Bulls' season opener points to Lonzo Ball's importance


Artūras Karnišovas targeted Lonzo Ball since the March trade deadline, finally acquiring him via sign-and-trade in free agency.

Billy Donovan targeted playing at a faster pace since the offseason began.

With the Chicago Bulls set to begin their 57th season in franchise history on Wednesday in Detroit, Ball is at the center of a lot.

He’s the point guard, the connecting piece that Karnisovas and his staff coveted, the player most responsible for achieving Donovan’s preferred pace. Oh, and he also is a disruptor on defense, charged with picking some opponents up full-court and getting the Bulls out in transition with deflections, steals and stops.

No wonder he’s making $18.6 million this season.

“I feel good,” Ball said following the Bulls’ final tuneup practice on Tuesday at the Advocate Center. “I have a good understanding of everybody’s game right now, and I’m excited to play (Wednesday).’’

Following a 4-0 preseason, the Bulls finished eighth in pace and third in offensive rating. Like all coaches, Donovan, while praising his team’s work ethic and buy-in, focused on caveats like shorthanded opponents and aspects where the Bulls can get better.

But he also understands the importance of Ball and utilizing his strengths.

“I think with (Nikola Vučević) and DeMar (DeRozan) being guys who can post up, I think there are times where he’s seeing the floor and saying, ‘OK, I need to let these guys flow in.’ And then there’s also a responsibility to Lonzo from the other guys to get down the floor as well so he can get into the game what he gets into the game,” Donovan said. “I think where he really gets into the game is off missed shots. And that’s where we have to do a better job spacing-wise.

“Lonzo instinctively on made baskets does a really good job of getting high outlets. Sometimes when that high outlet comes, if hypothetically Vooch has inbounded it or we have two guys behind him, it’s hard to play at that breakneck speed because there’s nobody out there in front of you.  There are times where the ball gets inbounded and he’s looping and there are guys already down the floor and we can do that. There’s a balance there for him.”

With scorers like DeRozan and Zach LaVine, Ball understands the importance of attacking before defenses can get set. He’s developed a reputation during his first four seasons of making throw-ahead passes, focused more on making the right play than recording the primary assist.

As for where he stands with his current chemistry with new teammates, Ball said it’s good but can get better with game experience and watching film.

Ready or not, the games start coming fast — there’s that word again — on Wednesday.

"I felt (support) from the first day that I got here,” Ball said. “My teammates have been great. The coaches have been helping me. The front office has been great. And the city has been amazing. So I have no complaints. I’m happy to be here.” 

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