What can you expect ahead of the Bulls first preseason game?

"I’d like to look at combinations; I’d like to look at different lineups together." - Jim Boylen
by Sam Smith

Body

Who's starting at point guard?

How much is Coby White going to play? And where?

Who's the backup five?

Who's out of the rotation?

Are they going to run? Can they?

Who's making threes?

Is there a stopper?

What's the pecking order?

Questions, oh so many questions, and finally the Bulls may begin to provide some answers Monday with the start of the exhibition season 7 p.m. in the United Center against the Milwaukee Bucks.

It's a condensed preseason with just five games, the fewest scheduled in team history other than the lockout/labor strike seasons. The Bulls will host the New Orleans Pelicans and No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson Wednesday. Then they play in Indiana Friday and Toronto Sunday before a final preseason game Oct. 17 against Atlanta in the United Center. The Bulls then open their regular season in Charlotte Oct. 23 and then go to Memphis. The United Center opener is Oct. 26 against defending champion Toronto.

Shaq Harrison and Zach LaVine talk at Bulls Training Camp

"I just want us to compete every play for the city, for the heritage and the history of the Bulls."

Jim Boylen

But it's almost a brand new team once again. With injuries and transactions, the Bulls starting lineup for the opening game in 2018 was:

Bobby Portis, Wendell Carter Jr., Cameron Payne, Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday.

The opening night starting lineup for the 2017-18 season just two years ago was:

Paul Zipser, Lauri Markanen, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant.

Consider that 15 players who received minutes for the Bulls in 2017-18 no longer are with the team. From last season's team, a dozen players who received minutes are no longer with the team. Plus, it's the first full season as an NBA head coach for Jim Boylen, who has a mandate to organize and improve, but who surely is in an experimental phase. So Boylen will test out combinations, situations, circumstances and capability during the next 10 days of rehearsals.

Ready or not, it's the prime time.

"I'd like to look at combinations; I'd like to look at different lineups together," Boylen acknowledged about the preseason opener. "Look at a more skilled offensive group, a defensive group, a full court pressure group, a big group, a small group. Zach at three, Zach at two, Shaq (Harrison) at three, Coby White at two, Kris Dunn at one. But Dunn might guard the three. All that.

Coach Boylen talks to Zach LaVine at practice

"Experiment with that some without losing who we are," Boylen added. "And then I'd like us to continue to improve this multi handler system."

Boylen's vision is to take advantage of the potential versatility with the roster, especially the presumed starters since players like Markkanen, LaVine, Otto PorterJr. and even Carter are capable of ferrying the ball up court after a rebound or basket along with newcomers like Thaddeus Young. So with the four point guards, the theory is it can mean a faster, higher scoring team with players pushing the ball and defenses off balance because so many different players can attack and score.

"That's what you try to do. You try to push them to a place where they can't take themselves without having them tell you to get lost."

Jim Boylen

The risk, of course, is among players capable but not generally accustomed to ball handling, and especially defensive pressure. And then there's the uncertainty of an offensive pecking order when, presumably, LaVine and Markkanen are the best offensive talents. Teams generally settle into an offensive order. But those teams which keep the opposition off balance with various players able to shoot and score can be the most successful.

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen

"I've tried to explain it to everybody," Boylen said. "There's more reasons for the multihandler system than just the the basketball part and the versatility. Guys in this day and age like to have the ball a little bit. It keeps everyone involved. We'll work on that multihandler system. I don't want to turn it over every time, but I want to play faster, work on how to use our versatility and different combinations. And then we have to become a better defensive team. What does that look like?

"Are we going to be a rock ‘em, sock ‘em Charles Oakley, Hakeem Olajuwon type like the (1994 Knicks and ) '94-'95 Rockets? We are not," Boylen conceded. "But we have to be better. How? Your offense dictates your defense, too. You can't turn the ball over and have people running the other way. We can't take plays off. Last season we had guys take plays off.

"I just want us to compete every play for the city, for the heritage and the history of the Bulls," said Boylen. "People look at me when I say that like I am a complete dummy. I think it matters. I think we have to play harder for the city. We have a tough city. We're not in LA. They don't talk about defense in LA; they don't. Here when you give up a layup the whole crowd is like, ‘oh.' The air comes out.

"You want to push these guys as far as you can without losing them," Boylen said. "That's what you try to do. You try to push them to a place where they can't take themselves without having them tell you to get lost.

Markkanen, Porter and Doyle at Bulls Training Camp

"I've been trying to identify roles and all I've been talking about is role acceptance," Boylen said. "‘Your role might start in one way and might end up in another. But if you don't accept the first one, you might not get to the second, the one you want to have. I want you to have what is best for the team. Those are the kinds of messages. We have to make it about winning, representing the city, playing the right way."

You're 2019-20 Bulls are ready to run.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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