Despite Preseason Loss to Bucks, Bulls Showing Signs of Growth

Zach Leads Team in Scoring with 16 while White & Gafford Both Impressed with 12 Points Each in 122-112 Loss to Bucks
by Sam Smith

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Despite loss to Bucks, the Bulls' first preseason game gave plenty to be excited about. Shooting more 3s, playing at a faster pace and playing multiple 3 or 4 guard lineups were all on display on Monday night, reflecting what Coach Boylen and the team have been working on during training camp.

Coby White is 19 going on 1975.

The Bulls rookie lottery pick Monday played his first NBA game in the Bulls 122-112 preseason loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the United Center.

Call him part of the old guard rather than the avant-garde.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 16 points and Lauri Markkanen added 14 as the presumed starters played primarily in the first half. This new look Bulls group begn to knock on the door of the modern NBA by firing off 38 three pointers and bashing their way to the free throw line for 38 attempts. They committed just a dozen turnovers compared with 25 for the Bucks. But the knock was the much taller Bucks despite playing without starters Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe dominated the smaller Bulls on the boards, 59-45, and took advantage of shaky Bulls defense for 48 percent shooting to just 38 percent for the Bulls.

Lauri and Zach high-fiving

"The 38 three-point attempts is good for us," agreed Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "The 38 free throw attempts is good for us; 12 turnovers playing fast is good for us. We forced 25 turnovers. We've been talking about hands and deflections. I thought we did a pretty good job. Where we were exploited and where we struggled is our individual one-on-one defense. They spread us out, which they do to everybody, and they drove it on us. It's great because now the film shows what we've been talking about; that's a big area of improvement for us."

The Bulls Wednesday in the United Center play the New Orleans Pelicans and No. 1 pick rookie Zion Williamson, assuming he's not on rest already like many top NBA players in the preseason. Good for the Bulls, unlike the Bucks, for considering the paying fans.

Meanwhile, the prominent question around the Bulls of who really is the point guard remained unsettled as the three principals, White, Kris Dunn and Tomas Satoransky, had positive moments.

Dunn, who started Monday, had 11 points on five of eight shooting with three steals as the prime defender of the three. Satoransky with two points on one of six shooting had an all-around five steals, seven rebounds and three assists and was best facilitating. White with 12 points and eight free throw attempts lived up to his billing as a scorer.

White drives the ball

"I played all right," said White. "I could have played better. I have high expectations for myself. I feel I could have made a couple of better decisions, being aware of the defense. Of course I was nervous playing my first NBA game. In the first game, jitters happen to everyone. I took my first shot (and) got in the rhythm of the game. I settled down and was being aggressive. The summer is the past; I feel I'm shooting the ball better."

Though the point guard debate remains the favorite topic in this training camp, it may sort itself out because White isn't a point guard.

He's a guard.

An Otto steal sets Coby White away

White at 6-5 and about 190 pounds is reminiscent of retro players like Archie Clark and Sleepy Floyd and Lloyd (World B.) Free, Paul Westphal, Gus Williams and Reggie Theus, big guards who handled the ball and especially shot the ball.

Rookies coming into the NBA, particularly as teenagers, and even moreso at guard positions, tend to defer to veterans, try to get a feel for the game, the coach, the crowd. It's an uncertain time. Toes are big and can be stepped on. Not so for White, seemingly ready to fill some big shoes.

He (Boylen) said take more threes and I was all for it. We just didn't make them; we got good attempts. I feel that's the way the league is going now and we have the type of team to do it, so I am excited about it.

Boylen

The North Carolina one-and-done came in for LaVine with 3:51 left in the first quarter and the Bulls trailing 24-20. He was done being a hesitant rookie quickly.

Within 24 seconds, White attempted his first shot. He took a three a minute later and was at the free throw line for four attempts within the first two minutes of the second quarter along with his first basket on his second full court drive of that 120 seconds. No, he wasn't looking to pass much. Which was OK.

Because when you have a thoroughbred you don't need to pull on the reins. You let him run. And with the backcourt congestion the Bulls have, White's drive — and drives — might help the Bulls to offset their lack of size with speed. If a rookie season is a phase, White surely looked unfazed.

White and Coach Boylen talking

Minutes into the game he appeared to be questioning teammates about where they should be and in animated discussions with Boylen about the plays.

Oh my guard!

"Coby, I thought he did a good job," said LaVine. "He doesn't lack confidence. He's had an extremely good camp. I told him he's had one of the best camps I've seen from a rookie. Confidence wise, reading plays, he might not have made the most shots. But you can see how good he is going to be."

Wendell Carter Jrger had hernia surgery in the summer. In camp, he has been slowed by a sprained ankle and now the nagging bone bruise. Boylen said he didn't know when Carter will return. Boylen did say Luke Kornet, the only seven footer on the roster other than three-point shooter Markkanen, would practice Tuesday and could play against the Pelica. remained out with a bruised tailbone. The star crossed big man who missed half of last season with a broken finns. Still, it leaves this Bulls contingent an undersized group.

Daniel Gafford with an impressive dunk

Rookie second round forward Daniel Gafford was impressively active with 12 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Though several inches shorter, he batted the taller Lopez twins, Brook and former Bull Robin, who combined for 27 points in about 19 minutes each. Gafford worked his way to eight free throws. Cristiano Felicio started at center and had a pair of early dunks on catches running to the basket. He was sturdy.

Gafford dunks the ball

Otto Porter Jr. played just the first half with five points and new addition Thaddeus Young had four points off the bench in 19 minutes. Denzel Valentine made a pair of threes with his first two shots after not playing in about 18 months after ankle surgery. He had 11 points and admitted to being overcome emotionally on the way to the arena over finally returning to play.

"We've always said about Denzel he takes the lid off the rim for us," said Boylen. "He has the ability to make plays."

Denzel Shooting

And so do the guards, even if with someone like White seemingly more for himself. But that's also what the NBA is about. Get the ball in the basket somehow. White seems like he'll be able to do that.

"He played like a two because he's a baller," said Boylen. "He's just a guy who plays. He didn't look nervous. He was poised, he was tough, he was physical, he was confident. I've said it before, he just seems to be getting better and better. No moment is too big for him."

Boylen Monday often employed three and four-guard lineups amidst the evolving philosophy to play faster with more three pointers and ball handlers in the Golden State — Sacramento, Atlanta and Brooklyn, too — style.

Which could play to the strengths of players like LaVine, Dunn, Satoransky and White and perhaps alleviate that guard dilemma.

"I felt like we were playing faster, got a lot of good threes and open looks," said LaVine. "Obviously didn't convert on a good amount of them or free throw attempts (26 of 38 free throws). I saw a lineup where Otto was at the four and Lauri was at the five. We'll mismatch and see how we look as a running team and a small team. He (Boylen) said take more threes and I was all for it. We just didn't make them; we got good attempts. I feel that's the way the league is going now and we have the type of team to do it, so I am excited about it. Whoever gets it off the rim, push it, run your lane and get up and down the court."

Coby White also seems comfortable with that plan. Not someone who's very guarded. Just a guard.

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