Expect Bulls to stay with Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young in starting lineup for now

“I’ll stick with this probably, see how it looks,” -Billy Donovan on the new starting lineup following Chicago's win over Toronto on Sunday.
by Sam Smith
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Coach Billy Donovan rolled out a new starting lineup on Sunday, inserting veterans Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young in place for Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. The results helped lead the Bulls to a blowout victory over the Raptors on Sunday. Bulls fans can expect to see the same starters on Tuesday night vs. Oklahoma City.

The Bulls' starting lineup change in Sunday's victory over the Toronto Raptors worked like a clever motivational ploy that broke the two-game losing malaise coming out of the All-Star break. But what it may really have been is a glimpse at the team's ultimate future, if also a window into the personnel needs this summer and beyond.

"I'll stick with this probably, see how it looks," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said about bringing Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. off the bench for the first time this season. "I'm not married to it because there may be other things thrown our way that we need to look to change as well. Garrett (Temple, out with an ankle injury) comes back, hopefully, somewhere sooner than later and we'll see how that plays into the equation."

Donovan this season has been imaginative and resourceful with lineups and rotations to put players in position as much to succeed as be evaluated, the latter which likely has been the primary plan for new management. So it perhaps wasn't a surprise when Donovan after Sunday's game said Bulls personnel boss Arturas Karnisovas was supportive of Donovan's desire to experiment with a different starting lineup.

"In talking to Arturas, it was all about we've got to help these guys, put these guys in the best position to be as competitive as possible," said Donovan. "He was incredibly supportive and totally behind it and was just kind of like, ‘If you feel that's the best thing, then I'm with you.'"

Wendell Carter Jr

Wendell Carter Jr. lets us a big smile after scoring a basket in the victory over Toronto.

That may also be because Karnisovas has seen that White functions best as a scoring sixth man and Carter probably is best coming off the bench as well, in part playing against the less formidable starting big men.

It may also suggest the Bulls are closer than it's seemed to a core with which they can move forward. Of course, with a few additions.

Namely a facilitating point guard who also should be able to score and perhaps a wing player who also is a secondary playmaker. That both White and Carter in the name of team success were amenable and supportive of the change bodes well for the team. Donovan has sermonized about the need for sacrifice as an element of success. The attitudes of White and Carter seemed to suggest they're satisfied to be part of that congregation. Hallelujah.

"Nothing can ever take my joy from the game," said White, who had 13 points and a team most plus/minus. "Most people know I came off the bench last year. So it was really nothing new to me. I just knew I had to come in and be aggressive. Don't let it change who I am. At the end of the day, all I want to do is win. It's really no process for me. It's already processed. I know what I've got to do. I'm not going to let that affect me. I'm still going to go be me and play with that joy."

Coby White

Coby White came off the bench for the first time this season in Chicago's victory over the Raptors.

Which shouldn't be viewed as a negative even if White was advertised as a starting point guard. It's also not easy to get a player like Lou Williams, Ben Gordon, Vinny Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry and Manu Ginobili, several of the elite Sixth Man being crucial parts of title teams.

It also seems apparent Carter is the kind of person who puts perhaps too much pressure on himself. Though there's a sense of pride being introduced among the starters, the cerebral Carter appeared a lot more relaxed and confident coming off the bench. He had one of his top three most efficient games of the season with a double/double in 19 minutes and his third best plus/minus of the season.

"I think it was all internal," said Carter. "It wasn't about me not playing or me not coming back from injury or any of that. It was just taking some of the stress out of my life. Just worry(ing) about too much stuff outside of basketball. I had to really look at myself and understand that this is my job and I have to come in with a clear head every day and put everything on the line for my team. In the past five or six games, I was letting too much outside noise dictate how I play on the court. I had to realize that I can't afford to do that. I can't afford to have games, mishaps, because in my opinion, it was all mental. There was nothing about the players I was playing against or how many minutes I was playing or any of that. It was all internal and I just had to break away from that."

If the Bulls keep White and Carter coming off the bench, Donovan can begin forming the semblance of a rotation.

It also allows for perhaps the best use of rookie Patrick Williams and Lauri Markkanen.

Williams scored a career high 23 points Sunday, primarily with movement off the weak side and passing from Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young. Those openings often have been missed by White. And Williams isn't a playmaker. But the change also put Lauri Markkanen is a more productive place.

Markkanen isn't the dominating center to match up with the top big men in the league, like Joel Embiid (as if anyone is). Markkanen defended center Aron Baynes and did mostly a good job defensively since Baynes doesn't have much post game. Plus, Markkanen can do what Donovan hoped Carter could but doesn't, which is step outside and shoot. And do it well. That changes the equation against even the best big men and gives the Bulls opportunities for mismatches they can exploit.

Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen is averaging 18.7 points per game on 48.8% shooting in the three games since he's returned from injury.

Because Markkanen doesn't have a powerful post game, teams often use smaller, physical players to defend Markkanen. The Raptors used Stanley Johnson. But that also forced Toronto to put Baynes on Young, who took advantage with quickness. Then the Raptors downsized to match, and the Bulls dominated on the boards.

It suggests Markkanen can be a perimeter center in the mold of a player like Kristaps Porzingis, tall enough to bother some centers since there are only a few who are dominant offensive players. But also offensively skilled enough to cause mismatches to the Bulls advantage.

It's unclear what that may mean against Oklahoma City Tuesday since they are basically use four former G-league players and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They do get some remarkable results from their rebuilding lineups.

For the Bulls, with Markkanen moving into the center role, Williams can replace him as a stretch four.

The powerfully built Williams, though advertised as a small forward, seems destined to be a power forward. He doesn't pass the ball well and has been reluctant to dribble much. But he shoots a high percentage, almost 40 percent on threes already, moves well off the ball as evidenced by his scoring Sunday and is a rugged rebounder in traffic.

Young was the nominal starter at center/power forward, though he's played like a facilitating small forward with his passing and movement. He's so talented he can play a variety of positions. But he's clearly not a long term starting solution.

Zach LaVine is the team's best at shooting guard and continues to show his willingness to play for wins the way he deferred to teammates Sunday against defensive pressure. Though Donovan's moves were heralded for change and motivation in the wake of consecutive losses, they may play a larger role in providing a personnel blueprint for free agency and trades and building a better roster.

"I really appreciate Coby and Wendell sacrificing for the team in terms of moving different pieces around and getting maybe some more voices out there in terms of some veteran guys in Thad and Sato," said Donovan. "That's what went into the decision. It's not like those guys are out of the rotation. It's not like those guys are not important pieces to our team. They are".

Which is probably why Donovan emphasized not to personalize the move.

"It's not Wendell and Coby at all," Donovan insisted. "It has nothing to do with them. It's just more the whole five. I think the numbers bear that out and watching film bears that out."

And perhaps the future will bear that out. If the Bulls can be bullish and bear to address the bear in the room.

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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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