New Bulls coach Donovan gets right to the point with Coby White
The coaches and front office are different, while the players are essentially the same.
That's the Bulls in a nutshell as they officially opened training camp at the Advocate Center on Tuesday. The first three days of camp are individual workouts only, due to COVID precautions. Full team practices will start on Sunday, while the Bulls' preseason opener is Dec. 11 against Houston.
When new coach Billy Donovan spoke to reporters via Zoom call, there wasn't much to ask besides what he thinks about the players that won 22 games for the Bulls last season.
A good place to start was second-year guard Coby White. It seems like a long time ago, but when the Bulls ended last season on March 10, White was finishing an impressive nine-game run where he averaged 26.1 points and shot 48 percent from the field.
White's highest-scoring game of that stretch was 35 points against Donovan's Oklahoma City squad on Feb. 25.
"He's obviously going to be a vital, important part of us going forward," Donovan said. "Coby will be the primary ballhandler.
"I think he got a lot of valuable playing time and a lot of valuable experience last year. So generally I think you see players when they get that kind of experience generally make a jump and make some growth."
While Donovan tries to keep White rolling through the Bulls' nine-month layoff, Lauri Markkanen needs to turn things around after a disappointing third season.
Asked about Markkanen, Donovan mentioned how the league tends to catch up with young players. It certainly seemed like opponents made a point of getting more physical with the 7-foot Finland native.
"I've had some conversations with Lauri. He is a great guy," Donovan said. "Everybody knows he can put the ball on the floor and he can shoot it. But can we try to create some situations for him where he becomes a little more difficult to guard?
"I think Lauri has really worked hard this offseason. I think he's going to continue to evolve and get better. What I do not want him to be, from watching film, is a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot forward. I think those guys become too easy to guard."
Center Wendell Carter Jr. seemed to be on the right track last season, but in each of his two years with the Bulls, he's suffered major injuries in January that caused him to miss significant time. Donovan talked about Carter adding some perimeter skills to his arsenal.
Then there's the Bulls' fourth top-10 draft pick of the past four years, rookie forward Patrick Williams. Donovan mentioned how difficult it will be for all NBA rookies, since they had two weeks to get ready for the season, compared to the usual three-month buildup with summer league.
Williams climbed the board quickly in the weeks before the draft, all the way to the Bulls at No. 4. He never started and posted modest stats as a freshman at Florida State. But he also grew 8 inches during high school after playing point guard for most of his life, which is usually a great sign.
"He's very, very gifted and very talented," Donovan said. "Hopefully he will continue to evolve as a player. There will be an adjustment in the speed and the pace and the size and the length of the game, but he's a guy I think over time he'll be able to adjust to that.
"The things I've been really impressed with is getting a chance to meet his family, getting a chance to spend some time with him. He's a great kid, extremely humble, I think hardworking, wants to learn, wants to get better."
The new additions to the roster are Williams and veteran guard Garrett Temple, along with two-way player Devon Dotson, a rookie guard from Kansas. Veteran power forward Noah Vonleh is in camp trying to make the team, but the Bulls currently have 15 players on guaranteed contracts, so it's not clear what his chances are.
The players from last season who are no longer around are guards Kris Dunn (Atlanta) and Shaq Harrison. Former DePaul star Max Strus, a Bulls' two-way player last year, signed with Miami.