On Tuesday, it was announced that Nikola Vucevic would be out for an undetermined period with a groin strain. This created a void in the center position for the Bulls, as they were losing 34 minutes worth of playing time per game from one of their best players.
Coach Billy Donovan has only utilized two centers on the season, Vucevic and Andre Drummond, so he is going to have to turn to some more creative solutions with players who do not get many minutes at center. With this in mind, the Chicago Bulls need to make one rotation change for the time that Vucevic is out, and one for when he eventually does return from injury.
The Bulls must fill the void Nikola Vucevic has left at the center position.
1. Andre Drummond desperately needs more minutes in the rotation
On Tuesday, Andre Drummond had his first start this season with Vooch out. Before this game, the Bulls had doubts about the 29-year-old's endurance, only playing him about 13.5 minutes per game. In that time, however, he had been very efficient, averaging 6.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game.
Drummond's energy and presence on the boards have been something that the Bulls have valued significantly during his time in Chicago, and we saw that on a huge scale against the Hawks on Tuesday. Drummond was the clear player of the game, with a monstrous 24 points and 25 rebound game, shooting 11-for-13 from the field and grabbing 10 offensive rebounds. He also was effective defensively, recording 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Even more encouraging was the fact that Drummond was able to play 39 high-energy minutes, which dispelled notions that he does not have the endurance to play a full game. It will be important to see if he can come back on Thursday against the Pacers and still play at a high level. However, given what Drummond has done so far this season, he is definitely worth some more minutes.
2. Adama Sanogo should be third in line on the depth chart
Adama Sanogo went undrafted in 2023 but was signed to a two-way contract with the Bulls, and has spent most of his time with their G-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls. Sanogo made waves in college, as he led UConn to a national championship while averaging 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds on 67% shooting from the field, which led him to win the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
After 3 years in college, he declared for the draft but was not selected largely because he does not have much of an outside shot and stands 6-foot-9, which is relatively undersized for a center. Despite this, Sanogo has been dominant in the G-League. In 16 games, he is averaging just under 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, 5 of which are on the offensive glass. He is shooting 60% from the field, and has been able to show some versatility, including going coast-to-coast on this fast break:
Because of this play and Vucevic's injury, Sanogo was called up to Chicago on Tuesday but did not see any minutes as Terry Taylor served as the backup center, playing 8 minutes and recording 4 points and 1 rebound.
While Taylor was effective in his time, he is even smaller at 6-foot-4 and may not be able to be as effective when playing against some larger backup centers, something that Sanogo will be able to do as he is 5 inches taller and has an extremely strong frame. He is extremely physical on both ends, thriving when his back is to the basket or on the offensive glass on offense, and with strong paint protection on defense.
Overall, the Bulls have an opportunity here to see what exactly their rookie is made of, as he has been excellent at every stage of basketball he has played. It is clear that now is as good a time as any to play the former NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
3. The Bulls should consider starting Drummond, even after Vucevic returns
This is not something new. It is easy to forget what Andre Drummond is capable of, but the bottom line is that he is a former All-NBA player who has the highest career rebounds per game (12.5) of anyone since Dennis Rodman. Even this year, he is 11th in the league in offensive rebounds per game while playing significantly fewer minutes.
On a per 36-minute basis, he is 1st in the league in both offensive and total rebounds and has been in the top 2 in those stats for each of the past three years. Drummond's value has seemingly been forgotten, but Tuesday was a great reminder that he is fantastic in the paint, and can give the Bulls so many more opportunities on offense.
One of the other main critiques surrounding Drummond is that he is too slow to guard smaller players on switches, but that has arguably been one of his stronger suits in recent years, as he has an unbelievable knack for poking the ball out against guards and making their lives difficult. He did this masterfully against Trae Young, as he stripped the ball and then forced a bad shot.
Drummond has been doing this all year, and it has led to him averaging 1.2 steals on the season. He has found ways to play solid defense while not being the most athletic shot blocker, and that has been huge for the Bulls in the time he gets on the court. His presence has been felt, as he has the 4th best plus/minus on the team at +4. For comparison, Nikola Vucevic is 3rd worst on the team at -94. Drummond has been beating Vucevic in nearly every advanced and per 36 minutes stat:
Andre Drummond (per 36)
Nikola Vucevic (per 36)
Not only has Drummond been better individually, but the Bulls have been better overall when Drummond is on the court, posting a +13 net rating per 100 possessions, compared to Vooch's -4. If Andre Drummond can keep this performance up and show that he has the endurance to play more minutes, it is worth a discussion to see whether he should win the starting center spot over Vucevic.
At the very least, there should be a change in minutes, as Drummond playing 14 per game is simply wasting his talent. He needs to be playing at least 20 per game once Vucevic gets back, and if he keeps this up, a starting spot should be in his future.