The Bulls 2023-24 basketball extravaganza returns to the big city Thursday in the United Center with a preseason game against the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets. So it’s time for a little regional theater off-broadway preview noon Sunday in Milwaukee before the big show comes to the big city.
That view might be a little cheesy given that the small town guys from up the road, the Milwaukee Bucks with the addition of star guard Damian Lillard, generally are currently considered the betting favorites along with the Boston Celtics to win this season’s NBA jerseys cheap championship.
So the Bulls, at least for now following a week in Nashville for preseason training camp, will concentrate on measuring themselves before they take the measure of themselves against the rest of the league, the Eastern Conference and the west side of Lake Michigan.
That means first getting to the point.
Or figuring out just who starts there.
That’s one of the few personnel questions for these Bulls considering this is the start of the second consecutive season to feature continuity as a maxim, if not a maximum.
Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and newcomer free agent from the Bucks Jevon Carter are considered the prime candidates to start at point guard. Though Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it depends on how they play and fit with whom.
“The way you potentially start at the point guard position on opening night may be totally different by Game 35,” Donovan said last week. “Sometimes you change rotation. It could be somebody starting they give a boost to someone on the bench. I really admired Coby last year. Just from the standpoint that he started my first year, and then he started to come off the bench a little bit more. Last year, he really took full advantage of that. So you also want to try and put guys in the best position. When I would actually make that decision, I don’t know. I think you’ve got to let those guys play a little bit. We could potentially start one of those guys and then decide that it has nothing to do with them, per se, but it might be better to have them in our rotation, maybe play in the second unit or putting a different person in that position. Clearly opening night you’re going to have somebody start there. I couldn’t answer whether or not that would continue for all 82 games.’’
My guess has been that it would be Carter since he’s the most defensive-oriented player to balance the offense regulars of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević. Those three also are not among the best defenders on the team. So Carter, in theory with Patrick Williams presumably starting at power forward, could provide two defensive-oriented players to start against the opponent’s top inside and outside scorers.
Carter also seems in a similar style, if not in talent, closest to injured point guard Lonzo Ball with a good perimeter three-point shooting game and aggressive defense on the ball.
Though in the training camp scrimmages the indications — reporters are not permitted to watch any parts of practice — have been that White has played more with the Big Three veterans.
Which could mean Donovan is leaning toward an offensive group to jump start an offense that last season often got behind to begin games.
Or it could mean Donovan is considering the potentially appealing prospect of two units with a 48-minutes-of-hell kind of defensive second group with Carter, Alex Caruso, Torrey Craig and perhaps Ayo Dosunmu to pressure full court and disrupt the game.
It also could mean nothing since the results don’t count, the regulars will only play about 15 minutes, it’s a rare noon game following a week of late nights in the honky-tonks (nah, I don’t believe they did that) and everyone will be hurrying to make sure they don’t miss the 49ers-Cowboys Sunday night kickoff.
It seems most likely that Williams will start at power forward. But with the addition of the savvy, veteran Craig, it’s possible Donovan could opt to bring Williams off the bench. Which Donovan often did the last six weeks of last season when the team’s record improved. Though Williams also is on the verge of contract extension consideration and remains the primary young talent on the roster.
“A lot of times people get wrapped up in starting and not starting. I don’t want to sit here and say this is our starting lineup right now because I don’t know that,” Donovan said. “Patrick has played a lot of his career here as a starter. He also has come off the bench and helped us. I think we want to put all our guys in a position where they can be successful. He (Williams) did have success in the second unit. That’s not to say he’s going to come off the bench. But it may indicate he’ll start and then we potentially get him back in there with that second unit where he can be in situations where he can be more aggressive. Patrick has had a good summer. He’s worked. I think he’s gotten better. I give him credit how much he has improved shooting from his rookie year to now. Him and Ayo and Coby, those young players, we need to take the next step.”
The regulars presumably won’t play that much for now, though I suppose we could get a glimpse of some competition with the Bucks unveiling their new superstar duo with Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. LaVine, DeRozan and Vučević may like the first word.
Though the word about those three also remains a Bulls concern. Shouldn’t they be producing more?
“You look at Zach, DeMar and Vooch, those three guys in particular had career effective field goal percentage (last season),” Donovan pointed out. “All three of those guys were in the top one, two of their best seasons. So how do you have three guys at that level offensively and look at the fact that we’re 24th on offense? We shot the ball 11th best of anyone in the league, our effective field goal percentage was good. The key for us was we did not get to the free throw line. We were 24th or 25th there, and the other part of it was we didn’t have many opportunities to offensive rebound. Our biggest challenge with this group is we’ve got to get into the paint. It’s not about plays and different things because I know we did get pretty predictable before with some of the injuries, becoming so heavily dominant by relying on DeMar. But we’ve got to do a better job spacing, a better job attacking the paint. The best opportunity to offensive rebound is on those shots (Craig is regarded as a top offensive rebounder). Then the third thing is where are you get kick-out threes. That’s got to be a real focus for us. We’ve not only got to play fast, but play with a purpose and get into situations where we have a mentality that is going to change our shot profile. I think what changes our shot profile is how well we can attack the paint.
“We struggled from an offensive standpoint (not) so much that we didn’t shoot the ball well or didn’t make any improvements on the fastbreak. We did not get to the free throw line at a high enough rate and we did not get to the offensive glass enough,” said Donovan. “Some of that is where we’re shooting the ball from, and to be honest with you we (were) one of the worst teams in the league last year in getting into the teeth of the defense. We’ve got to create the space to do that. So it’s not so much that I want those guys to change the way they play, but can they be more into a mindset and understanding of the way the game is going trend-wise. You’ve got to be able to make some plays at the basket to open up opportunities to offensive rebound and shoot free throws.’’
Which probably won’t be known yet after Sunday’s game.
As these things go, it also figures to be an opportunity to get a glimpse at some of the new and Windy City guys. Like rookie second rounder Julian Phillips, Onuralp Bitim from Turkey, Adama Sonogo, Carlik Jones, Justin Lewis and Henri Drell. If there’s a role this season for last year’s first round pick Dalen Terry. And what’s to become of Andre Drummond, who remains big at a time Donovan continues to talk about small ball type lineups with Caruso also perhaps at power forward and Williams indicating he’ll be in wing situations.
Perhaps most of all don’t forget the clever scheduling. It’s turned cold and the Bears aren’t playing this weekend. Good time to take that first look at the 2023-24 Bulls.