Takeaways from Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28: Lauri Markkanen
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28: Lauri Markkanen /

The Hoibulls Tank-a-palooza continues, this time with the lowest-scoring game of their season thus far.

Russell Westbrook finally has notched a triple double against the last team in the NBA that had denied him — your Chicago Bulls. Kris Dunn made his regular season debut in the red and black (which apparently is now the Bulls’ standard home jersey coloring, with these new Nike jerseys).

While Dunn, the second-year point guard out of Providence, used his length to his advantage on defense, his offensive game leaves much to be desired. He logged eight points (on four-of-nine shooting), four rebounds, just three assists and three steals in 22 minutes — oh, and five fouls.

Kris Dunn is a competent defender (including, at one point, a steal that resulted in a quick layup on the other end). But that’s about it. Shame we don’t have a good shooting coach.

The new-look Oklahoma City Thunder’s 101-69 shellacking of the Chicago Bulls represents our grisliest defeat of the very young season. My big question now, though, is what will be the lowest-scoring Bulls game of the year?

The whole team outside of, you know, a couple power forwards and the Immortal Cameron Payne, suited up yesterday, Robin Lopez (effectively our best player now) performed well, and it still wasn’t nearly enough against a good NBA squad with three All-Stars that is nevertheless just 3-3 on the year. The loss to Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and the beastly Steven Adams dropped the team’s record to 1-4.

Markkanen Watch

Why did Lauri Markkanen only shoot 7 shots? Markkanen connected on three of his six attempts from deep, and honestly I wish he had taken about 10 shots from long range. His game is more impressively versatile than I was expecting. Markkanen had fewer looks than Justin Holiday (who was 4-of-16 on the night), bench wing Denzel Valentine (3-of-12), Dunn and RoLo (who were each 4-of-9).

Though Robin Lopez at present is the Bulls’ most finished product and best player, Markkanen has by far the highest ceiling on the roster, and the Bulls should be engineering their offense toward getting Markkanen going and edging him into the Rookie of the Year running. Any time your most important players takes as many shots as Quincy Pondexter, it’s time for your passers to take a look in the mirror and reassess some of their life choices.

One explanation for the dearth of shot attempts is that Markkanen does appear to be building up his passing skill set, including a pretty whip pass to Justin Holiday for a corner three-pointer (that Holiday missed) early in the first quarter.

That said, Markkanen could really benefit from a decent point guard on the Chicago roster. Something to ponder when the trade deadline arrives in February, and the time comes to flip Lopez for youth or future draft picks.

Markkanen shot 3-of-7 overall, and did not log a second of play in the fourth quarter. The “Finnisher” finished with 15 points (going 6-of-6 from the free throw line) and 8 rebounds in just 27 minutes.

I’m excited to see what he can do against some of the dregs in the Eastern Conference in the weeks ahead, as the Bulls face Myles Turner and the Indiana Pacers on November 10th, Old Dwight and the Hornets on the 17th, the train wreck that is the Phoenix Suns on the 19th, plus Lonzo and the Lake Show on the 21st. Lauri Markkanen has singlehandedly made the 2017-18 Chicago Bulls worth watching.

The Bulls’ Defense

Outside of Markkanen and Lopez, the Bulls were a mess on both ends of the court last night. Occasionally, the Bulls would treat Andre Roberson like he was Kyle Korver, sticking a man to him when they should have been doubling up on one of their three All-Stars.

As Stacey King astutely began to note in the second quarter, the Hoibulls weirdly took a page out of the Mike D’Antoni school of defense, opting to sprint away from the basket once the Thunder’s shot was in the air, avoiding any attempt at snagging an offensive rebound.

The Thunder Are Going To Be Good

Carmelo Anthony’s crafty old-man defense had Paul Zipser positively shaken up. Yes, his defense (including a few Ginobili-esque flops). To be fair, as time went on, he eventually resorted to just hacking dudes to prevent them from penetrating (as he did with David Nwaba near the top of the fourth quarter).

The Thunder were so much better than the Bulls that they had a captive Chicago audience cheering on their stupendous passing and shooting moments. The crowd was especially keyed into whatever the reigning league MVP was up to.

Russell Westbrook carved up the Chicago defense multiple times, shredding three to four Bulls in lanes for a few explosive layups. He secured his triple double in particularly showy fashion (he finished the night with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists), feeding Steven Adams for a violent slam. Adams finished with a solid 12-point, 8-rebound night, in what’s looking to be a comeback year for him after Westbrook’s insane MVP usage rating stymied his evolution last season.

Next: Nikola Mirotic needs to sue the Bulls and Portis

Oklahoma City’s biggest obstacle in their mission to unseat the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs appears to be their top-heavy nature. Their bench looked raw — even Patrick Patterson, who admittedly is working his way back into shape after missing time with an arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Thunder’s bench guard play left much to be desired. “Felton looks a little out of shape,” Neil Funk uttered near the end of the first quarter. To which I would retort, “Felton ALWAYS looks a little out of shape.” The 33 year-old Raymond Felton becomes OKC’s best backup point guard since Reggie Jackson almost by default, because he is a real, professional backup point guard, unlike, say, Cameron Payne or Norris Cole, Westbrook’s prime backups last year.

What would it take for the Thunder to make another trade with the Bulls, and add Robin Lopez to their asset-light bench?