Donovan pushing Bulls hard to keep improving
A couple things have stood out about Billy Donovan's coaching style during these first two months of Bulls season.
For one, he's really good at putting his players in position to be successful. On the offensive end, the Bulls are running a system that utilizes the talents of the main guys.
That's why Zach LaVine is an all-star, Coby White hasn't been overwhelmed by a new role, Thad Young has reinvented himself as "Thadgic Johnson," Garrett Temple found a fountain of youth and Wendell Carter is learning new ways to be successful.
The other trait is Donovan dwells on the negative like a gloomy cartoon character. In the postgame Zooms, if a comment is made along the lines of, "You guys seemed to do this really well tonight," Donovan will counter with, "But we didn't do this other thing particularly well."
Donovan will then talk for several minutes, in great detail, about the flaw in the Bulls' performance, why it's bad for the team, how it can get better and maybe slide off into a few tangential issues along the way.
Donovan doesn't come across as a coach who screams at his players or is insanely hard to please. It feels like he's someone who stands in front of the team and says things like, "You guys chose to be professional basketball players, don't you want to win more games?"
After beating Minnesota in overtime Wednesday, the Bulls have five wins in their last six contests and moved into a virtual tie for fifth place in the East with a 15-16 record.
During the postgame Zoom, Donovan acknowledged it's nice to get some wins, but he thinks the Bulls could be so much better.
"These guys have put a lot of work in," Donovan said. "They've been great to work with. I've enjoyed every day with these guys. But I think part of my disappointment is I see so much more in them, and there can be so much more in them."
The Bulls almost squandered Wednesday's game against the league's worst team. They also haven't done well against the NBA elites, but will get another chance coming up, with the next three games against Phoenix, Toronto and Denver.
When asked how he feels about the Bulls showing some progress and joining the playoff race, Donovan talked about setting a high standard as the primary goal.
"I'm happy about (the success), but I still want these guys to strive for more," Donovan said. "I don't want to have a team where it's like, 'OK, you know, this is great.' We need to strive to be better.
"I've always felt like at the end of the year, when you throw everything into it, you don't want to have any regrets. And I think for this group, I know that we haven't won a lot and they maybe have made some strides, but I think there's more this team can do and I just feel like I need to keep pushing them and challenging them."
From the players' perspective, no one admitted to wanting to tell Donovan to chill out.
"I love it, man. Never satisfied," White said. "I got the sense that it's never going to stop, no mater how good we are. I love it, man. Everybody on the team loves it.
"He keeps pushing us, he keeps challenging us, each and every day to become a better team. We still have a long way to go as a team, so he's not going to quit until we get to where we want to. I don't get annoyed by any means."
There's a great example in Bulls history of how a team can start the season with no expectations and still soar. Scott Skiles led the 2004-2005 squad from an 0-9 start to a top-four seed in the East, with four rookies in the playing rotation. Looking at the Eastern Conference standings today, a top four seed is not at all far-fetched.
But like most coaches, Donovan is focused on the minor details, because accomplishing the little things will lead to success in the long run.
"We need to keep being more consistent in terms of playing to an identity, because I think that's what really good teams do," he said. "Regardless of who they're playing against, they play to a certain standard, and that's what you try to build."
In Donovan's case, it's done one complaint at a time.
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