Bulls' ball movement stands out in loss to Zion Williamson's Pelicans


Zion Williamson lived up to the hype. The Bulls’ offense created some.

On a night Williamson drew oohs and aahs from the United Center crowd while scoring 29 points on just one missed shot, the Bulls’ ball movement proved sublime. They posted 38 assists on 49 field goals in a 127-125 preseason loss to the Pelicans.

The Bulls’ reserves blew a 23-point, fourth-quarter lead as the Pelicans outscored them 41-18 in the fourth. But for the second straight game, the Bulls attempted at least 37 3-pointers and looked like a well-oiled machine while the regulars played.

Zach LaVine’s 28 points in 24 minutes led the way, while Otto Porter Jr. posted 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

But this game went beyond numbers and into nuance. Twice, including when Luke Kornet started the second half for Cristiano Felicio, coach Jim Boylen sent five shooters to the floor.

The other stint came in the second quarter when Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kornet scored 20 points in 5 minutes. To say this is a luxury for Boylen---and a departure from last season---would be like saying Williamson can dunk.

“I thought at moments we looked like a team,” Boylen said. “We looked like how we want to look.”

As expected, Satoransky drew the start at point guard after Kris Dunn got that assignment in Monday’s preseason opener against the Bucks. After an initial turnover-filled stint, Satoransky finished with 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals, repeatedly moving the ball quickly and accurately.

For the first time, Boylen said he won’t take all preseason to name his starting point guard. Given how well the ball moved with Satoransky starting, he likely is the leader in the clubhouse.

“I had some quick turnovers early. I’m still learning some situations. I’m learning that Zach is quick so you have to give him the pass early,” Satoransky said. “But I think we did a good job of moving the ball. I think we showed how we want to play in the season---moving the ball well, having open shooters and play with pace.”

The assists were more than the Bulls posted all season. And having so much shooting on the floor should do wonders for LaVine, who consistently drew double teams or got blitzed by defenses in pick-and-roll situations last season.

Boylen called LaVine “a special cat” who is “locked in” this preseason.

“When I do drive, defenses are either going to have to stay at home or if they bring help, we have five shooters,” LaVine said. “It definitely opens the floor up.

“The more we play together, I feel the ball is going to pop around the perimeter a little better. (Satoransky) pushes the pace. Even a couple of the turnovers that he had were the right play. He was going to feel out some lobs and backdoors. It’s going to be fun for somebody like me who can get in transition. It helps me move without the ball a lot better.”

The United Center will host the All-Star game in February. Williamson and LaVine would make for a juicy dunk contest.

“I wanted to see what it was like first-hand. I’m a competitive guy,” LaVine said of their respective dunks. “He’s the truth.”

Indeed, the postgame praise flowed for the No. 1 overall pick, who consistently got to the rim.

“I was amazed at his body control for a guy that big,” Boylen said of Williamson. “There were moments where it looked like he wasn’t going to get to the rim and he did.”

The Bulls only shot 17 free throws but consistently had open looks because of their ball movement. Kornet, who finished with nine points and four assists in his debut, added an element the Bulls didn’t previously have.

“It’s good to have Kornet out there,” Boylen said. “He’s a good player. He understands how to play the game.

“We have a chance to be a good team because of the shooting and versatility and different combinations. We did a better job of getting into some combinations we wanted to see. One was Markkanen and Kornet.

“We’ve added experience and intelligence to this team with Satoransky and Kornet and Thad. When you don’t have an agenda and just play the game, it’s really fun and freeing.”

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