, but all three defeats came against good-to-great teams. There’s no real reason to believe that, tonight, Toronto can’t put forth a performance similar to the 108-84 drubbing they handed the Bulls at the United Center on Oct. 26 (a game in which the Bulls’ leading scorer was Wendell Carter Jr. with 12 points). 

The Bulls are coming off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Heat that left some reasons for optimism, but ultimately stung as much as the defeats that preceded it (perhaps even more so). Neither Otto Porter Jr. nor Chandler Hutchison appear any closer to returning, and the team’s best players remain hot-and-cold on a night-to-night basis. The Bulls have demonstrated an ability to compete with teams of this quality, but a win tonight remains a tough proposition.

Player to watch: Pascal Siakam

Even in limiting Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting on Sunday, his game-high 21 free throw attempts and the gravity he attracted down the stretch (which freed up Tyler Herro to get going) were a reminder that the Bulls still sorely miss their big wings in Porter and Hutchison.

Want another reminder? Enter: Pascal Siakam. In the absence of Leonard, Siakam is currently making the leap of all leaps, averaging 24.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 46/36.5/81.6 shooting splits. He’s bumped his volume substantially (20.1 field goal and 6.2 3-point attempts per game) and taken on an increased number of pull-ups and drives, at the expense of catch-and-shoots (i.e. he’s creating his own offense).

 

Though he’s slightly cooled off over the Raptors’ aforementioned losing streak (38.9% shooting in his last three games), a trip to Chicago could represent a get-right game for the Raptors’ best player. The forward combination of him and OG Anunoby also presents difficult defensive matchups for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, given that the Bulls will probably continue to roll with a three-guard starting lineup.

Matchup to watch: Transition (and everything that comes with it)

The Raptors are a high-octane group that plays with breakneck pace. They shoot the second-highest percentage on 3-pointers in the NBA (38.7%) on the seventh-most attempts per game (36.5), rank eighth in the NBA in steals per game (Bulls are first) and relish the opportunity to get out on the break.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Raptors convert live rebounds into transition opportunities at the second-highest clip in the NBA (36%, trailing only the Bucks). The Bulls (32.4%) are sixth in that category, though the Raptors score on said possessions with greater efficiency. The Raptors (sixth) and Bulls (seventh) also rank among the league’s best in percentage of steals converted into transition possessions. We know this will be an up-and-down affair — what remains to be seen is which team can win the rebounding and turnover battles, and thus afford themselves more opportunities to get out, run and dictate the flow of the game.

The Raptors wore the Bulls down in most of these areas the last time these two matched up, out-rebounding the Bulls 65-56 and winning the transition points battle 25-7 (each team had nine steals) on Oct. 26. Even potentially without Fred VanVleet (who left Toronto’s Sunday night game with a knee injury), Toronto has the personnel to win this matchup again, between elite ball-pusher and outlet-passer Kyle Lowry, the fast, rangy and physical Siakam/Anunoby duo and ancillary sparkplugs like Normal Powell and Terence Davis. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka won’t make the Bulls’ lives easy on the glass, either.

Trends to watch

  • It’s only a four-game sample size, but Lauri Markkanen is averaging 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 50.9% shooting (13.3 attempts) and 43.2% from three (9.2 attempts) in the month of December. Even that stretch has had its ups and downs, but it’s worth monitoring if he’s able to continue his generally positive upward trend against a big, physical and talented Raptors frontcourt.

  • Coby White played all but eight seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime in Miami on Sunday, closing over Tomas Satoransky. He shot 2-for-5 (both makes on 3-pointers) in those minutes, dishing out three assists and also committing two turnovers. Still, he looked like he belonged out there. Boylen has gone back-and-forth on rolling with the starters versus the ‘hot-hand’ down the stretch, but White certainly benefits from a developmental perspective from that type of increased responsibility. 

  • Kyle Lowry returned from a thumb injury that cost him about a month on Dec. 3, and in the three games since his return, he’s played 41, 42 and 38 minutes, respectively. So much for easing back in. With VanVleet likely out, his workload probably won’t lighten in this one, except in the event of a blowout (certainly plausible). Lowry’s a great player, but he’s shooting 35% since returning, including a 2-for-18 shooting night in his first game back.

