The Chicago Bulls hosted the Toronto Raptors last night in the penultimate game of their preseason slate, and I have to say, the vibes are pretty good right now. Despite the close 102-106 loss, we’re beginning to see several positive changes in this team’s approach that could dramatically impact the Bulls’ win column next year.
Last night’s game had a few breakout performances from a few players on the Bulls’ roster, including the newly-signed Torrey Craig. He had the highest plus/minus on Chicago’s bench and impacted the game at the margins with his rebounding, playmaking, and defensive ability, as seen below.
But as much as I’d love to continue raving about Craig, this is only the preseason. These new additions need to prove they can help the Bulls win games in the regular season before they receive their flowers. With that in mind, let’s focus in on three key lessons I believe the Bulls can take away as a silver lining to last night’s preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The Bulls need to continue building on these three lessons after a tough preseason loss to the Raptors.
1. Nikola Vucevic deserves to be a Bulls centerpiece
With Jakob Poeltl set to sit out of yesterday’s game due to illness, a golden opportunity for Nikola Vucevic to dominate Toronto’s frontcourt presented itself. I wasn’t willing to get my hopes up, however, as the Bulls have all too often allowed similar situations to slip through their grasp by prioritizing iso-ball and not getting Vooch involved down low.
That was not the case last night.
Although Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 25 points, Vucevic wasn’t far behind. The big man chipped in 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and just 28 minutes on the court. He also reeled in 10 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive glass. Vooch did hit the lone three-pointer he attempted, but most of his offense was generated down on the low block, right where we want him to be. He even shot a team-high four free throws, proof that plays ran for Vucevic can be efficient possessions. If the Bulls allow Nikola to play like the imposing big man he is, we could be in for a big year from the Montenegrin star.
2. The Bulls need Billy Donovan to be hard on them
It’s all too easy to treat preseason basketball as nothing more than a meaningless exhibition before the real meal, but Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is running a tight ship as if this is a true warm-up for the regular season. But he’s not just talking the talk, he proved he’s willing let his actions back up his words, when he did the seemingly unthinkable by benching Patrick Williams less than three minutes into last night’s game.
The decision was entirely justified, as Williams committed two egregious turnovers, a few defensive lapses, and a bad shot attempt that got stuffed by Chris Boucher in just 165 seconds on the court. Williams would not see the court for the rest of the first quarter, and Chicago would go 23-19 in that stretch to retake the lead. It may be uncomfortable, but we need to see this resolve from Donovan, especially with Chicago’s stars, if the Bulls are to be taken seriously as a competitive roster this season.
3. The Bulls don’t need to rely on DeMar DeRozan as a crutch any longer
Up against one of the more physical teams and stingier defenses in the league, the Bulls seemed to manage just fine even though DeMar DeRozan was having a relatively weak performance. Shooting 6-for-15 from the field and tallying 15 points, DeRozan was instead better utilized as a playmaker by getting his teammates involved — as indicated by his team-high 5 assists.
As a result, the entire starting lineup looked more involved than ever. Each member of Chicago’s starting five scored in the double digits, an extremely rare occurrence for this group of players last season. The free throw discrepancy really held the Bulls back here, as Toronto’s 38 free throw attempts massively eclipsed Chicago’s 11. Without the questionable whistle coming into play, it’s likely the Bulls would have walked away with a win. And they wouldn’t have even needed DeRozan to do it.