Now 11 games into the 2021 season, it’s a good time to take stock of some Chicago Bulls players and how they’ve performed so far in a season of transition.
Billy Donovan came to the Chicago Bulls with much fanfare as an actual, accomplished head coach in the NBA. But the work he has done with a roster that many, present company included, saw as an amalgamation of mismatched parts is worth noting. Not just from fans or members of the media, but from others in the NBA.
And that’s just what’s happening.
These aren’t just superfluous endorsements either. You’ve heard of LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, yes?
Both have gone on record in recent weeks to praise the job Donovan has done. This organization had become a laughing stock, the butt of other franchise’s jokes. Donovan has them receiving kudos from the faces of the league.
No small accomplishment.
Any good coach will tell you, though, you need the horses. A good coach without good players will look like Bill Belichick in Cleveland. So which players have grown and which have regressed in the new campaign?
That’s easy, and exciting for this team’s future. Led by a rookie who’s game is mature well beyond his years, these are the Bulls risers and fallers through 11 games. We’ll start with one of each, given how many games we still have left, but we are starting with two important names in Lauri Markkanen and Patrick Williams.
The 2021 NBA Draft brought with it high expectations from fans after the Bulls came up with the fourth-overall pick. Many, again present company included, had predetermined who they wanted the team to pick and when the Bulls went with Williams, it wasn’t universally accepted. Williams didn’t carry the same name recognition as Obi Toppin, Deni Avdija, or Tyrese Haliburton.
Williams, though, just went about his business, reinforcing everything his college coach, Leonard Hamilton, said about him. But one particular quote made the rounds, exciting those keen enough to pick up on it.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around, has a little personality,” Hamilton said. “But Patrick is a no-nonsense kind of guy. I wouldn’t say he’s quiet. But he’s more focused. He’s not one of those chatterboxes. He’s very serious in his approach to what he does. He’s a quick learner, takes his game seriously. Hard worker. Gym rat. Great teammate. Very unselfish, humble kid.”
That sounds a lot like one Kawhi Leonard, one of the top-five players in the NBA. Leonard had nothing but kind things to say about the Bulls and their promising young forward.
“Billy Donovan’s done a great job with that team over there, Zach LaVine’s been great leading the team, the rookie played well tonight, Williams. They shot the ball great. We were there on a lot of contests.” –
James was just as effusive in his comments.
Williams is currently third in minutes and sixth in scoring among rookies but has the most starts among any first-year players. Should he maintain his current pace, he will be just the eighth Bulls rookie ever to average at least 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game. The last was Kirk Heinrich in 2003-04.
The Bulls got a good one.
How can one player be having a bounceback campaign and still wind up as a faller? By his team be demonstrably better without him on the floor. Maybe that’s a step too far for some in describing the situation. We are, after all, in the wee stages of the season. But the numbers point to this being more than just hyperbole.
The Bulls are 1-3 this season with Markkanen in the lineup. But wins and losses are team achievements, what has Lauri’s impact been?
After all, he’s seen his counting stats rebound somewhat. They aren’t quite what we saw from him during stretches of the 2018 season, but it’s an improvement over last year. And he’s been the most efficient he’s even been.
Yet, without Markkanen occupying the court, the Bulls oRtg goes up about 17 points, their steal percentage rises by nearly two percent, and their eFG% raises from .500 to .567. Those are noticeable jumps. Chicago also does better on the glass, particularly offensively, without their 7-footer. But not all of the numbers without Markkanen on the court are positive.
Markkanen has a positive impact on the Bulls defensive rebounding numbers as well as their assists. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Bulls opponent’s offensive rating is better with Lauri off the floor. Considering Markkanen has never been a defensive force.
But Chicago had a treacherous trip out West and played the Lakers and Clippers tough but losing. Wins against the Mavericks (sans Luka Doncic) and Trail Blazers, though, offer cause for enthusiasm.
Perhaps Markkanen’s presence gets the Bulls over the hump is a couple of those loses. The numbers suggest otherwise.