Despite a rather mediocre start to the season, the Chicago Bulls clawed their way to a 2-2 start and had the opportunity to build their win column higher than their losses in a pivotal matchup against the Dallas Mavericks last night. In a game where everyone should have been primed to play their best, we learned the Bulls still have a lot left to learn if they wish to make a genuine playoff run in the Eastern Conference.
Former Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr. made sure to make Chicago regret their decision to let him walk in free agency, as he chipped in 17 points and 5 rebounds and helped limit DeMar DeRozan’s impact with his stiff defense. That was the story of the game for the Bulls, as role players such as DJJ, Grant Williams, and Tim Hardaway Jr. paved the way for the Mavericks to extend their unbeaten record to 4-0, despite Chicago’s scheme limiting Luka Doncic to a relatively quiet game.
The Bulls lost 105-114, after squandering their 96-94 lead with less than six minutes remaining on the clock.
The Bulls must learn from these 3 lessons if they wish to come out on top against elite teams like the Mavericks.
1. Torrey Craig needs to be moved into the starting lineup
Much has been said about Patrick Williams’ inability to assert his presence in the starting lineup for this rendition of the Bulls, and his 0-for-6 shooting last night helped perfectly encapsulate that fact. Chicago cannot and will not consistently win games when their starting power forward is little more than deadweight out there on the court.
Fortunately, there is a player on the Bulls’ bench who could hopefully mend these issues. Torrey Craig has carved out a lengthy NBA career by knowing his role and serving as a complementary piece alongside several other superstars around the league. Despite logging just 21 minutes per game, Craig is averaging more points, rebounds, and threes per game than Williams. As it currently stands, Torrey is clearly the more effective role player and deserves a fair shot alongside the starting lineup if Pat is going to continue doing little more than cardio out there on the court.
2. Nikola Vucevic’s extension may have not been an overpay
When the Bulls first announced their decision to re-sign Nikola Vucevic, I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that optimistic. Locking big money into an aging core felt like a fool’s gambit. I still agree with the idea in principle, but after seeing the going rate of lesser centers in free agency and how well Vucevic in his age-33 season, I’m beginning to change my tune.
Dominating the FIBA World Cup circuit over the summer, Vooch hasn’t missed a step here in the early goings of the 2023-24 campaign. Posting a ridiculous 21 points and 20 rebounds against Dallas last night, Vucevic was Chicago’s only consistently dependable weapon on each end of the court, converting on 10-of-17 shot attempts. As long as he can continue playing at a level remotely close to his performance last night, Vooch is going to be worth every penny the front office forked over to retain him.
3. Coby White is not the playmaker the Bulls need
For all his vast improvements made over the past few seasons, Coby White is still not the right person to fill the void left by Lonzo Ball in the starting lineup. White has made great strides to improve his handle, defense, and court vision since being drafted, but still lacks the essential playmaking ability to make the game come easier for his teammates.
In 33 minutes of action against a suspect Dallas defense, Coby mustered just 4 assists while also turning the ball over 3 times. His poor 4-for-12 shooting did little to make up for his lack of playmaking, bringing his averages for the season to 9.8 points and 4 assists per game on an absolutely horrid 31.2% shooting from the field.
Much like the aforementioned Williams, Coby has a very competent potential replacement in Jevon Carter waiting in the wings to step up and supplant him in the starting five. If things continue at this pace for the Bulls, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chicago make big changes very soon.