The Chicago Bulls opened their preseason with a 122-112 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Although the trio of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Otto Porter Jr. didn’t log many minutes, we saw glimpses of rookies Coby White and Daniel Gafford, and they excited many with great defense throughout portions of the game as well as producing plays on the offensive end that made fans jump out of their seats. This article will be a breakdown of what we saw from all of the Bulls players who logged court time in the first game of the preseason.
Many were intrigued to see how Zach LaVine took his game to the next level throughout the offseason. We saw early signs of improved playmaking ability when he ran the pick-and-roll to perfection with Cristiano Felicio on multiple occasions. The two-man game between LaVine and Lauri Markkanen was also evident in the Bulls loss to the Bucks. We saw a pick-and-pop resulting in an open three-point attempt for Markkanen. LaVine showed improved defense on multiple occasions, with one steal nearly resulting in a fastbreak dunk. Despite having heavy tape wrapped around his right hand, Zach ended up logging 22 minutes of play and scoring 16 points to go with six rebounds and five assists.
The Finnisher definitely had some rust to him in the Bulls first preseason outing. In the opening quarter, he stayed quiet and got up very few shots. He seemed to go back to his rookie days by lurking out on the perimeter waiting for an open three rather than recognizing a mismatch and taking the ball into the post, which he did so well during the February stretch last season. As the game went on, he warmed up to the task of being a main scoring option with back-to-back threes followed by a beautiful driving layup to begin the third quarter. Lauri looked a lot more polished on the defensive end. He showed signs of improved footwork, especially while out on the perimeter, and even got stops on former Bull, Robin Lopez, in the low post while playing at center. Like LaVine, Markkanen logged 22 minutes and provided the Bulls with 14 points and five rebounds while draining four out of eight threes.
Kris was given the start and did not leave Bulls fans disappointed. He started slowly with the first unit but did well at controlling the offense and finding open looks for his teammates. As the game progressed, his shot selection improved and he found himself in a nice rhythm towards the latter stages of the game. He played in lineups involving other point guards in Coby White and Tomas Satoransky and showed he is more than capable of playing off the ball. He even knocked down a three without hesitating, which is something he had to improve on if he wanted a role in this rotation. We all knew Dunn was a great defender, but having the ability to guard either guard position or the small forward provides the Bulls with great versatility and more depth in the roster. Dunn is definitely not done yet as he had a pleasant game, shooting 62% from the field while posting 11 points, three rebounds, three assists, and three steals in just over 23 minutes.
Otto Porter Jr.:
The main ‘glue guy’ of this young Chicago Bulls team seemed almost invisible throughout this game. Arguably the most important Bull on the roster, Otto lacked touches and wasn’t engaged on both ends of the floor throughout the first half. Coach Boylen ended up giving him the second half off due to load management. But per usual, Porter provided the Bulls with floor spacing and perimeter defense at the wing position, with the latter being something they lacked tonight with no Chandler Hutchison or Shaquille Harrison. In just 16 minutes, Otto gave the Bulls five points, two assists, and a steal while shooting 28%. Don’t be surprised if Otto shoots lights out on Wednesday night against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.
To the delight of many, Cristiano Felicio was given the start at center against the Bucks due to Wendell Carter Jr. remaining out with a bruised tailbone. Felicio often looks lost on the basketball court, but tonight was a totally different story. He was productive in his 16 minutes of action, producing six points, four rebounds, one assist, one block, and a great dunk coming off a Zach LaVine feed.
Although Felicio will most likely be at the end of the Bulls’ rotation this season, he showed he still has some value on an NBA court. It was a nice game for Cris.
Thaddeus Young got straight to work in his debut for the Chicago Bulls. The savvy veteran entering his 13th season provided the second unit with defense and leadership. It was clear when he was on the floor, the Bulls defense improved significantly. Aside from nearly throwing down a vicious dunk over the Lopez brothers, Thaddeus struggled on the offensive end. This was expected from a guy in a new system on a new team. He made a great play midway through the third quarter when he perfectly executed a pick-and-roll with rookie big Daniel Gafford, resulting in an alley-oop dunk. Thaddeus Young finished with four points, three rebounds, three assists, one block, and a steal in his first game at the United Center for the Bulls.
