Bulls-Pelicans: Three Game Takeaways From Another Home Loss

CHICAGO, USA - NOVEMBER 4: Robin Lopez (42) of Chicago Bulls reacts against referee Eric Dalen (L) during an NBA Game between Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center in Chicago, IL, United States on November 4, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, USA - NOVEMBER 4: Robin Lopez (42) of Chicago Bulls reacts against referee Eric Dalen (L) during an NBA Game between Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center in Chicago, IL, United States on November 4, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls lost to the Pelicans in overtime. Here are my three takeaways from the game.

Last night, your Chicago Bulls (now 2-6) fell 96-90 in overtime to DeMarcus Cousins and his New Orleans Pelicans (5-5). The Bulls took 42 three-point attempts, but only made 11 of them. Jerian Grant nearly got a triple-double in a nice active effort, but looked fairly rudderless doing it.

Grant, Valentine and Robin Lopez did a lot of gratuitous stat-padding late, and struggled to find Markkanen. The goal for everybody should be finding Markkanen. I know he had a rough shooting night, but his growth is the main reason to watch the Bulls now. Let the kid feast.

What went wrong, exactly? So many things – a generally talent-poor team forced their offense early in the shot clock or played hot potato with the ball without much court awareness, and our plodding backcourt struggled in vain to slash past the Pellies’ twin tower big men. Here are three thoughts, good and bad, on the State of the Bulls following the home defeat.

David Nwaba is… kind of good?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but an extended absence for the Bulls’ energy guy small forward David Nwaba (who suffered a nasty looking right-ankle sprain in the game last night) could be a significant loss.

Assuming Nwaba can’t go, the starting small forward slot on Tuesday, in a contest against the Raptors, is probably up for grabs between two 2016 Bulls draft picks: the sharp-shooting-but-lead-footed Denzel Valentine and whatever Paul Zipser is — which, let’s face it, isn’t much.

I vote for Valentine, and this would be a good time to remind people that the Bulls’ 2016-17 small forward is now the star player on a 6-3 Western Conference behemoth-in-the-making.

The 25 year-old 6’4”, Nwaba was a cheap offseason coup who spent his first season on the Lakers and on their then-D-League (now-G-League) affiliate, the D-Fenders. He’s supplanted the other small forwards on the Bulls’ roster with his springy defense. He can’t shoot, but he can stuff a stat sheet with rebounds and putbacks all the same.

The Bulls have now played eight games. Guess what that means?

Wait, what’s that I hear? Off in the distance?


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Bull that nobody wants to see back is coming back, and his fists are ready to reign blows upon Lauri Markkanen’s face for that starting power forward spot — er, I mean, he’s excited to accept his role off the bench.

Or maybe it’ll be a role in a three-piece suit riding pine. Fred Hoiberg was cagey when questioned about Portis’ involvement on Tuesday. I’m of three minds on this particular subject.

The lackluster Bulls, circling the drain of the Eastern Conference, need all the help they can get, in theory. But of course they’re tanking, so really, being short-handed would help ensure a loss against a Raptors team that Fred Hoiberg Bulls teams have weirdly owned in the past. Then again, he did kind of break his teammate’s face in a practice fight, so I’m not sure he’s great for developing the young team’s “culture.” It’s all kind of a mess.

Denzel Valentine is annoying

On paper, Denzel Valentine had a pretty good game. He shot six-of-ten from the field (including going four-of-seven from three-point range) for 16 points, pulled down six boards and logged three dimes in 34 minutes off the bench.

Paul Zipser, his chief bench competition for Nwaba’s spot should Nwaba miss any time, played for half the time Valentine saw the court, and shot just two-of-eight from the field for four points.

Valentine’s big issues remain: he’s painfully slow at times, he doesn’t look particularly cool while cheering himself on, and for a guy who was such a savvy distributor in college, he seems intent on getting his at the pro level. His shooting, though, is very much needed on this mess of a Hoibulls squad.

Valentine has been the most vocal Bull when it comes to the topic of getting a starting role, and with Nwaba, the 2017-18 Bulls’ best defensive option at the three-spot, possibly missing some time, Valentine may at last have his chance.

Again, let me just remind you that the Bulls’ front office, in their infinite wisdom, opted to trade away Jimmy Butler so that fans could debate the relative merits of Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, and Paul Zipser. Thanks, Gar Forman and John Paxson.

Lauri Markkanen had his first really rough shooting night

Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen needs more touches. Though he had a rough shooting night, he notched yet another double-digit scoring evening with some crucial triples, and has made a three-point field goal in all eight of his games to this point.

Stacy King, too, seemed to sense that Markkanen deserved to see the rock in his mitts a bit more. For what it’s worth, Markkanen is clearly leaving an impression on King, who during the broadcast lauded his quick release and the versatility of his still-developing offensive game.

We even got a “this kid is special” out of King, the kind of praise he used to reserve for a certain MVP Bulls point guard. King may be tiring of the “King of the North” nickname that has clearly been an awkward fit, seems happier with “Lauri Legend,” not a bad option. His resistance to the “Finnisher” nickname moniker has been curious, perhaps because he didn’t think of it.

Anyway, despite the aforementioned patchy shooting night, Markkanen deserved more looks on offense. He was almost wholly shut out during the OT period, as it devolved into the Jerian Grant/Robin Lopez/Denzel Valentine show… meaning the Bulls’ two most versatile shooters, Markkanen and Justin Holiday, were almost wholly frozen out of the offense.

Markkanen stopped trusting his offense late, at one point shoveling the ball in to a double-teamed Robin Lopez with less than a minute remaining in the game and the Bulls on the verge of a loss. Eventually, we mustered up enough offense to force an overtime session, where we were outscored 13-7.

Markkanen’s pursuit of First-Team All Rookie honors should remain unmarred by his poor shooting night. Ben Simmons continues to beast for a solid Philly squad, Dennis Smith Jr. has started to find a groove for a horrible Mavericks team.

Donovan Mitchell has started to flex for a surprisingly competitive Utah team, and Jayson Tatum is filling up stat sheets on what could be a top-three seed in the East. Those four rookies seem to be a bit ahead of Markkanen in terms of media prestige, but he’s still firmly ensconced in the fifth spot on that All-Rookie First Team for now.

Another, random note: on the broadcast, I swear I heard a fan say “We miss you E’Twaun” in the crowd late into the overtime period. That or “We miss you Rajon.” Either way, THAT is what GarPax has done to us, people. Go… Bulls?