The Bulls are winners!
Sure there has to be a disclaimer about Sunday's Bulls 105-91 victory over the defending champion Toronto Raptors being preseason and that not a single player from last season's clinching game played against the Bulls.
The only player I even recognized for the Raptors was former Bull Cameron Payne, and I'd only heard about two others. But this is sports preseason these days, sadly enough, and the point for the Bulls was both the point and it being about the Bulls making more points this time.
So we learned some things, especially about who's going to be the starting point guard: Tomas Satoransky. Though Bulls coach Jim Boylen isn't making anything official yet.
Who are the five starters for the regular season starting Oct. 23?
Likely Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the latter who made his preseason debut Sunday. Carter was a bit shaky having missed much of training camp with knicks and knacks. But he seemed to solidify his starting position.
Who is out of the rotation, at least for now?
Denzel Valentine, possibly, as he didn't enter the game until the fourth quarter with the Bulls G-league contingent who helped make Raptors fans feel a little better after inheriting a 92-61 Bulls lead after three quarters. Rookie Daniel Gafford also sat out the first three quarters. Injured Chandler Hutchison and Shaquille Harrison remained out and Cristiano Felicio also was a late sub.
So who else looks to be in the rotation?
Rookie Coby White with yet another high powered offensive effort, Ryan Arcidiacono with his relentlessly annoying (to opponents) play and Luke Kornet.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2019-20 Chicago Bulls.
"We're going to try to get to a normal, semi-normal rotation," explained Bulls coach Jim Boylen before the game. "I know they're sitting some of their main guys. But everyone this time of year is worried about themselves and doing what they think is best for their team. This is the first game (for) Wendell. So we still are figuring out who we are because of either newness or injury and additions from a free agent situation. We have seven new guys, so we still are trying to figure it out. That's why I think it's important we start narrowing this thing down to who is going to be in the playing group."
Pick me! Pick me! I know who they are.
With LaVine putting up an effortless 26 points in 25 minutes, White with 16 points and again the most field goal attempts, Markkanen with 15 points and 13 rebounds in his first forceful game on the boards and the Bulls squeezing off 49 three pointers, more than they'd ever attempted in franchise history, the Bulls are the Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
With the return to health of both LaVine and Markkanen, the additions of Satoransky and late last season Porter and the drafting of White, the Bulls have the makings of a fast paced, three-point shooting group that hopes it can change long shot to mean the offensive priority rather than the playoff likelihood.
There wasn't much to judge competitively Sunday because the Bulls won't play against a similar talent level unless they get a special invite to the Big3 half-court league.
But there was plenty to consider among the Bulls with the final preseason game Thursday in the United Center against Atlanta.
Zach slams one down
LAVINE: He looked mah-velous, absolutely mah-velous. LaVine shot nine of 14 and four of six on threes, adding five rebounds, four assists and enough defensive moments to get witnesses to ask if that was Zach. If LaVine held the ball as long as Harden he might lead the league in scoring. Zach shoots a three like a free throw and seems to get to the basket like he's running a 100-meter dash on a straight track. He kick started the Bulls to a 28-21 first quarter lead with 10 points after a hazy three turnovers in the first four possessions. LaVine scored 16 by halftime in the Bulls' 15-point lead as the only player in double digits. As the team's primary offensive option only because he is by far the best offensive player, LaVine perhaps more than anyone could determine the Bulls fate. If he turns his recent good into great, which he can, the Bulls take a big step forward.
MARKKANEN: He's been disappointingly passive the first three preseason games, mostly choosing to hang around the three-point line. His release has been quicker this season, but against the Raptors—yes, yes, at least the guys they gave the jerseys to for one night—he chased down offensive rebounds and followed his shot. It's not so much if he can do it against better competition (he can), for Markkanen it's been willingness. He was very willing. He also led the team with six free throw attempts in 21 minutes.
Arcidiacono throws ahead to White for the easy layup
WHITE: The insouciant first round pick continues to show no hesitation working into a scorer role. It's a positive since the Bulls are weak with catch-and-shoot players, and White showed a propensity—and certainly desire—to help spread he court with the shooting. He got off a dozen threes in 23 minutes. He seems to be a good student. The Bulls said shoot. No one has to remind him. He surely took seriously the Bulls new mandate to shoot more three pointers. Perhaps that's why he smiles a lot.
CARTER: He had two points on one of six shooting in 17 minutes playing in only the first half. He actually had some better moments playing with Luke Kornet, the only true center on the roster, as Carter finished a lob dunk pass from Kris Dunn in that rotation. Carter was a bit slow off the floor, which was expected in his first play this preseason. But he had seven rebounds and a block. It seems he'll have to fill a roll as a rim runner and finisher mostly on offense. The Bulls with the apparent emphasis on the offensive changes also used Markkanen at center with Porter at stretch forward in a lineup that likely will close some games.
SATORANSKY: The Point. Satoransky certainly figures to start with Dunn still feeling his way around. Playing with the reserves, Dunn curiously ended up at the corner three spot several times, getting passes at the end of possessions and having to shoot. He was one of four on threes. With the rotations just starting to be established, there's going to be sequences like that. LaVine played a lot of point guard as well. Arcidiacono with his furious play and pure point guard abilities may end up pushing Dunn for backup minutes with White settling into more of a shooting role given his apparent desires. White has shown a good shooting stroke after a woeful Summer League.
The others. Kornet appears to fit better with what the Bulls are trying to do than Thaddeus Young. Young is well regarded and a worker, though he's not really a floor spacing shooter and has relied on playing a lot of minutes to influence the game. It's unclear whether he will be in that position with this Bulls team. Porter appears energetic, but the Bulls figure to limit his minutes at times to keep him fresh. Though Young won't space the floor like Porter. Gafford has shown potential, but could be left out for now on inexperience and being a lower priority pick. Valentine could be the one without a chair to start depending on the rotation against Atlanta. Not everyone can play and Boylen indicated he wants to start with 10 regulars. Hutchison and Harrison will have to earn their way back.
The Bulls do look a lot different, and not just because half the roster changed. They continued to swing the ball more, almost searching out three-point attempts. Probably for the first time in franchise history they attempted more three-point shots than two-point shots.
Consider that when Michael Jordan was a rookie, he attempted 52 three pointers for the entire season. The Bulls took 49 Sunday. Last season they averaged about 25 per game. Though it wasn't exactly a roster built to shoot them. It's likely other teams still are scouting. So we'll see if it changes when the games count.
Other than the Indiana game Saturday when the Bulls rested their regulars, the Bulls are averaging 41 threes per game. The Rockets record pace last season was 45 threes per game. The Bucks led the East with about 38 per game. Though the next two most frequent long ballers were the Hawks and Mavericks, who didn't do so well. We'll see what else the Bulls can do. One more rehearsal.