How will the Bulls advance with LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn back?
"If your heart's pure and your soul's with the team, it'll work out for us." - Jim Boylen
So is Friday the first day of the rest of the Bulls life? Coffee mug slogan anyone?
Will the game with the Washington Wizards be A3R? And everything that came before being B3R?
You know, After the Three Returned and Before the Three Returned.
"It's new," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said Thursday about starting the organization's proposed Big Three for the first time this season. "What have they had, 278 minutes together (in two years)? Something like that. It's going to take some adjusting. It's going to take some feel. It's going to take some respect, but also some assertiveness.
"I'm excited," Boylen added. "We don't know what's out there yet. I do know that it's going to come down to sharing and caring and uplifting each other. I looked at some of the numbers from other teams. (Kevin) Durant wasn't the leading scorer for Golden State last year every game. Klay Thompson wasn't the leading scorer for that team. I'm not comparing our team to theirs. I'm just comparing you're not going to have the same leading scorer every night if you have a good team. You have guys that are feeding the hot hand. You have to have guys that are working the right matchup. You have to have guys that are executing and unselfish. That's what we're going to try to do. But if your heart's pure and your soul's with the team, it'll work out for us."
Getting the ball in the basket probably will help more, but Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn all have demonstrated they can do that.
Unfortunately since the Bulls acquired them in the franchise-altering trade for Jimmy Butler, it's been primarily not together.
Last season, it was LaVine recovering from his ACL surgery into January, after which Dunn suffered a severe concussion. They combined to play 11 games together last season, a season in which LaVine admits he never was fully recovered from his injury and sat out the last month with tendinitis. The team was 4-7 in those 11 games.
This season opened with first Markkanen suffering an elbow injury in training camp and then Dunn a knee injury. Neither played until into December, and then when they were ready to start, LaVine suffered an ankle injury. LaVine came off the bench in Wednesday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Boylen said LaVine will return to the starting lineup Friday against the skidding Wizards.
"I do know that it's going to come down to sharing and caring and uplifting each other... You have to have guys that are executing and unselfish. That's what we're going to try to do. But if your heart's pure and your soul's with the team, it'll work out for us." - Jim Boylen
"That stat I saw online that we only played 11 games together was crazy, so it's unfortunate circumstances that happened. But we have to get chemistry down," said LaVine. "We have to learn how to play with each other, our moves, our spots, when somebody is hot go to them. You have to learn that and it doesn't come with just practicing; it comes with games. So it's going to be a process and we have to get it down soon. We will figure it out.
"We're good enough (the trio)," LaVine insisted. "Individually we're all extremely talented. We just have to put it together as a group and a unit. But it's not going to get easier. You've got Washington competing for a playoff spot, the No. 1 team in the East with Toronto (on the current road trip). We have to go out and compete and come together."
So for the Bulls, Friday really is the first day to start learning if there is a working core for the team to move forward.
All have shown flashes this season of even All-Star potential, LaVine especially.
He is averaging 23.9 points per game, which is in the NBA's top 15 scorers. He has demonstrated an uncanny ability to make tough shots, better than anyone on the roster, and is the most adept at making individual one-on-one plays. It shouldn't be discounted. Many NBA games come down to that, and there aren't any successful teams without that kind of player. He came off the bench the best player in the game for the Bulls Wednesday, scoring 28 points in 26 minutes.
Markkanen is underutilized at times because he plays so unselfishly; often too unselfishly. But he is the best pure shooter on the team and a natural matchup nightmare with an ability to shoot over players inside and take bigger players outside and then drive past them. He was coming off back to back 30-plus scoring games coming into the Timberwolves game when he had a quiet 16 points, which led the starters.
Dunn, in some respects, had the most pressure given his role as point guard and questions about his shooting. But he has flirted with triple doubles the last three games—within three assists and two rebounds each game—playing a well-rounded game with an accurate mid range jump shot that has been the best on the team and with an ability to finish at the rim even against taller players and defend on the perimeter.
Now will they fit together? Can they?
"What I talk about is when Kris Dunn has the ball that means two of our more talented guys, Zach and Lauri, don't," Boylen noted. "So when they don't have the ball, they have to honor their assignments off the ball. Maybe it's running the lane. Maybe it's screening. Maybe it's spacing appropriately. Maybe it's forceful cutting. Maybe it's making an open three on penetration when his man helps. I just talk to them about their obligation to the team and to each other. When they do possess (the ball), it's about decision making, creating situations. Each of them has to be a creator at times and a receiver at times. That's where we've got to grow. That's what we have to do better as a group is understanding that role at that time and executing. We'll see how we do."
Not that everything flows from the Warriors, but it's clear Steph Curry, Thompson and Durant aren't personally close. Curry is a family man with children and they aren't. They probably don't socialize that much, but they are basketball players who meld. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were not close off the court, but they respected one another and learned how to work together. What was most important was that each had the talent. That's where it starts, and without that it's just a lot of guys trying hard with limited results.
"It's hard to find chemistry," LaVine acknowledged. "I think there's an understanding of a pecking order, but I think it has to be a team concept, too. I think we all know who we are and who each other is, but I don't think anybody is just like, ‘Hey look, I'm the No. 1 guy, nobody else can say so.' I don't think we have a team like that, have personalities like that.
"I think Lauri and Kris got more in common. I don't got a kid right now, so I think they can bond a little bit more than me," said LaVine. "We're all cool and everything like that. It's just you gotta get it together on the court. In a perfect world, we're all really good friends, so everything should be real easy. But nothing is made that way; you gotta work at it. I don't think we've had the correct time to work at it, but we have to get it done regardless because you start evaluating things like that eventually. Pretty much every team has a core three, two or three main players. I know we're all talented enough individually; we just have to do it together."
They've only just begun; Start out walkin' and learn to run; Sharing horizons that they hope to foresee; Takin' over one, two, three; Yes, they've only just begun.
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