Another new Bull, Tomas Satoransky quickly made his presence felt on both ends of the floor. He provides the Bulls with great versatility at 6-foot-7 with the ability to play the one through three positions. We saw him at the small forward while slotting into a lineup with other point guards Kris Dunn and Coby White. This three-guard lineup executed the ‘multi-ball handler’ system to perfection with Satoransky’s ability to play off the ball. He struggled to get into a groove on the offensive end, but what stood out was his impact on the defensive end. He ended up with five steals, and his off-ball defense was impressive. To go with those five steals, Satoransky ended the game with two points, seven rebounds, and three assists. He is another guy you would expect to have a much better game on Wednesday against the Pelicans.
It had been 12 long months since Denzel Valentine last suited up for the Bulls after a severe foot injury. He immediately made an impact on his return, doing a great job at knocking down threes and setting up teammates. Wing floor spacers are vital in this league, and Valentine most definitely checks that box. Despite being obviously rusty, Denzel finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds, one assist, and two steals in around 20 minutes of action. All in all, it was great to see him healthy and back on the court.
The seventh pick out of North Carolina showed us that he is more than a scorer. White provided the Bulls with lockdown perimeter defense at times and did well at playing off the ball when on the floor with other ball handlers. He showed flashes of his lightning-quick speed by pushing the pace and getting the Bulls on fast breaks at any point in the game. Coby White ended the game with 12 points, two rebounds, one assist, and a steal. In his next outing, the key for Coby is to continue improving as a facilitator who can create shots for his teammates as well as shooting the rock at a higher clip (he was three for ten in this game).
What is not to love about Daniel Gafford? This man brought effort and passion throughout the entire game. He blocked shots, ran the floor, played defense, and even threw down a nasty alley-oop over Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
In simpler terms, he was fantastic. Sure, these are early days, but from what we’ve seen Gafford is tremendous for a second-round pick. The energy he plays with is a real boost for this Bulls team and it can help motivate them to play winning basketball. He will instantly become a fan-favorite at the United Center. Daniel Gafford will be this year’s draft steal, you can count on that. He ended the game posting 12 points and five rebounds to go along with three rejections.
Ryan, per usual, brought the consistency for the Bulls. He provided the hustle and high IQ basketball, which helped bring the Bulls back into the game when it got out of hand in the third quarter. With so many other guards on the roster, this preseason is vital for Arcidiacono in order to earn a spot in the rotation. By doing the basics at a high level, it would not surprise many if he earned the nod. In just over 17 minutes, Ryan Arcidiacono provided the Bulls with eight points, three rebounds, and two assists.
The two-way guard from France didn’t get much of an opportunity tonight for the Bulls, but what stood out was his ability to draw contact and get to the line. He ended the game with four free-throw attempts in 12 minutes of action. The next step for Adam is to stay out of foul trouble and be a reliable perimeter defender. Adam Mokaka ended the game with five points and one assist.
The 6-foot-5 guard out of St. John’s, who is on an exhibit 10 contract, checked in toward the dying stages of the game. He instantly caught the attention of the crowd with a clean drive resulting in a circus shot over several Bucks defenders. For Simon to earn his spot in the Bulls rotation, he needs to become a standout on the defensive end and play a similar role to David Nwaba when he was on the Bulls roster. While playing four minutes, Justin Simon ended the game with six points and two rebounds.
The Bulls did end up with a lot of steals and blocks, but the major letdown against the Bucks was the perimeter defense, which lacked especially while missing standout defenders in Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, and Shaquille Harrison. One thing that impressed me was seeing the Bulls play at a faster pace and shoot more threes — which was something coach Jim Boylen made sure to implement into this Bulls offense. Let me know what your thoughts were on the Bulls opening preseason game against the Bucks were on Twitter @joshjbullshoops, or email me at email@example.com.
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