Bulls should finish the season re-thinking everyone's role
The Bulls started the season with a set lineup and a plan to challenge for the playoffs.
None of that worked out. Now they're in a strange spot, with former starters coming back from injuries and playing like they're living through a second preseason. Meanwhile, Coby White and Shaq Harrison are hitting personal peaks and top scorer Zach LaVine could return from a quad strain on Sunday in Brooklyn.
"Yeah, we're in a time of transition. We're in a time with a lot of moving parts," coach Jim Boylen said Saturday at the United Center. "We've played some lineups we've never played."
Boylen was asked if it's time to rethink everything. Not just putting White in the starting lineup, but experiment with new roles across the board. A lot of guys who were expected to be key pieces haven't delivered, while others are showing promise.
"Yeah, I think all those things," Boylen said. "I don't think we envisioned Gaff (rookie center Daniel Gafford) playing this many minutes and having the kind of season he's having and how much he's grown. I don't think we envisioned Shaq starting and making 8 of his last 9 threes, which is just an unbelievable accomplishment for him.
"The fact that Coby was rookie of the month in the Eastern Conference (for February) to me is just a huge growth plate for him from where he was in summer league and when we first got him. And not that we didn't love him and he wasn't talented, but he's improved."
White's hot streak extended to seven straight games of scoring at least 19 points in Friday's loss to Indiana. During that stretch, White has averaged 27.7 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 50.4% from the field and 46.2% from 3-point range.
It's only seven games, but White's sudden improvement turned a lost season for the Bulls into a vision of a brighter future almost overnight.
"He doesn't think he's a complete player (yet), but you can see how much his game has grown so fast," LaVine said Saturday. "It's exciting. I'm excited to play with him. Obviously, I think we can be a dynamic duo."
Since Kris Dunn is out for the season with a knee injury, it would make sense to keep playing Harrison heavy minutes. He somehow went from a career 28% shooter from 3-point range to hitting 8 of 9 in the last two contests. And the lone miss was a half-court heave at the first quarter buzzer Friday.
Harrison, who has long been known as a defensive specialist, has hit season-highs in the last two games, with 17 points in Minnesota on Wednesday, then 25 against the Pacers.
Gafford has also made nice strides. The second-round pick from Arkansas has become one of the Bulls' leaders in net rating and plus-minus during the past seven games.
Needless to say, no one expected the Bulls to reach Game 63 of the season with White, Harrison and Gafford the team's most effective players.
"I think that day is probably coming (when White starts)," Boylen said. "And is there a time when we look at the development side of this? We've talked all year about developing and winning. Is that day coming? I would say, 'Yes, probably.' When, I'm not exactly sure."
LaVine participated in portions of Saturday's practice after missing his third game with the quad strain. He said he'll see how he feels Sunday before deciding whether he'll play in Brooklyn.
"I don't have a real decision on it yet," LaVine said. "Obviously, I'm not going to rush it. I didn't get to go up and down for full. But if I wake up and I feel good, who knows?"
Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Barclays Center
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Nets surprisingly fired coach Kenny Atkinson on Saturday, so former assistant Jacque Vaughn will lead the team in this game. ... The last time the Bulls were in Brooklyn on Jan. 31, Kris Dunn suffered a season-ending knee injury 13 seconds into the game and Kyrie Irving scored 54 points in a 133-118 Nets victory. ... Now Irving is out with a shoulder injury, while SG Caris LeVert is on a hot streak. LeVert scored 51 points in a win at Boston on Tuesday and added a triple-double in Brooklyn's 139-120 win over San Antonio on Friday. Ex-Bulls PG Spencer Dinwiddie is averaging 20.5 ppg. ... The Bulls are 0-2 against the Nets this season
Next: Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. Tuesday at the United Center
-- Mike McGraw