On Saturday night the Bulls pulled out a close 99-98 win over the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, a win over a team that has lost 11 out of their first 12 games is by no means inspiring. But the fact that they pulled out a win in a close game is still a good thing and the fact that Jabari Parker made a big defensive play at the end is an even bigger thing for Chicago. Below are four observations from the Bulls one-point victory over the Cavaliers.
1. The Bulls rebounding will be a serious concern until Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis return
When you think of the Bulls missing Portis and Markkanen, the first thing that comes to mind is the scoring missing from the lineup(s), as the duo combined for just under 29 points per game last season. But the missing rebounding presence of the pair is what has truly led to the Bulls struggling against teams with a lower talent level.
Chicago at one point had a 16-point lead in the game but Cleveland hung around mostly on the backs of Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr., who combined for 10 of the Cavs 15 offensive rebounds. And many of those offensive boards led directly to Thompson’s season-high 22 points, which led Cleveland on the night.
Hoiberg pretty much split the center minutes evenly between Lopez and Carter, a great call since Lopez actually seemed to fare better against the grind-it-out style of the Cavs big men. Overall, the Bulls have had a big issue with ball-watching instead of being locked in on your man, which in turn has resulted in so many missed boxouts.
The return of Portis and Markkanen will do wonders for a team that is currently 25th in rebounds per game after rankings 6th in last season.
2. Jabari Parker can be active on defense
Parker didn’t turn in a virtuoso performance but at the end of the game he showed that he can be active enough on defense to make up for mistakes earlier in the possession. Hoiberg praised Parker’s effort on the final play, a rare defensive bright spot for the oft-criticized forward:
“The block at the end was the biggest play of the game”
who says Jabari can't play defense? pic.twitter.com/VzUkz8B7Ud— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 11, 2018
If you want to nitpick—and as a Bulls fan, you have the right to—Parker missed a box out on J.R. Smith, followed the flight of the ball and still didn’t secure the rebound. But again, others players missed box outs—see Ryan Arcidiacono, Chandler Hutchison—and it was quite a heads up play from Parker to get the block on the very quick Collin Sexton.
The fact that Hoiberg subbed in Parker for Carter is interesting and he defended it by mentioning the Cavs small lineups. But if that was the case, it seems like Shaq Harrison would be the logical option to come in rather than Parker. Let’s see if this vote of confidence from Hoiberg will spur on more solid defensive performances from Parker.
3. Zach LaVine’s all-around game is improving
When speaking on LaVine’s performance after the game, Hoiberg stated, “I thought it was Zach’s best game in terms of making the simple play.”
On a night where his 3-point shot wasn’t falling (1-4 from 3-point line), he made up for it in other areas. LaVine can score 22 points in his sleep but the 8 rebounds and 5 assists were notable. His highlight-reel dunks will always capture the public eye first but even LaVine admits that those moments aren't as important to him as the overall improvement of his game.
When asked about THIS LaVine goes: "It's nasty...was it nice? You all like that? Yea, it was a 360, I think so...I'm not old, but I don't focus on the highlight dunk anymore. I'll break'em out every once in awhile. I had a couple good ones today." #Bulls https://t.co/FXnNli9tOA— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) November 11, 2018
His 8 boards led the Bulls for the night and were very needed, including a particularly astonishing offensive rebound.
As mentioned above, the Cavaliers dominance on the glass (53-38 advantage in total rebounds) was evident but gang-rebounding (getting guards involved in crashing the glass) is the only way you can combat a team that is being more physical.
We are starting to see LaVine think the game at a higher level on top of his excellent production. There were several plays where he turned down 3-point shots to attack the basket, highly encouraging considering how often he still settles for tough jumpers. His pump fake-then-drive usually results in buckets because of his creativty when finishing around the basket and his improving shot-selection has Dunn so impressed that he broke out what can only be described as a "swaying dance."
what’s that dance, KD? 😆 pic.twitter.com/LgNTuMQmj0— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 11, 2018
The five assists were encouraging because LaVine only had one—albeit egregious—turnover in the game.
He is averaging a career-high 3.8 turnovers per game, which is 6th in the league. That number is somewhat understandable, as he is tasked with more responsibility on offense than in any other point in his career. But if he starts to cut down on his turnover rate, not only will his personal numbers improve, but the team will start to pick up more wins against competitive teams.
4. Ryan Arcidiacono is the ideal backup PG for this Bulls team
Ryan Arcidiacono is quickly becoming a fan-favorite. If his hustle and determination to make an NBA roster didn’t impress you, his play of late certainly has.
He put up a stat line of 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and only one turnover. And most impressive, Arcidiacono led the Bulls with +11 plus/minus rating.
His incredible shooting from 3-point land this season (52.8 percent) and low-usage rate make him an ideal fit next to LaVine, and LaVine-like players (in terms of shoot-first approach) such as Antonio Blakeney and Bobby Portis. Until Dunn’s return, Hoiberg would be wise to keep this starting five rolling.
Parker is scoring consistently win or lose but he has unequivocally played better off the bench this season, and I believe Arcidiacono’s role as a pass-first guard helps him the most. And while Arcidiacono’s lack of athleticism holds him back when guarding uber-athletic players like Sexton, his effort-level brings the best out of his teammates, who have needed a little bit of leading by example this year.
The Bulls number one issue--outside of health--coming into the 2018-19 regular season was the fact that they went the entire summer without signing a quality backup point guard and that issue that became magnified when Dunn went down in late October with a moderate left MCL sprain. After 13 games I think it is safe to say the Bulls have found their backup point guard, for at least the 2018-19 season.
If similar elite athleticism-lacking guards like Ish Smith and Tyus Jones can be effective in 20+ minutes per night, why shouldn’t Arcidiacono be able to?