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Four observations: Bulls play Miami tough, but lose in a heartbreaker

Four observations: Bulls play Miami tough, but lose in a heartbreaker

The Bulls scrapped, but fell to the Heat 110-105 in a hard-fought overtime showdown in Miami. Observations from a defeat, snapped from the jaws of a potentially season-turning victory:

Bulls got off to fast start

The last time these two teams met, the Bulls played themselves out of the game early, allowing the Heat to jump out to a 15-0 lead in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter. Not so tonight. The Bulls came out of the gates locked in defensively and (for the most part) hunted good looks on the offensive end:

They held Miami to 4-for-15 (26.7%) shooting and forced five turnovers en route to a 25-16 lead after one. Of course, the Heat punched back, making nine of their first 10 shots in the second, but the Bulls clung to a 49-47 lead at the halftime break.

Boylen emptied the bench (again)

By the 3:13 mark in the second quarter, all 12 available Bulls had seen game action. Last week, Jim Boylen said that he had intentionally begun to lean on the starters over the course of the team’s recent west coast swing, but him emptying the bench early in games has continued.

Part of that occurring tonight had to do with early foul trouble for Daniel Gafford, who picked up three fouls in a two-minute span in the first quarter. Luke Kornet logged three largely unproductive minutes early in the second quarter, presumably in Gafford’s stead.

Overall, though, the bench brought just about everything you could ask of it for most of the night. Denzel Valentine and Thad Young combined for 23 points and stroked a couple timely 3-pointers to keep the Bulls in the game in the second and third quarters. Coby White shot only 3-for-9, but finished the night with a career-high (!) eight assists. Even Shaq Harrison had a couple feisty moments.

Late-game adjustments were made, but similar mistakes persisted

After Friday’s loss to Golden State, Jim Boylen faced questions about his decision to roll with his starters for the game’s final eight minutes. Tonight, he adjusted, closing the fourth quarter and overtime with Coby White on the floor over Tomas Satoransky.

The Bulls’ general execution, though, remained spotty. There were positives: Before fouling out late in OT, Kris Dunn had seven points and two steals between the final two periods. Lauri Markkanen — after coming alive with a 13-point spurt in the third quarter — had a gorgeous take and finish to put the Bulls up 95-94 with under a minute left in the fourth. White had a couple dazzling moments, and Zach LaVine’s two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in regulation were a necessary response to what could have been a game-ending Tyler Herro 3-pointer seconds before.

 

But there were too many mental lapses, once again. Zach LaVine made one field goal between the fourth quarter and OT, and shot 5-for-19 for the game. Defensive breakdowns popped up at inopportune times. On one, Bam Adebayo positioned himself as if to set a screen for Herro — when the Bulls blitzed, Adebayo slipped, and ended up finishing an and-one layup over a scrambling Carter (the Bulls gave up two Draymond Green-initiated alley-oops late in the Golden State game on similar plays).

Then, on the Heat’s final possession of regulation, the Bulls switched the pick-and-roll, but a soft help by Kris Dunn (attempting to aid Shaq Harrison guarding Jimmy Butler) left Herro wide open for a 3-pointer that gave the Heat a 97-95 lead. Herro broke the Bulls’ back on a number of occasions in this one — he had 18 points and shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and overtime.

This was just an outrageously fun game — but the taste left from it is undeniably sour

We may look back at this game as one of the foundational performances of White’s rookie campaign. As mentioned, he didn’t shoot particularly well, but him closing out the game’s final 17 (!!) minutes — and scoring six points with three assists in doing so — will assuredly prove valuable to his development. He wasn’t perfect, but he validated Boylen’s trust in him.

And until Herro caught fire late, the Bulls did an overall good job maintaining their defensive intensity and not allowing any of the Heat’s ancillary flamethrowers to get going. Butler wore them down — accumulating 21 free throw attempts in the game — but the Bulls can hang their hat on holding him to 3-for-14 shooting and not allowing him to beat them down the stretch.

