Coming out of the All-Star Break, it didn’t take long for the Chicago Bulls to begin rewriting the script of their 2022-23 season, did it? After limping into the break, this team has now won three of its last four games and has advanced to just one game back from the 10th seed and play-in position.
Whether or not that’s actually anything worth being proud of is a topic for another day, but at the very least it’s been nice to see Chicago field a competitive basketball team for the first time in a long time. Although the Bulls lost the Raptors, it’s great to see them remain competitive on the road considering an awful 11-21 record away from home, just as it was seeing them take care of business against a bottom-tier team in Detroit.
After two close back-to-back road games, its clear a few of the Chicago Bulls starters had standout performances.
Typically when it comes to evaluating Patrick Beverley’s game, measuring his on-court presence is just as important as his actual statistical production. We saw this late against the Pistons, when Beverley held Nikola Vucevic accountable for blowing his defensive assignment — something the big man clearly wasn’t accustomed to in Chicago. However, Beverley actually played quite well himself, racking up every non-scoring stat he could get his hands on (including a rebound and assist double-double in Detroit) en route to achieving a team-best +18 plus/minus during the back-to-back.
In Beverley’s first two games with the Bulls, he emphasized how he wants to help Zach LaVine do what he’s best at — scoring the basketball. LaVine shot a ridiculous 23-for-35 in those first two games, but it’s beginning to look like it may have not been a coincidence, as he’s now shot 20-for-32 in Chicago’s last two teams as well. That mark puts Zach at a ridiculous 64.2% field goal percentage since the All-Star Break. He may have not gotten the win in Toronto, but if Zach continues playing like this I don’t think the Bulls will struggle making up for it.
Instead of trotting out Patrick Williams into the starting lineup, Chicago has been employing a three-guard lineup with Alex Caruso to start games since the All-Star Break. So far, it’s actually worked incredibly well against each team they’ve played with the lone exception of the incredibly-lengthy Raptors. Caruso is never going to fill the stat sheet up, but his defensive intensity and ability to fight through screens more than makes up for it. I’d like to see him cut down on the turnovers though, after handing it over to the opposition six times across both games.
DeMar DeRozan submitted an uncharacteristically poor performance over the back-to-back, scoring just 13 points against his former team in Toronto and shooting a rough 7-for-16 in Detroit. Most disappointing of all was watching DeMar ice his teammates late in the fourth quarter against the Pistons when his shots weren’t falling and Chicago’s lead was quickly dissipating. When no one can seem to buy a shot, I’m thankful to have DeRozan around to pull up for isos in the clutch; but when LaVine seemed on track for a 50-point game and sharing the ball was working, it’s harder to give a pass for DeRozan’s shoot-first tendencies.
Although I’ve been willing to advocate for Nikola Vucevic’s improvements this year, performances like he just had make it increasingly difficult to defend his play. Vooch was great offensively against Toronto, leading the Chicago Bulls in points and knocking down 4-for-6 of his three-point attempts. That being said, he committed six turnovers in that game alone and was repeatedly bullied by Toronto’s smaller players on the boards. Even Chicago’s own Beverley outrebounded the 6-foot-10 big man in both games.
There’s simply no justification for his lack of motor on the glass and defensive end of things. He’ll need to address these issues ASAP if the Chicago Bulls are actually going to be a threat in the play-in tournament.