Billy Donovan ready to get to work with Bulls roster

Sam Smith recaps Coach Donovan's thoughts on the Bulls roster
Billy Donovan Coaching
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So what about that Bulls roster, coach? Excited? Resigned? Concerned? Enthusiastic? Optimistic?

Bulls coach Billy Donovan has coached for 26 years, the last five in the NBA with a 61 percent winning percentage. He's had one losing season in his last 22 coaching seasons, and that being one game under .500. He takes over a Bulls team that is 87 games under .500 the last three seasons and without a winning season since 2016, and then just two games over .500 and missing the playoffs.

Which is also why Billy Donovan is taking over a Bulls team.

Many of us—yes, that's me raising a hand along with new Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas—believe this is a more talented Bulls team than its record has been.

Injuries, personnel and system changes, yadda, yadda, Dwyane Wade, glass jaw, faulty time clock. There have been plenty of explanations, but Donovan is someone who has been about results. His first year as a Division 1 head coach he turned a 9-18 team into 18-9. He took over a 12-16 U. of Florida team and by Year 3 the team was 13 games over .500 and averaged almost 20 games above .500 the next 15 seasons.

Billy Donovan knows winning. Do these Chicago Bulls? Can they learn?

Donovan and Karnisovas are confident they can and will. And despite the threat of the Covid virus that will make this an unusual NBA season without fans and media in attendance and regular testing and likely postponed games, Donovan says he's been encouraged by what he's seen of this Bulls group thus far on film and in limited workouts. The serious workouts begin this week with preseason games starting Dec. 11.

Though most expect a starting lineup of Coby White, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., Donovan said it's too soon to make that judgment. Plus there can be factors that conflict, like Porter's injury issues for two years and whether he needs less court time to stay healthy for what they hope—but won't say—is post season play again. Donovan and Karnisovas say they like the veteran depth and experience in offering the anticipated first-day-of-school sunny outlook.

Here's what Donovan said about the roster he'll most likely have throughout this first season as Bulls coach.

Coby White back of jersey

Point Guard, Coby White: "I think he got a lot of valuable playing time and a lot of valuable experience last year. So generally I think you see players when they get that kind of experience generally make a jump and make some growth. Coby's a very competitive guy, he's a hard working guy and I would anticipate he'll make a jump. I think the biggest challenge for him and I is we've got a new coaching staff coming in. That's always a little bit of an adjustment period; it takes time to build that continuity and cohesiveness. He's obviously going to be a vital, important part of us going forward. We have other guys that can handle (the ball). Sato (Tomas Satoransky) has been a point guard his whole career. Ryan Arch (Arcidiacono). A guy like Otto and Thad (Young) and Lauri. We have a lot of guys that I think can handle the basketball and help fulfill some of that responsibility that Coby will be the primary ballhandler. He obviously had some incredible runs scoring. But I think when you're at the point guard position, you've got to find ways to make the people around you better. And a lot of times that's through communication and talking. I think that's an area that as he gets more and more experience, he'll be able to do. The hardest position to go from high school to college and college to the NBA is playing the point guard position. Because you're running the team. You're making decisions. You've got to communicate. And at the same point, he was a rookie last year. He's going through his own transition, his own experience. That's a lot to put on him. He's a great competitor. He's really emotional in a good way. Like he really cares and he's passionate. How do you take that and now have it impact the rest of the group? I think that would be the next step for him in terms of what kind of vocal leader can he become as a point guard."

Zach LaVine dribbling

Shooting Guard Zach LaVine: "Zach is such a dynamic player offensively. But we can't always rely on him being so dynamic. We've got to rely on each other. So how can we build out a system offensively where we're not only playing into guys' strengths, but we're creating a situation where maybe the sum is greater than the parts where we're all helping each other? I do think a lot of that now is we're going to have to move and cut and work to generate good shots. Being able to get out and run in transition. I always say this: Having Chris Paul, having Russell Westbrook, Paul George, the ball at the end of the game finds those guys. What we've got to be willing to do is make the game easy for Zach and for each other at the end of the game. I think to say to Zach, ‘Hey, we're just going to give you the ball and you've got to bring us home every night,' (no) we've got to help him. We've got to help him through movement. We've also got to help him if teams are really loading up on him; the next person may need to make a play, generate shots. If a team decides at the end of the game to trap Zach and to get the ball out of his hands and to make someone else have to make a play, we're going to need some other guys to step up as well. Zach is a guy who can get his shot anytime he wants. Teams are probably going to not want the ball in his hands. We've all got to be willing to try to step up and make the next best play."

