The Bulls open the 2019-20 NBA season Thursday. Well, not officially since the NBA says everyone has to wait until Tuesday, the Bulls Wednesday in Charlotte. But by naming his starting five for that Oct. 23 opener after Tuesday's practice—Tomas Satoransky, as expected, to start at point guard—Bulls coach Jim Boylen also appeared appropriately to be looking ahead.
Anathema as that is in sports.
Who knows whom the Atlanta Hawks will play Thursday in the United Center when both teams concluded their preseason games given the Hawks will be finishing the second in two nights on the road. The Bulls, however, will go with their regular starters with a shortened rotation because the team has to be eying that potential 5-0 start.
No one would ever say that, and certainly no one from a 22-win team should.
But in a rare opening schedule break for a franchise that annually suffered from the early circus road trip, the Bulls play arguably the league's four weakest teams—Charlotte, Memphis, New York and Cleveland—in the first five games. All on the road complicates the possibility of the fast start, obviously. But then the middle home game is the Oct. 26 opener against defending champion Toronto without Kawhi Leonard and playing the second of a back to back with both on the road.
So can the Bulls start now and grab the early season momentum starting Thursday against the Hawks?
"The plan is to play our top 10 guys, our playing group, to get them even more used to each other, to work out our in-game rotations with those 10 guys," Boylen said about the plan for the closing preseason game. "Of course we want to get off to a fast start (in the regular season). But I want us to play good basketball and I want us to get better every day and grow with this group of guys. And what I've seen and how I feel about this team, if we do that we're going to be a good team. Our goal is to get better every day and come into every game with that edge and not have the ball stick and trust each other and play good basketball. We're keeping score, we want to win. But I want us to grow and be better."
Winning would be nice, especially after the last two seasons. The Bulls with the three No. 7 first round picks (Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White) now firmly in the regular rotation believe they have exited the recent developmental stage. That especially comes with the additions within the last eight months of veterans Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young and Satoransky.
The only players left on the roster from the night of the Jimmy Butler trade June 22, 2017 are Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio. So in just two years the Bulls have drastically changed a roster that could/should/might be at least a playoff contender this season.
The training camp mystery of who would start at point guard—which really was not so much of one once the Bulls completed the Satoransky sign-and-trade— was revealed Wednesday with Boylen's disclosure.
"Tomas will start at the point guard," Boylen confirmed. "Kris Dunn will come off the bench and play on the second unit. I've been happy with both of them. They're both in good places. I think this is what's best for our team, and I think it will be great for both of them individually. Kris has to be kind of our defensive force in that second group. He had 11 deflections and six steals against Indiana (Friday), so he can impact the game coming off the bench. He's embraced it. I've spoken with him and we had a good conversation about it. He's all about winning, and I'm really proud of him.''
Though the positional template seemed established, Boylen conducted something of an audition with Satoransky and Dunn sharing starts in the first two preseason games. Dunn ended up playing more with reserves, especially when none of the regulars played in Indiana. So his statistics are somewhat skewed. But Satoransky produced more and seemed a sleeker fit with the uptempo philosophy of the other starters, Porter, Carter, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
Satoransky averaged 8.3 points, five rebounds and five assists in three games. Dunn averaged 6.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in four. The Bulls are 1-3 in those games. Satoransky shot 58.8 percent overall and was four of five on threes. Dunn shot 42.9 percent and was two of 10 on threes. Satoransky had a plus-30 overall in three games and Dunn was minus-10 in four.
Dunn's tenure with the Bulls seemed uncertain after a spiraling end to last season. But Dunn in recent interviews said he reassessed this summer and is committed to the team whatever his role.
"I've always said he's a terrific kid," Boylen said about Dunn. "I've always said he's for the team. I've always said he's very coachable. Those things haven't changed how I feel about him and what he's done. I do think that he's in a really good place. I do think he had some introspection and got some time away and it was good for him. He said it, we've said it; he's prepared to help the team win. And that's his mindset. That's what we need. It's going to be about sharing and sacrifice. He's going to come off that bench and help us win.''
As for Satoransky, Boylen anticipates some wizardry.
"I love the way he throws the ball ahead," Boylen said. "I love his command of our offense already. He's obviously a terrific shooter. He can play on the ball and off those guys and create space. Him and I have a real good connection and he's got a really good feel. I feel confident in him running that first group."
Satoransky throws it up to Zach LaVine
That's right, Run with Them. It's time.