Bulls open preseason play against Cavs, Donovan talks fifth starter

With Patrick Williams out on Tuesday, head coach Billy Donovan told media that Derrick Jones Jr., Alex Caruso, and others are viable options to be inserted into the starting lineup.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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The Bulls play their first of four preseason games on Tuesday when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Patrick Williams out continuing to rehab a sprained ankle, head coach Billy Donovan spoke about the possible options for the fifth starter spot to join Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan comes from Long Island, New York, a hub of where the so called Baby Boom generation began to depart New York City and set up housekeeping in the suburbs. So Donovan probably was familiar with those early Dick and Jane books for beginning readers that were starting to be phased out in his primary school years. But perhaps they left an impression. Because you get the sense Donovan may be following some of that early instruction with his Bulls.

See Zach run, run Zach run.

See Lonzo run, run Lonzo run.

See DeMar run, run DeMar run.

Donovan has emphasized since the beginning of training camp the Bulls have to quicken their pace, be in great shape and force the action this season, especially because of the potential with their high powered offense. So when the Bulls Tuesday in the United Center open the preseason against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it could be a rare get-your-money's-worth preseason game with plenty of regulars and plenty of action.

"My feeling is to try and make sure that those guys get – certainly the main veteran guys – a good run just because I think four preseason games is not a lot," Donovan said after practice Monday. "It is a new group. So I think them playing with each other a good portion of the game would be important."

Which is encouraging to hear because not only is this an entirely different roster requiring comfort and familiarity, but it's an opportunity with a serious dose of preseason games to get a head start on a league that may be easing into the season with many teams finishing late into last summer.

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After four losing, non-playoff seasons in which the Bulls haven't had a winning record any day of the season, it would be perhaps both cathartic and salubrious to get off to a fast, positive start in the standings. First impressions tend to mean a lot in sports and first dates.

We'd like to fall in love with this group.

Presumptive starting power forward Patrick Williams is the only starter missing. He is out with a sprained ankle (guard Coby White also is out injured after shoulder surgery). Donovan declined to name a fifth stater for Tuesday to temporarily replace Williams. But Donovan's speculations suggest his default is to a smaller lineup, which means a quicker lineup for enhanced pace of play.

"We've thrown Derrick (Jones Jr.) in with that (starting) group," said Donovan. "We've thrown Javonte Green in with that group. We've put Alex Caruso in there. We've put Troy Brown in there with that group. It's been hard to really evaluate it because as you're implementing and you're putting in, there's things that we have to continue to get better at and improve upon. And then I think the other piece of it is, how well does the group function together?"

Donovan said his priority would be how the fifth player functions with the other four.

"Maybe Troy's better off starting with that group with the way you're rotating," said Donovan. "Maybe it's Derrick. Maybe it could be Stanley (Johnson). Maybe it's Caruso. You're probably going to be dealing with an undersized power forward. If you moved a guy like Alex in there to start, DeMar would have to slide down to the power forward spot. Stanley's played the position. It may be a situation with Troy where you still have to slide DeMar down. I don't know right now, I think all those guys are viable options."

And Alize Johnson, too.

Though the Cavaliers apparently are not scouting the Bulls training camp to prepare for the first exhibition game, Donovan is remaining circumspect.

But what seems clear from his many potential combination is he's not thinking about a traditional power forward with size, like perhaps Tony Bradley or Marko Simonovic.

It's not a strategy that would have been employed during Dick, Jane and Spot's prime. But the NBA these days has shrunk to both, in a sense, democratize the game—where was this when I was trying to be a 5-9 forward?—and accelerate it. The 6-6 and not-so-explosive Draymond Green is now a more prototypical power forward.

The Bulls have a plethora of athletic wing/swing players in the 6-5 to 6-7 range, and DeRozan often moved down to power forward last season with the San Antonio Spurs. This is not an NBA where many teams attack the offensive glass anymore. The defensive predilection is to get back quickly to both offset the effect of long rebounds from three-point shots and limit transition points.

Donovan has been emphasizing the need for the Bulls to pursue those vital and elusive transition points with the addition of precipitous fast break/look ahead point guard Lonzo Ball. So it makes sense at least with Williams still out, that Donovan would opt for a nimble paradigm.

Which would make for a nice test flight and whether this Bulls ship can escape the gravity of NBA half court monotony.

"The other thing is Patrick is gonna come back," Donovan pointed out. "He's the other wild card of how he gets in there. That's why it's so disappointing that he's dealing with what he's dealing with. Because this would have been a good time to see him play with those guys. You just try to figure out what does your second unit look like? How does that impact the second unit? Is it DeMar is it Vooch or Zach go into the second unit (in rotation changes)? Who's a better starting group? Maybe these preseason games to see what it looks like."

We're also all ready to learn the basics of this team.

Got a question for Sam?

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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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