The Jabari Parker signing has been harshly criticized as he has struggled to fit in with Bulls amid a long string of losses. But Parker has been on a tear as of late, scoring 20+ points in four of his last five games. He provided some relief on offense for Zach LaVine and the duo did their best to carry the Bulls, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as the Timberwolves rode the talents of Karl-Anthony Towns to a 111-96 victory.
1. Wendell Carter needs to get stronger (and he will)
“He [Wendell Carter] looked like a rookie tonight against Karl-Anthony Towns” said Kendall Gill on Bulls Postgame Live. The Timberwolves looked to get the ball to him in the post early and often, and the Bulls started double-teaming him almost right away as Carter was overmatched from the start. While this strategy was successful in moments in getting the ball out of his hands, it opened up further cutting action for the T’Wolves.
Towns finished the game with 35 points and a whopping 22 rebounds, with 9 of those being offensive boards. His 9 offensive rebounds were more than the entire Bulls team (6). With Hoiberg playing small lineups out of necessity at this point, the Bulls are often at a disadvantage on the glass. And if Carter is trying as hard as he can to switch out on smaller players and contest shots, he needs some help boxing out or else second -chance points will be too easy to come by for the opposition.
It would’ve been nice for Carter to attempt more than 8 shots on a night where Justin Holiday’s shot isn’t falling, but there is only so much you can ask of a 19-year old rookie center who has been given a great deal of responsibility from day one.
2. Jabari Parker is rounding into form
Parker’s defense is what it is, and if it is to improve dramatically it will happen once the Bulls have their full complement of players available. But on offense Parker has made a real effort to change the way he plays, and for the better. He is attempting less mid range jump shots and focusing on getting his teammates involved.
He has been keeping his head up in transition and has shown an affinity for making the pass ahead to get the Bulls running. But—and there is always a “but” with this Bulls roster—a big part of his success has been the fact that he is blowing past slower defenders at the power forward spot. Over the last five games he is averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
When Lauri Markkanen and/or Bobby Portis come back, there is no guarantee that Parker will be able to get to the rim as much as he has in this recent stretch, which has in turn helped him have confidence in his shot. But if he continues to be a willing passer, a fit at the small forward position is possible.
Parker's 12.3 assist rate is in the 79th percentile for his position group per Cleaning The Glass, and if his high turnover rate (16 percent) can regress back towards the mean—his turnover rate was no higher than 11 percent in the past 3 seasons—he can actually make himself into a net positive player.
3. Justin Holiday’s stock keeps on rising
One of the more consistent players on the Bulls this season has been Justin Holiday. Through 20 game he is shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line. His 40 percent is excellent when you consider the fact that he is hoisting up just under eight 3-point attempts per game.
Holiday’s high-volume 3-point shooting and willingness to defend positions one through four with energy make him a capable fit for any team in the league, especially those with serious playoff hopes. As this season wears on, it is obviously tough to imagine the Bulls creeping into playoff contention unless the team at full health goes on an incredible tear—possible, as Bulls fans know, but not likely—and it will become more apparent that getting a future asset for Holiday may be the way to go.
He keeps on improving at 29 years old, and his focus on rebounding on the short-handed Bulls has shown that play him at four may be an intriguing look for small stretches.
Holiday has been in the top 10 in minutes per game for most of the season and now—fittingly—is in 11th right behind Jimmy Butler. His workload this season—all while not complaining—has continued to showcase what makes him such a great role player. But the Bulls lack of scoring options have forced him to try to create for himself more often, something he is not adept at. So since he is getting a lower percentage of assisted baskets than any point in his career, that means it is possible for Holiday to play at an even higher level on a team with more playmaking.
With his contract coming of the books after this season, whether or not the Bulls move him will be one of the more intriguing roster situations to follow.
4. It may be time for an NBA G League call-up
The Bulls are performing about as well as you would expect with the current state of the roster. Sure, embarrassing blowout defeats are never fun, but the more important factor is how these young players and Fred Hoiberg respond to poor efforts.
After shooting a terrible 11/27 from the field with only one free throw attempt against the Heat on Friday, LaVine shot over 52 percent from the field and attempted 12 free throws in the loss to Minnesota. His 3-point shot has fallen off a cliff in the month of November (23 percent) but he is compensating for that in a similar method to Parker, which is creating shots for his teammates and being aggressive getting to the rim. LaVine is averaging 5 assists per game in November, up from just under 4 assists per game in October. But despite his playmaking activity ramping up, the Bulls are still an abysmal offense. In November their 95.9 defensive rating is dead-last in the league and almost a full five points worse than the woeful Atlanta Hawks.
In the loss to Minnesota, the Bulls lost the battle of bench points 48 to 15. If the Bulls are looking for bench reinforcements right now, they should look no further than the Sears Centre Arena. Tyler Ulis and Rawle Alkins (more on him soon) have been scoring a combined 36.9 points per game for the Windy City Bulls and one of the pair could be a great option to provide a spark to the offense.
Ulis has maintained a very high usage rate while sporting a great 110 offensive rating. And Alkins has had a decent usage rate as well, and he is also knocking down an impressive 51 percent of his limited 3-point attempts. Ulis would provide the Bulls with another guard to run the show, one with more quickness and athleticism than Ryan Arcidiacono. And Alkins addition to the (NBA) Bulls would also help keep Parker matched up against slower forwards until reinforcements get healthy for Chicago.
One of these two-way players deserves a look with the parent team, and hopefully sooner than later. Hoiberg’s bench hasn’t given him much production, unsurprising considering the state of the team. But with Chandler Hutchison having back spasm issues flare up, there is no reason not to add a new face to the bench—even for a brief period—to add some much needed energy to a Bulls team that is fatigued, short-handed but finally starting to give great effort on defense.