3 Takeaways From Yet Another Chicago Bulls Dreary Defeat

Chicago Bulls players, including forward Denzel Valentine, help hold a giant U.S. flag to commemorate the Veterans Day holiday prior to a game against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center in Chicago on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls players, including forward Denzel Valentine, help hold a giant U.S. flag to commemorate the Veterans Day holiday prior to a game against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center in Chicago on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images) /
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Despite another good night from Bobby Portis, the Chicago Bulls never led as Victor Oladipo and co. obliterated Chicago at home.

Watching former Bulls great Horace Grant — the third-best player on three Bulls championship squads from 1991-1993 and a new Bulls ambassador — sitting courtside near ’70s Bull Bob Love, a sudden thought struck me: why don’t we just bring back Bob Love and Horace Grant, and suit them up in these sleek new red Nike home jerseys?

John Paxson and Gar Forman want these Bulls to be as bad as humanly possible, right? Let’s back that tank truck all the way up, and maximize our odds of netting the #1 pick in next year’s draft. Let’s get the 74 year-old Love, the 52 year-old Grant, their fellow team ambassador, 49 year-old Toni Kukoc, and of course, Pax himself, aged 57.

The Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks (both 2-10, the current nadir of the NBA), and the Sacramento Kings (3-8) are all breathing down our necks, gunning for that number one spot.

How better to ensure the team’s total, abject failure, during what has been to this young point an utterly dispiriting rebuild, than by adding guys guaranteed to be obliterated every single night?

The current Hoibulls, while quite bad, have given us tantalizing glimpses of promise every once in a while. And we just can’t have that, now can we?

The Bulls demonstrated their ineptitude once again last night, letting the Indiana Pacers run roughshod over them, during a game that the Bulls never led. Chicago fell 105-87 at home to Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Teller and the rest of Nate McMillan’s 6-7 squad, ostensibly our Central Division rivals. Here are the big storylines from last night’s game.

Jerian Grant vs. Kris Dunn

Horace Grant has got to be sweating bullets from those courtside seats as he watches his nephew Jerian duke it out for starting point guard honors with Kris Dunn. Dunn, the super-athletic, 2016 #3 draft pick out of Providence College, has come on strong since returning to the Bulls from a dislocated left finger injury that kept him out of the Bulls’ first four regular season games.

The back-up point guard is averaging 10 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and though his handle is pretty raw (at one point last night, Justin Holiday fed him for a dunk and he promptly juggled the ball right out of bounds beneath the net), he’s looked significantly more promising as a Bull than I was expecting him to, after a horrific rookie season in Minnesota.

Last night, he had perhaps his best game as a Bull, logging 33 minutes (almost double Grant’s 17-minute contribution) and made eight of his 14 field goal attempts (57.1% shooting!). Dunn had 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals on the night — and, yes, four very ugly-looking turnovers.

Grant logged just four points on two-of-five field goal shooting, one rebound, one steal, and no assists. And it’s not as if his play was minimized by Fred Hoiberg due to foul trouble, as he notched just one foul.

Though Dunn’s outside game is lacking (he’s shooting just 26.7% from long range this season), and he somehow failed to warrant a single free-throw attempt in those 33 minutes, the 6’4” point guard had some explosive dunks and lay-ins and good man defense (limiting Darren Collison, his primary charge on Indiana, to just three points on one-of-five shooting from the field) on an otherwise pretty complete night.

Dunn’s rough handle may prohibit him from being a lead guard. But the Jerian Grant-vs.-Kris Dunn battle for starting point guards on your 2017-18 Chicago Bulls isn’t really about whose name will be called by Tommy Edwards during “Sirius.”

If Fred Hoiberg, Jim Boylen and the rest of the Bulls’ coaching staff is worth their salt (still an open question to this point), they’re evaluating the relative merits of these two players for what could be a prime backup point guard slot on a decent team in about three years.

Once Dunn learns to lean into contact on drives better, his motor may give him the edge over Grant, a competent shooter but lackluster defender.

On a team full of G-League players, Bobby Portis looks good.

Yes, Bobby Portis put up a second consecutive 20+ point, 10+ rebound double-double game (going for 20 points and 11 rebounds tonight, on seven-of-17 shooting from the field and a good three-of-five shooting from deep), the first time the third year backup power forward has ever done that. In both instances, however, Portis gobbled up stats when the Bulls were down too far to actually mount any kind of meaningful comeback.

He’s the Kevin Love of the face-puncher set: an empty-calorie stat stuffer, a one-way player who makes himself look good at the expense of his team. I’m not convinced he’s any good — but I am convinced he could be playing himself into the trade conversation.

I am also not convinced that, on a good team, Bobby Portis would be doing anything but riding pine behind three better power forwards. He looked good when the game was already out-of-hand.

Lauri Markkanen is the prize here. He should be Chicago’s priority, despite having another semi-off night. The Finnisher shot just five-for-14 from the field and two-of-nine from three-point land, but still finished with a respectable 12 points and 10 boards.

Portis must not be given the keys to the castle and allowed to start, though meritocratically it’s clear that he has at least played his way into being a helpful rotation piece while he remains a Bull.

If the Bulls’ front office is going to champion obvious nutbag Portis as part of the GarPax team “culture,” while continuing to slowly discredit Nikola Mirotic as they attempt to offload his $27 million contract, why not add another beloved former Bulls player who’s experiencing some recent mental health episodes and call up current Windy City Bull Ben Gordon?

Let’s make this on-court and off-court product as dysfunctional as humanly possible, and prioritize destabilization in the name of our own draft pick (and a second round pick the Bulls will sell later for cash) over player development or some semblance of a workable defense.

But, no, let’s not do that. I hope that the Bulls will come to their senses and flip Bobby Portis for a draft pick as soon as possible. The erratic talent is not worth the consistent headache.

Markkanen Watch

With that 12-point, 10-rebound showing, Lauri Markkanen put up his third double-double of this young season so far, the second-most among rookies to Ben Simmons, who has seven.

Among rookies, his 15.4 points per game scoring average ranks second to Ben Simmons’ 17.8, and his 8.4 rebounds slots him… second behind Ben Simmons’ 9.4. Markkanen also ranks 10th in field goal percentage (42.6%) despite another off-night in that arena, third in free-throw shooting percentage (82.8%), eighth in three-point percentage (36.1%) and third in average minutes played (32.1). You can see the full rankings here.

He had a nice athletic block of a Darren Collison layup attempt at the end of the first quarter that nearly shook Stacey King and Neil Funk out of their dreary commentary malaise. The kid is good, and he has the tools to be really, really good.

He’s surprisingly quick, and may wind up being a competent defender by the time 2019-20 Bulls Head Coach Kirk Hinrich gets a crack at him. Here’s hoping the Bulls stick with Markkanen through his shooting struggles and don’t demote him beneath Bobby Portis’s blatant late-game stat-stuffing.