As much as these next few weeks will be about the Chicago Bulls’ playoff push, it will double as one of the last opportunities for roster evaluation.
When the front office went all-in on a deal for Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, they raised their own standard for the on-court product next season.
Not winning is no longer an option.
With two All-Stars in-house, pressure will be on the Bulls to bring in a third, or at least the proper supporting cast around them, ahead of a playoff run in 2021-2022.
But before Chicago can look at the upcoming market, they must first look inward at their own free agents to be.
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Theis, Vucevic Making for a Deadly Duo
In addition to Nikola Vucevic, the Chicago Bulls also brought in center Daniel Theis at the trade deadline.
The fourth-year big is averaging 9.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in his 16 games with the team.
Now a member of the Bulls’ starting five, Theis is flashing an impact on both ends that Chicago may not be able to live without in their path to contention.
His 23-point explosion in their 110-102 win over the Miami Heat speaks to that more than anything else.
Theis also had 12 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks in 32 minutes of play.
When speaking with reporters (via NBC Sports) after the game, it was his Vucevic, not head coach Billy Donovan, who was singing his praises after the big win:
He’s a great teammate. You see a lot of things that he did in Boston that people don’t necessarily see because it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, or if you don’t watch games regularly you won’t see it. But he just does so much stuff for us on the defensive end, on the offensive end. He’s a very unselfish guy and a willing passer. He’s a skilled player as well.
The two-time All-Star even admitted to being happy the two are on the same team now, citing his own struggles scoring against Theis in the past:
He was actually always one of the toughest matchups I faced. Very good defender. Very smart. He doesn’t give you anything easy. He makes you work for everything. He’s hard to play against.
It may actually have been tougher than Vucevic would like to admit.
According to NBA.com’s Matchups Head-to-Head tracking, he shot four-of-14 from the field with Theis as his primary defender in the two games they faced each other prior to the trade deadline.
With the Orlando Magic, he was winless against the Boston Celtics this season. So the math checks out.
Vucevic had a night of his own, with 24 points and 11 rebounds. The immediate results of Donovan’s two-bigs lineup are promising, with Chicago now 4-3 in games with Theis in the starting five.
On their play as a duo, Vucevic is optimistic:
Our games fit and we can pay high-low a lot. I can seal. He can seal. He’s very good on screen-and-rolls. He’s a good finisher around the rim. And then defensively, he also helps me. So I think he’s a great player.
The only question now is whether or not this play from the two big men is sustainable, once All-Star guard Zach LaVine makes his return to the starting lineup.
Chicago Wants to Retain Theis Long-term
Rest assured, the Chicago Bulls have been vocal in their desires to keep Daniel Theis beyond this season.
Just one week ago, before their win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach Billy Donovan told reporters that the team has hopes to resign him as an unrestricted free agent this offseason:
We didn’t get into maybe that depth of conversation (before trading for him), but I would say in our conversations, there’s no question that myself and Artūras and (general manager) Marc (Eversley) really like him (Theis) as a player. So I would think that our hope would be a long-term possibility.
It’s unsurprising to hear the head coach talk that way of someone recently brought into the fold. Rarely does a team trade for a pending free agent without some thoughts of bringing them back in the following season.
It’ll be up to Daniel Theis ultimately if his future and the Chicago Bulls’ align.
Right now, they’re looking like a team desperate to keep him around.