Considering the Chicago Bulls were owners of a disappointing 9-15 record entering last night's contest against the Denver Nuggets, this game had no right being as intense as it was. Now that the Bulls have done just enough to pull us fans back in with a surprisingly successful run, I began to hold out hope that they could upset the defending champions.
The tides appeared to be changing in Chicago's favor late in the first half last night, as the Bulls were gifted a very questionable call by the referees down 47-54. With 1:06 remaining in the second quarter, Nikola Jokic was assessed a double technical and promptly ejected. This gave Chicago all the edge they needed to pull off the upset, much to the chagrin of frustrated Nuggets fans and those in attendance wishing to see the two-time MVP in action.
If there was even a chance the Bulls could squeak out a win, Coby White appeared determined to do everything in his power to see things through. White dropped a game-high 27 points and 8 assists on 8-for-15 shooting from the field. Keeping his hot shooting streak alive, Coby rained down five triples, once again taking on an enormous offensive load while only turning the ball over twice.
Unfortunately, his fellow Bulls would let him down in the end. Although Nikola Vucevic also excelled — contributing 26 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks — the rest of the roster struggled to get much of anything going. Aside from Coby, the Bulls shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc (26.7%), while allowing Denver to shoot 14-for-30 (46.7%). In the end, Denver's well-balanced team effort would overcome Chicago 114-106.
Even in a loss to the Nuggets, Coby White continues to develop into the centerpiece the Bulls should build around.
Although the Bulls have now dropped two games in a row following their recent four-game win streak, it's hard to feel too upset over these losses. Taking the Bucks to overtime and narrowly losing to the defending champion Nuggets is an accomplishment in its own right. The Bulls are slowly but surely beginning to rebuild their credibility as a competitive team, but they've still got a lot of work to do.
For starters, the rest of this team needs to step up and consistently provide support for Coby moving forward. As good as he's been, it's just not feasible to expect him to maintain his shooting splits of 54.2% from the field and 57.4% from three-point range over the last five games. When his shot inevitably begins to cool off, this team will no longer be allowed to rely on the hot hand to pull them through their own shooting slumps.
DeMar DeRozan has done an admirable job to step up into the role of lead facilitator, achieving 10 assists or more in three of his last five games. Perhaps even more impressive, he has yet to commit more than two turnovers in any game during this stretch, despite his usage rate spiking through the roof. DeRozan has averaged 21 shot attempts over these last five games, a number that would be a career-high even for him if extrapolated over an entire season.
As a result, some Bulls fans online have expressed their displeasure with DeMar's ball-dominant tendencies. As great as he can be, this team is clearly in the process of developing a new identity without Zach LaVine around, and the last thing they need is another ball-stopper in the mix.
The Bulls likely need to keep DeRozan around for the remainder of the year if they want any hope of qualifying for the playoffs this season, but it must not come at the expense of Coby's development. For all the talk of Alex Caruso being the Bulls' "greatest success story" this week, it's time the front office realizes who the true diamond in the rough on this roster really is.