Ten games in, new lineup not yet clicking for Bulls
It's been 10 games since the NBA trade deadline, and it appears the world is moving too fast for these Bulls.
With those 10 games in a span of 17 days, there hasn't been much time to practice, regroup or figure out the chemistry with five new players on the roster. The Bulls are just 3-7 since adding Nikola Vucevic and friends, and the victories all came against teams that were missing at least two key players.
"Nothing is really easy. You've got to figure it out," Zach LaVine said after Monday's loss in Memphis. "No one is going to care or feel bad for you. We know we're a better team now, and we've just got to start figuring it out. It doesn't matter the teams that we play. We should go in there and expect to win each time if we play the right way."
The Bulls have played nine of those 10 games on the road and now are back at home for three straight. But the schedule doesn't slow down, with a stretch of six games in nine days on the docket. The next time they'll get consecutive days off is May 4-5.
So it's been hard to tell if anything is moving in the right direction for the Bulls, but here's a look at some stats and issues:
• A couple things don't make much sense. In the last 10 games, the Bulls actually lead the NBA in assists per game, but their scoring has dropped from 113.0 points before the trade to 109.3 after.
• There's been a big dip in 3-point production. In the last game games, they've averaged 9.9 baskets from 3-point land per game and shot 32.4 percent. Before the trade it was 12.8 and 37.6. That's with Vucevic shooting a team-best 42.9% from 3-point range since he got to town, and none of the guys who left in the trade were 3-point contributors.
• The Bulls are giving up a lot of points in the paint with the new lineup. Overall, the defense hasn't been a total disaster, but it's certainly not very good. Their defensive rating ranks 22nd in the league over the past 10 games.
Here's the individual defensive rating of the Bulls starters in that time frame: LaVine 112.2, Thad Young 113.6, Tomas Satoransky 115.6, Vucevic 118.6 and Patrick Williams 119.9. Defensive rating is the number of points the opponent scores per 100 possessions while that player is on the court, so smaller is better.
It's surprising to see LaVine so far out in front, and it helps illustrate why the defense is struggling. Ranked by net rating (offense minus defense), the Bulls' starters look like this: Young +2.3, LaVine -4.1, Satoransky -6.4, Vucevic -11.8 and Williams -16.9.
This tells us a few things: Young makes a greater impact on offense than defense, Vucevic has not been a difference-maker and Williams is really struggling right now.
As an informed NBA observer, my general opinion of Vucevic's defense was that he was awful when he first got to Orlando, but improved quite a bit. Now I'm wondering, did he really improve defensively or did the numbers look better once Jonathan Isaac, a strong defender, started playing next to him with the Magic? That will be something to monitor for future roster moves, because the Bulls clearly need to give him some help.
Going back to last season, defense will always be an issue with Satoransky in the starting lineup, because at 6-7 he has little chance of staying in front of smaller, quicker opponents. That's why the Bulls were much better last year when Kris Dunn joined the starting lineup.
The Bulls may not have the personnel to do much about the interior defense right now, but here are couple ideas: First, add Troy Brown Jr. to the starting lineup and give Williams a chance to regroup a little bit. Williams hasn't been the defensive stopper the Bulls hoped he could be, while Brown's net rating since joining the Bulls is a whopping +14.7. The numbers are always a little skewed for reserves, since they're not playing against the opposition's best players, but Brown deserves a shot.
And this might sound crazy, but maybe they should try starting Ryan Arcidiacono at point guard, just to see if he could bring a more competitive defensive effort. Satoransky's point guard skills are very good, but allowing penetration just puts more pressure on an already shaky interior defense.
The play-in tournament remains a realistic goal, but the Bulls brain trust also needs to figure out how to turn the LaVine-Vucevic pairing into a winning proposition. Clearly, there's still a long way to go.