McGraw: Bulls offense can thrive by keeping Vucevic involved

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls' Nikola Vucevic backs into the paint as Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Chicago.

    Chicago Bulls' Nikola Vucevic backs into the paint as Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/29/2022 7:39 PM

The Bulls continued to work on the puzzle of paint touches during Monday's win at Utah.

The theory is getting the ball to center Nikola Vucevic in the post makes the Bulls' offense more efficient. This can happen in a couple of ways:

 

• When Vucevic gets some shots in the post early in the game, he gets himself going and is more apt to shoot well from 3-point range as the game goes on.

• Making sure opponents respect Vucevic's post game helps open up the entire offense because he can draw double-teams and kick it out to unguarded shooters.

Regarding the first point, Vucevic agreed with the premise.

"I do. It's obviously probably my best quality on offense, but we're trying to find a way to play where it's a mix of everything," Vucevic said this week. "I think for sure, it's one of my best qualities. I feel like I'm one of the best big men at it in the NBA, it's what I've built my career off."

This doesn't mean the Bulls need to go inside to Vucevic every time or anything. But during the past two seasons, they've gone through long stretches where they forget all about him.

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Maybe one area where this pays off is Vucevic's assists. He had none in the losses to Denver and New Orleans, then combined for 10 when the Bulls beat Boston and Milwaukee in back-to-back games.

In the overtime loss in Oklahoma City last Friday, Vucevic went 5-for-7 from 2-point range and 1-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arch. Against a smaller team like OKC or Boston, it makes sense to utilize some big-man skills.

"We could have maybe played more inside-out with him, maybe that would have helped," coach Billy Donovan said after the loss to the Thunder. "No question, I think we could have done a better job in certain situations of finding Vuc."

Against Utah, the Bulls fell behind in the first half, then took control in the third quarter while outscoring the Jazz 33-20. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine combined for 19 points in that third quarter, while Vucevic took 1 shot in nine minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's no doubt the Bulls are often at their best when DeRozan and LaVine are locked in and looking to score. At the same time, Utah didn't have a true center in the lineup Monday, mostly using Jarred Vanderbilt and Kelly Olynyk.

Vucevic was asked if he feels comfortable telling the coaching staff or teammates when there's a favorable advantage inside.

"Sometimes," he said. "It depends on how the game is going and how I feel. If I see something, I'll talk to Billy. I'm not really the type of guy to go and be like, 'Hey, give me (the ball).' It kind of depends on the game. Billy's a coach that likes communication like that, so for sure I go to him and say that."

The Bulls are halfway through their six-game, non-circus road trip with a 2-1 record. Vucevic will face DeAndre Ayton on Wednesday in Phoenix, followed by Golden State and Sacramento this weekend.

Chemistry on both ends of the floor continues to be a work in progress for the Bulls. The Utah game was a good night for the bench as well, with Coby White scoring 15 points, while Andre Drummond piled up 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes.

"It's something we're trying to figure out," Vucevic said. "Find a good balance of me not just being in there and kind of clogging it up for everybody, but also using that as a weapon for us -- not only for me to score but I feel like that's where a lot of my passing can come in if teams collapse or help, we can get good plays out of it."

Bulls extend Donovan:

Bulls PR confirmed a report that the team agreed to a contract extension with coach Billy Donovan before the season. According to NBA insider Shams Charania, the Bulls added additional years to his original four-year contract. Now in his third season with the Bulls, Donovan has posted an 86-88 record and led the Bulls to their first playoff appearance in five years last spring.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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