Billy Donovan’s 4th quarter coaching is poisoning the Chicago Bulls

Billy Donovan, Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Billy Donovan, Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

As the saying goes, winning cures all problems. Unfortunately, the wins aren’t rolling in quite like they used to and the symptoms plaguing the Chicago Bulls are becoming increasingly apparent to even the untrained eye. The root of this team’s problem doesn’t stem from a lack of talent, however, but rather Billy Donovan’s ineffectiveness as head coach in critical situations.

Despite being a noticeable step up over ex-head coach Jim Boylen, Donovan continues to run into the same issues that ultimately signaled the end of his tenure in Oklahoma City. His reluctance to call timeouts when opposing teams are on a run, a noticeable lack of drawn-up plays on inbounds plays, and questionable rotations with an over-reliance on three-guard lineups, are all becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

The Bulls’ fourth-quarter play calling has been particularly egregious this season; it feels like the plan is to just hand the keys over to DeMar DeRozan and have him figure things out on his own. All too often, late-game possessions consist of a DeRozan iso at the top of the key while his teammates stand around the 3-point line waiting for nothing but watching for something.

If this roster was devoid of talent as in years past, I could possibly come to grips with a DeRozan-centric scheme in the clutch. However, there are simply too many weapons on this year’s Bulls team to not draw up better plays. Zach LaVine, Goran Dragic, and Coby White are all snipers from long-range, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. are elite at cutting to the rim for easy baskets, and Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond are more than capable of banging down low for points in the paint.

Donovan’s decision to neglect his team’s talent in late-game scenarios has me and many others concerned about their postseason hopes. It’s no coincidence the Bulls are winless in games decided by five points or less this season, currently holding a pathetic 0-5 record in the clutch.

The Chicago Bulls deserve better from Billy Donovan in clutch late-game scenarios.

Even DeMar’s pair of memorable back-to-back game-winning shots from last year ⁠— probably the Chicago Bulls’ biggest highlight of 2022 ⁠— were a schematic nightmare. The only reason the Bulls won either of those games was due to DeMar’s greatness, not Donovan’s game plan. I hate to channel my inner Paul George here, but it would be difficult to convince me these are good shots, even if they ultimately went in the basket in the end.

Was trusting a career 28.7% 3-point shooter to pull up from deep really what Donovan wanted in the waning moments of these games? If so, at least we can take comfort in the fact DeRozan is a much better basketball player than Donovan is a coach.

That much became apparent Wednesday night in a close game against the New Orleans Pelicans. With six minutes left to play and in possession of a four-point lead, the Bulls were in the driver’s seat to pick up a quality win against a rapidly-improving Pelicans squad. However, Billy’s decision to bench Patrick Williams down the stretch would prove to be their downfall in the end.

Williams had his best defensive game of the season last night, blocking four shots and nabbing a steal in just 26 minutes of action. He was the primary defender assigned to Brandon Ingram and did an admirable job lessening his imprint on the game. That was, of course, until Alex Caruso was subbed in for a mismatch against the dynamic forward in the fourth quarter.

Ingram was held to 2-for-6 from the field by Williams through three quarters, but the severely undersized Caruso would yield 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting to Ingram in the fourth quarter. This misguided decision by Donovan would cost the Bulls an otherwise entirely winnable game.

This is just the latest instance in a series of repeated failures from Donovan this year. One mishap against a good team like NOLA is forgivable, but it doesn’t feel like the first time he’s cost this team a win with his poor coaching. Donovan’s inability to counter double-teams on DeRozan, draw up plays that get Vucevic involved in the paint, or even simply stick with certain lineups when they’re actually working are all working to the detriment of this team.

It would be foolish to place the entire blame for the Chicago Bulls’ 6-7 start to the season at Donovan’s feet. That being said, it’s no stretch to think this team could have easily won 9 of their 13 games (or more) by now if Billy had this team at a level where they can win at least half of their close contests. Until Donovan proves he can lead this talented Bulls roster over anyone in clutch situations, he’s offering very little inspiration for Chicago’s postseason hopes.

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