Chicago Bulls: Team shows similar cracks in loss to the Hawks

Chandler Hutchison, Trae Young, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Chandler Hutchison, Trae Young, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Less than two months since the end of the NBA Finals last season, the Chicago Bulls tipped off their regular season in disappointing fashion on Dec. 23.

It didn’t feel like we were watching much of a different Chicago Bulls team out on the floor on the night of their regular season opener. In their first meaningful regular season game action since mid-March, the Bulls took to the court at the United Center on Dec. 23 trying to get this campaign off on the right foot against the Atlanta Hawks.

First-year head coach Billy Donovan was looking to parlay momentum with some positive changes made internally during the offseason with the ending to the preseason slate against the Hawks to open up the regular season. But that was not what happened as the Bulls returned to the United Center for regular season game action for the first time since a March 10 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to round out the 2019-20 campaign.

The Bulls were slight underdogs heading into this game. But nothing could prepare them for what star point guard Trae Young was about to do to them, especially with defensive stopper Kris Dunn with the opposing team now. The likes of second-year point guard Coby White and shooting guard Zach LaVine had trouble with their perimeter defensive assignments in this game.

And while fourth-year power forward Lauri Markkanen was effective on the offensive end of the floor, he was a -34 in this game in total. Outside of a few solid offensive spurts out of Markkanen, this was just not the Bulls night to open up the 2020-21 regular season slate.

The Bulls wound up falling short to the Hawks by the final score of 124-104. Not quite how Donovan and first-year executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas likely envisioned this season starting out.

As I’ve said throughout the NBA Draft, through Training Camp, and through the end of the preseason, judgement should be withheld for a while. This rebuild is going to take time with the new front office regime and coaching staff at hand.

Nonetheless, there needs to be improvement from the core of this rotation. White was spotty in this game, registering just nine points to go along with two rebounds, seven assists, one steal, and three turnovers. He shot just 2-of-11 from the field, 1-of-7 from beyond the arc, and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.

It could take White some time to get that scoring rhythm back that he became so well known for down the stretch during his rookie season.

LaVine was the Bulls leading scorer on the night, with 22 points to go along with just two rebounds, one assist, one steal, and five turnovers. He shot 9-of-19 from the field, 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. LaVine has to be better with his facilitation of the offense and in shot selection from deep.

At least Markkanen did have himself a solid night on the offensive end. He finished up with 21 points along with seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, no blocks, and two turnovers. Markkanen shot 6-of-9 from the field, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.

Another poor showing resulted in the Bulls starting five from third-year center Wendell Carter Jr. He registered a team-low (among the starting five) six points, six rebounds, two assists, no steals, no blocks, and three turnovers.

All this came while the Bulls gave up a game-high 37 points to “Ice Trae”. The Hawks star also registered six rebounds, seven assists, and four turnovers. Young shot an ultra-efficient 10-of-12 from the field, 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line.

As a team, the Bulls let the Hawks shoot 40 percent from deep and just shy of 54 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Bulls shot just 41.4 percent from the field and a dismal 22.9 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s not difficult to figure out how the Bulls fell short in this game. They were just outclassed in a way by the Hawks, who did dramatically improve their roster over the offseason. At the same time, the Bulls didn’t do a whole lot to alter their roster construction in the last couple of months.

Next. Projecting regular season 15-man rotation. dark

Next up for the 0-1 Bulls is their first divisional game of the regular season, which comes at home at the United Center on Dec. 26 against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are coming off a nice double-digit road win over the New York Knicks on Dec. 23. And the next game up for the Hawks comes on the road again on Dec. 26 against the Memphis Grizzlies.