The Chicago Bulls are off to a strong start to the 2021-22 NBA season after defeating the Pistons on opening night and dismantling the Pelicans at the United Center on Friday. Overall, the team has looked like a contender in the Eastern Conference, but certain players will need to step up considering the November schedule is much more difficult.
If the Bulls go .500 during that span, it would be a satisfactory outcome. But in order for that to happen, Zach LaVine and the core players will need some help. Coby White would typically fill this role, but his timeline to return from a shoulder injury remains unclear. Alex Caruso and Javonte Green have performed well well so far, but the rest of the bench needs to be ready to fill important roles. While the Bulls can continue to bum slay in October, the following players need to elevate their respective games.
Patrick Williams, the lone starter on this list, had an underwhelming first two games. Despite suffering a shoulder strain against the Pistons, he was still able to play. But beyond the physical bumps and bruises, Williams' issues are mental.
He had eight points and four rebounds in 24 minutes vs. the Pelicans after recording six points and one rebound in 28 minutes against the Pistons. Those figures constitute an abysmal start to the season for the 2020 fourth overall draft pick. As our friend Joe Cowley wrote in a recent article, Williams has passed up open shots multiple times.
Williams got a bit of a pass during his rookie season since the NBA was on an accelerated COVID schedule. Heading into his second season, the 20-year-old forward had an entire offseason to figure things out. Though two games is an extremely small sample size, the early returns indicate Williams hasn’t done so.
The Bulls view Williams as an integral piece of the puzzle that will help keep the team's competitive window open for the next decade. So how does the situation get resolved? Billy Donovan must deploy Williams in situations that are better suited for him. As things currently stand, it looks as though Williams is on the path to being more of a role player, which would be a major letdown considering his high draft slot.
Alize Johnson is another player that simply must see more minutes. The Bulls still don’t have clarity regarding the order of their backup bigs, but Johnson has proven to be a freak on the glass.
Against the Pistons, he didn't score but pulled down four rebounds in 12 minutes. At home against the Pelicans, Johnson had a better line of eight points, eight rebounds, and two assists in 14 minutes. Johnson must continue to build on those improving figures against weak opponents, which can hopefully translate over against playoff contenders. If that scenario comes to fruition, he can earn the permanent backup big spot.
On opening night against the Pistons, Ayo Dosunmu showed his fearlessness as he fit in nicely among the Bulls' rotation. Even though he was a late first-round talent that fell to the Bulls in the second round, many assumed Dosunmu would have to earn his way into the rotation. But in 11 minutes against Detroit, Dosunmu had seven points on 3-8 shooting with two rebounds and one block. Four of his points came within the span of a few seconds.
However, Dosunmu's issues included turnovers and inconsistent shooting. As he sees more action, he must adapt to the speed of the game at the highest level. The Bulls' remaining October slate of games will be vital for Dosunmu in making those adjustments. If there is an injury in November, Dosunmu may be the one Donovan calls upon to fill a void in the rotation.
While Matt Thomas was the last signing to fill out the roster, he plays a fairly important role with Coby White sidelined. Thomas is the experienced shooter on the bench. Last year, he played about seven minutes per game with both the Jazz and Raptors. He averages 44% from the floor and 41% from three-point range in his two-year career.
With the passing ability the Bulls have, can Thomas continue that trend? Or once White comes back, does Tyler Cook stick around with Thomas being the roster casualty? Only time will tell, but Thomas can build his case to remain with the Bulls by knocking down his shots whenever he sees the court.