Ultimately, the pain behind this loss — which you could see in the players’ on-court reactions at the final buzzer — is more about what has come before. On the heels of the Warriors game, pulling this one out could have been a season-changer. But they came up short. There were abundant silver linings, but also the familiar tropes of stagnant late-game offense, costly turnovers and defensive lapses.

The Bulls get back to work in Chicago tomorrow night against the Toronto Raptors. 

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Pecking Order: Bulls need more Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen two-man game

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NBC Sports Chicago

Pecking Order: Bulls need more Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen two-man game

Hey look, a winning streak! After salvaging their West Coast road trip with a win over the shorthanded Kings, the Bulls accomplished something on Wednesday night that they hadn’t done yet through 21 games. They won a game after winning a game!

Their second win over the (also shorthanded) Grizzlies gave Jim Boylen and his guys their first winning streak of the 2019-20 season and first consecutive wins since March 18th and 20th. Pop the champagne! Ready the streets of Chicago and Grant Park for the parade and rally! That seventh title is right around the corner.

Yes, I’m being salty. Perhaps I should be grateful that amidst everything Bulls fans are dealing with this season – questionable coaching, facepalm inducing postgame comments, underperforming players and of course, injuries – the team has finally managed to win two games in a row.

It’s a baby step to be sure, but at least it’s a step and at least there have been some positive signs to point to as we prepare for a more challenging December schedule. If the Bulls want to gain ground in the weak Eastern Conference and keep their playoff hopes alive, they’ll need to continue some of the things they’ve done right in this recent stretch.

And eliminate some of the things they’re still doing poorly.

Here’s what I’d like to see more of from the Bulls in the month of December. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Zach LaVine being a star and a closer.

Maybe Boylen does deserve some credit for lighting a fire under Zach’s butt, but I’ll give most of the credit to Zach himself. Since his inexplicable benching, the Bulls’ frontman has had a 49-point explosion that single-handedly won them a game and followed that with more consistent production. Over his last six games, Zach is averaging 30.7 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 50.4% from the field and 55.5% from deep. He’s also attempted 47 free throws in those six games compared to just 29 attempts in the eight games before that.

In Bulls wins, Zach is averaging 25.6 points on 48.9% shooting and 52.5% on threes. In losses, those numbers fall to 20.8 points, 41.0% and 35.0%, respectively. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. For the Bulls to win games, Zach needs to be dominant offensively. We’ve seen it at times, but we haven’t seen it consistently enough.

The best part about the Bulls’ victory on Wednesday – after they coughed up a big lead – is Zach closed it out. After the Grizzlies trimmed the lead to one at the 4:29 mark of the 4th quarter, Zach scored or assisted on the next 13 points to secure the win. He sank a three and a difficult long two coming off screens. He found Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn (more on them later) who *gasp* both hit timely threes! And, perhaps most importantly, he attacked the basket with confidence and padded the lead from the free throw line. That’s how a versatile offensive threat closes games for his team. He spreads the defense, breaks down the defense, attacks the basket and finds good looks for his teammates.

We need more of this from Zach if the Bulls are ever going to have a winning streak worthy of the phrase.

2) Lauri and Zach two-man game

After their first season together was essentially nullified by injuries and limited time on the floor, Zach and Lauri started to build some chemistry last year. Their two-man game has potential to be deadly, essentially unguardable if both players are shooting well from outside. Both players can be the ball handler, both players can be the screener/roller/pop guy. But we’ve barely seen it so far this season because of the offensive system Boylen is running.

We’ve heard quotes recently from Zach and Lauri about needing to play together in this fashion more frequently, and we’re starting to see glimpses of it. Zach assisted on two or Lauri’s five field goals in their win over Memphis. In the Kings game, they each had an assist for the other. Give us more. We need to find out if this duo can lead a relevant team. To do that, they must succeed together, not as individuals. It’s not good that the win over Sacramento marked the first time this season that both players scored 20+ points. We need more Zach-Lauri action on the offensive end.

3) Speaking of Lauri…

As John Sabine pointed out on Bulls Outsiders on Wednesday night, it isn’t ideal that we’re talking about Lauri being “back” after a two-game stretch yielded 35 total points on 21 shots. But that’s how bad he’s been this season, sadly. At least it’s a start to a trend in the right direction.

