Donovan thinks he can improve Bulls' player development

  • New Bulls coach Billy Donovan, here directing his Oklahoma City team in the NBA playoffs last month in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., says the Bulls can improve in the player development area.

    New Bulls coach Billy Donovan, here directing his Oklahoma City team in the NBA playoffs last month in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., says the Bulls can improve in the player development area. Associated Press

Updated 9/24/2020 5:44 PM

As they watch the NBA playoffs from a safe distance, one thing that's been painfully obvious for the Bulls is how far behind they are compared to the best teams in the league.

Not just in wins and losses, but how the team operates, how it develops players and how much it values winning.


Miami is the obvious example, since the Heat built around a player the Bulls didn't want, Jimmy Butler, and currently sits one win away from reaching the Finals.

But it's more than that. Miami has turned young players into confident playoff contributors and even has a homegrown coach in Erik Spoelstra, who is one of the league's best. The Denver Nuggets, Arturas Karnisovas' former team, is another in the same category.

Karnisovas introduced new Bulls head coach Bill Donovan via Zoom call on Thursday, so with a new front office and new head coach, the Bulls are taking steps toward behaving like a team that cares about winning. What's next?

"I think that I played for maybe the greatest player development coach in the world in Rick Pitino," Donovan said of his coach at Providence and briefly with the New York Knicks. "What he ended up doing for my career and the time and investment he made was extremely profound. Then going with him to Kentucky as an assistant coach and the emphasis being on player development.

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"It's twofold. Yes, it's talking to the players. Yes, it's trying to put them in situations. But you've got to get them on the court. They've got to work to get better. They've got to work and embrace their role. They've got to obviously study film. It's a pretty extensive thing."

The Bulls have done plenty of skill development with their players, working in the gym during the summer. But there are more subtle ways where the Bulls haven't succeeded.

For example, the Heat right now is getting clutch shots from young players, while playing maybe the best defense in the Orlando bubble. The Bulls have a history of young players losing confidence and struggling defensively. See Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and others, while Lauri Markkanen was headed in that direction during the past season.

"I've always said, if you don't want to take non-paint 2s then you can't have non-paint 2 players," Donovan said. "If you want to be a 3-point shooting team, you've got to put all 3-point shooters out there. I think you want players to play to their strengths."


Certainly, that was one issue with the Bulls last season. They tried to force a Houston Rockets-style, 3-point heavy offense on a roster with no great 3-point shooters.

"I think you've got to spend time with players to let me hear from them how do they want to be used," Donovan said. "How do they feel like they're most effective? What are things they feel most comfortable doing? How can you take advantage of their skill set and their offense?"

Donovan said he does not plan to join the Bulls for the remainder of their two-week minicamp, which began Wednesday, due to quarantine restrictions and safety concerns. Holdover assistant coaches Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers are running the show.

Donovan said when he mutually parted ways with Oklahoma City, it wasn't because the Thunder planned to move into rebuilding mode due to economic reasons, as had been reported. He said he left the Thunder with no thoughts about what might happen next and would have been fine with sitting out a year.

But Karnisovas was aggressive. Donovan said he heard from the Bulls new vice president of basketball operations shortly after he returned to his home in Florida, then Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley flew down for a meeting.

"I wanted be in a situation where everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction, everybody is pulling together, everybody is working for the same cause," Donovan said. "I think Arturas was looking for that, looking to partner with somebody as a coach to try and continue to develop and build the program.

"I think we've got work ahead of us here in Chicago, there's no question about that. I'm excited about that, I look forward to that."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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