Bulls Insider

Bulls face 4 significant storylines as training camp nears

From the starting lineup to Patrick Williams' development, the 2023-24 season offers intrigue

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls gather for media day on Monday before flying to Nashville, Tenn., for their first week of training camp.

Plenty of questions and storylines surround any NBA team. The Bulls are no exception.

Here are four related to on-the-court matters and not, say, whether or not DeMar DeRozan will be extended:

Will the offense improve?

If followers of the team had a dollar for every time somebody said “how can a team with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević finish 24th in offensive rating?” then those people might be as rich as those highly-paid players. Who command their salaries in large part for their ability to put the ball in the basket.

So how did the Bulls finish 24th in offense? And how can they be better?

It’s well documented the Bulls represented the only NBA team that didn’t attempt at least 30 3-pointers per game last season. So part of the offensive issue is a simple math problem. In too many games, the Bulls made a similar amount of field goals as their opponent, only to lose the 3-point battle.

But it won’t just be adding Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig via free agency and letting 3-pointers fly. In general, look for the offensive philosophy to be tweaked. Sure, there will be moments where hero ball is needed, particularly in crunch time when the game slows. DeRozan’s midrange magic will still have a role.

But look for the Bulls to try to play faster in transition and attack the paint in the halfcourt, leading to spray-out passes for 3-point shots.

Beyond that, Vučević’s passing and shooting ability likely will be used more as an offensive hub, where he works at the elbow with players cutting off him. Sacramento utilizes Domantas Sabonis in similar sets.

And don’t be surprised to see DeRozan’s scoring take a small dip and his assists average rise, a la his San Antonio Spurs days.

The Bulls also ranked 26th in free-throw attempts and must get to the line more. This is tied into the desire by the coaching staff to see more paint attacks.

Can the defense hold steady?

When a team desires to play faster offensively and attempt to take more 3-pointers, one potentially negative byproduct can be placing more pressure on the defense.

Beyond a solid coaching scheme and effort and execution from the players, one reason the Bulls fielded a top-five defense last season is they had the opportunity to set their defense so frequently. Their offensive attack and lack of offensive rebounding often led to strong floor balance and solid defensive transition.

Can they keep that up in light of their new desired offensive approach?

Carter and Craig arrive with stellar defensive reputations. Caruso, who earned his first All-Defensive spot, isn’t going anywhere. Billy Donovan never seems to get enough credit for his defensive acumen. He now has coached five top-10 defenses in his eight years in the NBA.

If the Bulls can improve their offense and have their defense either even or only slightly below last season, good things could be in store.

Is this the season Patrick Williams breaks out?

If followers of the team had a dollar for every time somebody said, “is this the season Patrick Williams . . .” Oh wait, we already used that cliché.

But Williams’ potential contrasted with his bouts with passiveness stretch all the adjectives. On a guard-heavy roster, Williams must produce.

It’s telling that, in separate interviews, management figures essentially placed the onus for this season on Williams.

“I think it’s a really important year for Patrick, one as a player and two in our locker room to kind of complement (the core),” general manager Marc Eversley said in August during an appearance on the Bulls Talk Podcast. “We’ve talked a lot about people fitting in with (LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic). I think Patrick is going to be challenged with the same thing. But I think this year is the year where he really needs to step it up and figure it out.

“You talked about his 3-point shooting, up over 40 percent. He has shown flashes over the first three years. I want to see him show more instances of flashes, more consistency. He’s got it in him. A lot of that comes with growth off the court. And he’s starting to grow. He’s starting to get it. It’s starting to click. And when he puts it together, we might have something special.”

Williams played well in a reserve role after Donovan inserted Patrick Beverley and Caruso into the starting lineup after the All-Star break. Regardless his role, Williams needs to continue his growth as a two-way player and improve his rebounding.

Who will start?

In an appearance on WSCR-AM 670, Eversley and Artūras Karnišovas said point guard will be an open competition between Carter, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu.

LaVine, DeRozan and Vučević are locks.

At power forward, Williams, Craig and Caruso are in the mix.

Assuming health, all of these players save for perhaps Dosunmu project to log heavy rotational minutes. The thing about Dosunmu is: Every time he seems to be counted out, he keeps coming at you. He’s relentless.

But Donovan and his coaching staff are loaded at guard and must find minutes for Carter, White, LaVine and Caruso, although the Bulls have used Caruso at power forward in the past.

The closing lineup may be more intriguing than the starting lineup. The Bulls possess a solid, 10-man rotation in Carter, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams, Vučević, Caruso, White, Craig, Dosunmu and Andre Drummond.

A big reason why the Bulls dropped from 46 to 40 wins last season is because of their poor record in clutch games, a contest that’s within five points with 5 minutes to play. They dropped from a 25-16 mark in 2021-22 in such games to 15-23 last season.

So Donovan’s closing lineup beyond LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic will be intriguing.

Every season is intriguing in its own fashion. Let the storylines begin to play out on Monday.

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