In these two recent wins, Lauri has shot 50% from behind the three-point line, making eight of his 16 attempts. That’s a hell of a lot better than his season average of 31%. He’s scored some nice buckets around the rim in this recent stretch, too. A baby hook in the post against Memphis and a great fake pass and baseline drive for a dunk against Sacramento. But the fact that those two plays stand out over two full games is a sign that we haven’t seen nearly enough of Lauri being an aggressor on offense.

Some of Lauri’s pacifism is on Boylen and the offensive system that leaves Markkanen standing on the perimeter for several possessions every night. I also think he needs to play more minutes to maintain his flow and rhythm in the game (more on that next). Zach and his other teammates – and his coach – can and should try harder to get Lauri involved. But he must do more for himself. Time to put the Finnish manners aside and be the guy who demands the ball. It’s the only way he’ll make the jump Bulls fans so desperately want him to make. Averaging 11.4 shots and 4.4 free throw attempts per game ain’t gonna cut it.

Hopefully this apparent end to his shooting slump will help move the other elements of his offense along. I want Lauri to be the player I fell in love with. Not the guy that fans are talking about trading or sending to the G-League. (I suggest we put a lid on that kind of talk, by the way.)

4) More minutes for starters

I know Jim is insistent upon developing 15 but the balance of minutes between starters and bench to begin the season was too much. The Bulls bench, despite what you may find in some recent +/- box scores, is not good or deep enough to warrant a nightly 10-man rotation and 20+ minutes for several guys. Not if it comes at the price of starters not playing the full allotment of minutes they can and should play.

But we’re starting to see an uptick for minutes among the starters, thankfully. Through the first 16 games, Zach averaged 31.4 minutes per game. Over the last six games, that has risen to 34.7 minutes per game. Wendell Carter Jr. played just 27.9 minutes per game through the first 16 and that rose to 33.3 per game over their last six. Tomáš Satoranský’s minutes per climbed from 25.2 to 31.2 in the same span.

Lauri, however, has seen a decrease in minutes over this span from 29.9 to 27.8. You could make the argument, and I know some of you will, that Lauri hasn’t earned more minutes the way he’s been playing. That’s a fair and logical take. As a Lauri believer, however, I’d argue the opposite. The only way a player can play their way out of a funk is to PLAY out of the funk. Yes, this team is trying to build wins and compete for a playoff spot. And yes, Lauri hasn’t looked like a guy ready to contribute to said winning on most nights. But in my humble opinion, figuring out what you have in Lauri is way more important to this team’s long-term future than a couple of wins in November and December. He needs to play more.

ALL the starters need to play more (including Otto Porter Jr. when he comes back from his injury), but Lauri can’t be playing fewer than 28 minutes a night. He needs to find a rhythm. He looked to be in rhythm from the jump on Wednesday night. Then he sat for 8+ minutes bridging the 1st and 2nd quarters. Then he sat him for a long stretch again in the second half. And Lauri’s rhythm was gone.

Barring injury-related load management or blowout victories (haha, sometimes I say crazy things), I don’t want to see a number smaller than 30 in the minutes played column of Lauri’s box score for the rest of the season. NEVER. AGAIN.

5) Tomáš Satoranský doing his thing

There’s no denying that the early season returns from the Bulls’ highly touted newcomer this offseason left fans feeling underwhelmed after he expectedly (and rightfully) won the starting point guard job in training camp. Satoranský doesn’t need to be a star, because he’s not paid like one and wasn’t brought here to be one. He is, however, paid to be a starter in a complimentary role. And he’s finally starting to play like it.

In five October games, Sato averaged just 5.8 points and 4.4 assists. In 15 November games, those numbers increased to 10.5 and 5.5, respectively. In his first two December games, he’s averaging 13.5 and 6.5. That’s more like it. Perhaps Sato just needed to get a feel for his new teammates; figure out how, when and where his teammates like the ball to optimize their talents while picking his spots to take shots himself. He’s shooting the three well (40.3% on the season) and starting to find good looks inside when he breaks down the defense off his dribble.

