It’s only been nine days since the NBA trade deadline, but it’s likely felt more like nine years for the Chicago Bulls, who have lost four straight since last Thursday.
The arrivals of Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis have done little to shore up their lapses on the defensive end of the ball.
Chicago’s opponents are averaging 117.5 points per game during the losing streak, and the Bulls have the NBA’s worst Defensive Rating at 119.3 points per 100 possessions over their last four.
It’s been the story of their season, and could ultimately headline the 2020-2021 campaign’s closing chapter.
Two names acquired at last Thursday’s trade deadline, Al-Farouq Aminu and Troy Brown Jr., both registered DNP-Coach’s Decisions for Chicago’s latest loss.
The Bulls fell short of a comeback win over the Utah Jazz, 113-106, allowing Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to combine for 45 points on the night.
Whether the two of Aminu and Brown could have altered the outcome is unmeasurable. But there’s little doubt that the two players, as established defenders, could have helped to slow down both Mitchell and Gobert.
Alas, we’ll never know.
Head coach Billy Donovan has toyed with a number of different lineups since the trade deadline, but it may be time to consider calling upon two of five players the Chicago Bulls front office deemed worthy of acquisition last Thursday.
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A Veteran Big
Al-Farouq Aminu missed the final 48 games of last season and the first 24 games of this season with a torn meniscus and his recovery, but still looked the part of a contributor since returning to the floor for the Orlando Magic this year.
In their March 23 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the 30-year old forward 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block in 29 minutes of play.
That sure looks like a guy who could help a Chicago frontcourt rotation allowing 50-plus points in the paint this season.
Aminu even played the following evening, on the second night of a back-to-back, for any and all conditioning concerns.
He finished the win over the Phoenix Suns with six points, 10 rebounds, and a block in 27 minutes played.
It would be his last game with the Magic, after signing a three-year deal for $29-million in 2019.
It’s often forgotten that Aminu earned that deal because of his starting contributions for all of the Portland Trail Blazers’ 16-game run to the Western Conference Finals the year prior.
He averaged 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds that postseason, a key cog in head coach Terry Stott’s rotation.
Now, since arriving to the Windy City, Aminu’s played just 12 garbage time minutes in the Bulls’ 16-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
As Donovan and this Bulls team continue scouring the roster for answers on both ends of the basketball, it’s safe to say there’s little harm in giving run to the 11-year veteran with 40 playoff games under his belt.
A Playmaking Wing
Outside of Aminu, former first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. was also stuck on the bench for Friday night’s loss.
The 21-year old wing had a roller coaster tenure with the Washington Wizards, that saw him go from a key rotational player logging 25 minutes a night, to a less role on the bench, and eventually out of head coach Scott Brooks’ rotation.
Needless to say, it’s hard to make a proper judgement of young players like Brown, when they’ve played for just one team and never had any kind of structure or organizational foundation that most would argue is pivotal for talent development.
Now with the Bulls, an anticipated arrival has lost it’s luster, and quickly. Brown played 13 minutes in his first game with the team, and over 16 in the subsequent two games, but couldn’t get on the floor against the Jazz.
He presents a versatile wing option that can both handle the ball, and defend a multitude of positions: two things Chicago is strongly lacking.
The first of those skills is what prompted Donovan to make his last lineup shift ahead of the trade deadline—swapping starter Coby White for veteran Tomas Satoransky, a move that’s largely paid off, but left the second unit without a proper floor general.
Brown handling the ball next to White, pushing the second-year guard into an off-ball role where he’s thrived this season, seems an obvious fit and potential solution. But Donovan’s opted to go with Denzel Valentine (who’s fourth-year option was declined) as lead ball handler.
Two of Brown’s three assists in his Bulls debut were to White, with the third going to a driving Lauri Markkanen:
If anything, this decision by Donovan speaks even further to his insistence on winning now, and not prioritizing any season above the present. He clearly sees something in Valentine, and is likely relying on his familiarity with a number of his teammates.
Only right now, the Chicago Bulls aren’t winning. At all.