Keys to the Game: Bulls at Hornets (10.23.19)
Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls tip-off the 2019-20 season on the road against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Tonight, also marks the beginning of Chicago's 54th NBA season. The Bulls come into tonight with an overall Opening Night mark of 29-24 (.547).
With the healthy returns of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., along with the summer additions of veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, as well as returning veteran Otto Porter Jr., and top draft pick Coby White, the Bulls now have the personnel to play a relentlessly fast-paced, three-point firing game that can (and oftentimes will) give opponents nightmares.
Head Coach Jim Boylen will run out a starting five of Satoransky and LaVine in the backcourt, Porter Jr. and Markkanen in the frontcourt with Carter Jr. manning the middle. And although Chicago enters this season as the league's third-youngest squad with an average age of 24.5, the team's high-charged, athletic depth should give Boylen the confidence to call on as many as 10 players (depending on matchups) each night.
LaVine and White each enjoyed terrific preseasons, ranking in the Top 10 in scoring (LaVine T-4th at 23.3 points, White T-8th at 19.2). Additionally, among rookies, White was the NBA's second leading scorer behind only New Orleans' No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson (23.3).
Last season, the Charlotte Hornets finished with a 39-43 record, which put them as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, two games out of the playoffs. Missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season was a bit of reality check for the franchise, thus it wasn't surprising management decided it was time to press the reboot button and begin to construct something new, especially once franchise icon Kemba Walker decided to jump to Boston in a sign-and-trade arrangement over the summer.
The Hornets are expected to roll out newcomer Terry Rozier at point guard in place of Walker. Rozier arrived in town as part of the Boston trade, and most likely he will end up being the primary focus of Charlotte's offensive attack. Returning players Dwayne Bacon, Nicolas Batum, Miles Bridges, and Cody Zeller are also expected to be regulars in the Hornets starting lineup, with likes of Malik Monk and Marvin Williams being the first two off-the-bench.
Zeller, however, is the only projected starter that averaged double figures (10.1) in scoring last year. Batum, who has been in the league for 12 years entering this season, is currently listed as day-to-day with an Achilles injury, so he may not see any action this evening. However, first round pick P.J. Washington (12th overall out of Kentucky) should receive plenty of minutes, especially if Batum can't answer the bell tonight. Washington is a 6'7" wing who averaged a little more than 12 points and five rebounds during the preseason.
Look for Chicago to play fast by crashing the boards hard at the defensive end and immediately look to get out on the break to score easy baskets in transition. As they showed during the preseason, the Bulls need to be unselfish with the ball, skipping it from player-to-player and from side-to-side in search of open looks at the hoop. All five players will also need to prove their willingness to attack the rim every time a path opens to the rim. They also cannot be afraid to launch a long ball from behind the arc if they get a free look from downtown.
Defensively, the Bulls will need to keep the lines of communication open and free flowing in order to shut down the paint and force the Hornets to take low percentage shots far from the rim.
In theory Boylen's multiple ballhandler offensive system should prove to be a perfect scheme for the young, aggressive-minded Bulls. However, for Chicago to tap into their potential they're going to have come into every game with a blue collar attitude by battling hard on the boards at both ends of the floor and never fail to hustle after and fight for every loose ball.