As the Chicago Bulls strolled into Miami on Tuesday possessing an 11-18 record, all talk surrounding this team involved locker room dysfunction, potential coaching and roster changes, and the reality of a long-term rebuild. Just two short days later, and things are starting to feel… right again?
Now, I don’t want to overreact here after just two wins. After all, the Bulls did just defeat the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks and Celtics in consecutive games one month ago. Of course, they’d follow that effort up with a miserable 3-8 stretch before taking a step in the right direction this week.
Still, I think these victories show the team is still motivated to win and prove its doubters wrong. Unlike previous years under head coaches Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen, this team hasn’t crumpled in the face of leaked locker room disputes. They brought out an intensity we haven’t seen from them in some time. For that reason, there’s hope yet that these standout performers have just taken their first step toward a more consistent and better performance in the second half of the 2022-23 season.
The Chicago Bulls had a few standout performers dominate in a pair of much-needed wins against the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks.
1. Nikola Vucevic
If this is the version of Nikola Vucevic the Chicago Bulls are going to get for the rest of the year, then there’s a (relatively small) chance they can redeem this season just yet. Seeing as how Miami was committed to a switch-everything defense, Billy Donovan and the Bulls FINALLY made a quality adjustment by deciding to continue feeding Vooch in the post against smaller defenders.
The end result was a 29-point masterclass with Vucevic converting on 10-of-12 two-point attempts. He even chipped in a trio of three-pointers and 12 rebounds to boot. Following up on his dominant performance in Miami, Vooch took it to Atlanta with another strong outing in which he posted 20 points and 7 rebounds.
When the Bulls have all three of their “All-Stars” firing on all cylinders and actually playing like All-Stars and contributing 20+ points each, they tend to win basketball games. Who would have thought?
2. Ayo Dosunmu
In the first game of the back-to-back set, Ayo Dosunmu saw his minutes limited to just 5 as Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic stepped in to fill most of the minutes at the point. It may seem odd putting a player who hardly played in the first contest on this list, but I believe Ayo earned his due with his performance against Atlanta.
Responding in the face of adversity, Dosunmu answered his benching by cobbling together a productive 34 minutes off the bench in which he posted a +13 plus/minus and provided some much-needed defensive intensity against a Hawks team that’s known for their acumen on the perimeter.
And when the Bulls needed a winning play in the closing moments, it wasn’t DeMar DeRozan who delivered, but rather Dosunmu as he raced from the inbound play to secure an offensive rebound and score the winning points.
3. DeMar DeRozan
With a team possessing as much offensive firepower as the Bulls, it really speaks to DeMar DeRozan‘s prolific scoring ability when he consistently manages to be the most dependable bucket-getter. DeMar was once again Chicago’s leading scorer on this brief two-game road trip to the Southeast Division, posting 52 points on a hyper-efficient 21-for-37 shooting from the field.
He managed this without even achieving his typically gaudy free throw numbers as well, only attempting six per game, instead relying on his ever-dependable mid-range game to put points on the board. DeRozan wasn’t his usual lackadaisical self on the defensive side of things either, as his on-ball effort stepped up when needed. This is why he was the only Bulls player to log at least 12 minutes and post a positive +/- in both games.
This late in his career, DeMar has made it no secret that his ultimate goal is to win a championship. Even in the face of Chicago’s struggles, he’s remained a consummate professional and should be applauded for serving as the adhesive glue holding this team together through yet another rough patch.