We recently heard Sato and Boylen talk about his need to be more aggressive and he’s starting to deliver on that talk. It’s clear that he has the best court vision and one of the highest basketball IQs on this roster. They need him to use those talents more.

6) Kris Dunn three-point attempts

Just kidding.

7) Denzel Valentine getting opportunities

Look, I’ll admit I’ve been hard on Denzel over the past year. I’ve cracked several jokes at his expense. Partly because it irks my buddy See Red Fred, who’s undoubtedly the biggest Denzel fan in Bulls Nation. And because he hasn’t shown the ability to stay on the floor. Last season’s 0-for-82 games played after we were told in training camp that his injury was day-to-day was just too much for me to handle. And yes, some of that fault lies at with how it was handled by the team. But if you can’t play, you can’t help the team. Simple as that.

So of course, I was skeptical coming into this season as Denzel talked a big game about being ready. Then he really struggled in preseason action and looked like a guy who had to fudge the numbers to pass Boylen’s conditioning test. Winded and no legs under his jumper after just a few times up and down the court. After that, I didn’t blame Boylen too much for burying him at the end of his bench while piling up DNP-Coach’s Decision box scores and even being inactive for some.

But for whatever reason, Denzel is back in action. We’ll see if it lasts once Porter and Chandler Hutchison return from injuries. For the time being, however, he has earned some minutes and passed Boylen favorite Shaq Harrison in the rotation. For a team that struggled so badly with three-point percentage and bench scoring to begin the season, it makes sense. You also saw multiple examples of Denzel’s underrated court vision and passing ability in the game against Sacramento. He can help this team offensively. His defense…well. We’ll save that for another time. This is a happy Denzel moment.

Some Bulls fans asked us on Bulls Outsiders if putting Denzel in the starting lineup for Dunn while Otto remains out is a crazy idea. I mean, I’d rather see Denzel spacing the floor and making smart transition passes in that lineup instead of watching Dunn brick wide open threes. And Dunn could return to running the second unit’s defense while getting the ball to Coby White and Daniel Gafford. Maybe it’s not all that crazy…

8) Good Coby, not Bad Coby

Outside of a few lights out performances, Coby has really struggled through the first 22 games of his rookie season. Don’t get me wrong, the good Coby games are really, really fun! And I love watching this kid fearlessly attack the basket. (That near-miss dunk attempt on Wednesday had me ready to high five every Bulls fan on the planet…) But he’s shooting just 36.3% from the field and makes plenty of silly mistakes on both ends of the floor. That’s okay. He’s supposed to be doing that as a 19-year-old rookie.

I don’t think Bulls fans have to worry about Coby getting discouraged. He’s getting a great opportunity to play significant minutes. He’s the first guy off the bench most nights. And he’s already demonstrated his mental fortitude for a kid so young. We must hope the consistency comes at some point down the line. I believe it will.

9) Could we win a blowout or two?

Will Perdue said it during Pregame Live on Wednesday. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bulls beat a bad team by a comfortable margin? They should’ve accomplished this against Sacramento or Memphis, if not both. But they surrendered huge leads in both games before saving themselves from two more embarrassing losses.
If they want to really turn this season around and compete for a playoff spot, they must prove they’re at least occasionally capable of mopping the floor with bad teams missing key players and/or having off nights.

They haven’t done it yet, and my hair is greying with every lead they cough up. But they’ve got another chance to get their first blowout win of the season with the Warriors in town Friday night. They can blow them out, right? (*Checks note, sees score of last week’s game against the Warriors…*) Maybe not.

10) Any wins will do

Beggars can’t be choosers. At this point, I’ll happily take wins regardless of the margin. But with the scheduling getting more difficult, the Bulls MUST capitalize on the winnable games. Upcoming contests against the Warriors, Hawks and Hornets must result in Ws. Because I’d sooner swear off bacon and refuse all Christmas gifts than bet on the Bulls beating Miami, Toronto or the Clippers next week. Not trying to be a cynic, just calling it like I see it. Hope my team proves me wrong.

Thanks for reading. Till next time. See red, be good.