Otto Porter Jr celebrating

Small forward Otto Porter Jr.: "I think those (injuries) are all things we have to be concerned about. I talked about a ramp up period, so to speak, with our group. For Otto with the amount of time he's missed, certainly him being healthy is the most important thing to our team. But he's been back here, he's been working, which has been great to see. I've always felt like before, even his time in Washington, he's smart. He's got a really good feel of how to play, he can make a shot. He's a good passer. He's just been a guy who has not been available very much since he's been here. We'll have to see how he responds once we really get through this individual coach/player, one coach, one basket, one ball situation and start to move to more five on five (Saturday)."

Lauri hook shot in the lane

Power forward Lauri Markkanen: "I've had some conversations with Lauri. He is a great guy. Lauri when he even came into the league as a freshman, I remember telling our front court guys at OKC this guy could really, really shoot. A couple times we closed out short and he drained a couple of threes. The next thing you know we're flying at him and he's going by you. I do think with a young player as gifted offensively as Lauri is, it does take time for the league to kind of catch up to a player. I think as people have seen him, and certainly he's had to battle some injuries, he has to find his identity offensively. Everybody knows he can put the ball on the floor and he can shoot it. But can we try to create some situations for him where he becomes a little more difficult to guard? I think one it's him understanding how to attack size mismatches. The other part of it is the team having recognition in transition of when he's open to find him because when you close to him, he has enough skill to go by you. And then I think the other part for him is getting into the teeth of the defense when he does drive it, have the physicality to finish at the basket, get fouled, get to the free throw line. Lauri has really worked hard this offseason. I think he's going to continue to evolve and get better. What I do not want him to be from watching film is what I would say is a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot forward. I think those guys become too easy to guard. In fairness to him, he has battled a lot of injuries. It's hard when you're in and out to get your rhythm and timing. I think he's a very unique player. We've got to help him. He's got to help himself. But I think he's really open minded because he can do a lot of different things. I think these experiences that Lauri is going through right now are only going to help him get better as player. And we as a coaching staff have to try to help him as well."

Wendell dribbling in the post 
Center Wendell Carter Jr.: "I think for Wendell, obviously, he's had to battle some injuries. A lot of these guys have battled injuries. So again with the virus, I think the health of our team becomes very important; those guys have worked hard in that area. I think for Wendell just watching him and being around him and even communicating with him, I think there's a lot of different things he can do. I think he can be a facilitator for us. I think he's got very good vision. He's a good passer for a big man. I think, also, him being put in some situations where he can kind of stretch his range a little bit and maybe do a little bit more on the perimeter, I think that will be a big part of his growth and development as a player. I think a lot of times for frontcourt players in the NBA, a lot of times guys are dominant because of their size and strength. But because of a wider lane, bigger bodies, more experienced players, it takes time for players to carve out their identity offensively and really carve out an identity of what they can hang their hat on night in and night out. I do think that Wendell is somebody that's very bright, a smart player, an unselfish player. And I think he's a guy that can make people around him better. Like all these guys that have very limited experience, their growth and the player development becomes certainly a key part of our team and Wendell's development is important to our team as well."Patrick Williams posing for a photo

And rookie No. 4 selection Patrick Williams: "Looking at Patrick for the short time he's been here, defensively he's got the ability and capability to guard multiple positions, which I think in today's NBA is really important for forwards. I think he has been at point guard for a good part of his career growing up. For his size and the way he can handle the basketball and the way he can pass, I think that's really a positive. I think those things will certainly translate. I think when to shoot, when to pass, when to drive, being a young player he'll learn those things. He's a great kid, extremely humble, hard working. Wants to learn, wants to get better. I do think he's got tremendous upside and tremendous ability. For all young players and especially those getting drafted just now, all these guys are trying to figure things out because things are moving so quickly. And really for him, any rookie, this is a totally different training camp right now than maybe most rookies have been exposed to (without Summer League). But he's very gifted and very talented. I think like anything, the extended three-point line from college, a wider lane, bigger people, there will be an adjustment to the speed and the pace and the size and the length of the game. But he's a guy I think that over time and with the experiences he'll get, he'll be able to adjust to that."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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