Veteran forward Thaddeus Young called his team’s third-quarter performance on Monday night one of the best quarters he’d been a part of in his 14-year career. It was that kind of night for the Chicago Bulls.
The team scored 46 points on 19-of-25 shooting from the field and made seven-of-nine attempts from three in the 12-minute period. That alone was enough to earn the Bulls their 120-100 victory over the Houston Rockets.
The 32-year old Young, who’s been mentioned on and off in trade rumors since signing with the Bulls in 2019, couldn’t help but revel in the young team’s progress over his season and change in Chicago. When speaking with reporters postgame, via The Chicago Tribune, he was asked to gauge thetemperature of the team after their win.
He responded: “Light years from where we were last year.”
For a guy who was dubbed the team’s MVP by their best player, Zach LaVine, that response should not surprise. Young’s veteran presence has proved invaluable for this young Chicago Bulls team. They’ve been looking for that kind of locker room presence since guys like Taj Gibson walked the halls of the United Center years ago.
And he’s not wrong about their progress. Chicago’s gone from one of eight teams not invited to the NBA bubble in Orlando last season to now one of eight teams slated for a playoff berth after winning four of their last five.
The Chicago Bulls Have a Secondary Playmaker in Thaddeus Young
Monday night’s win over the Rockets marked their 14th of the season, and as previously mentioned, pushed them back into the playoff picture in the East; which at times seemed like a distant possibility. Yet while many may look to LaVine for credit, it’s increasingly difficult to overlook Thaddeus Young’s play as of late.
Over the aforementioned five-game stretch, the veteran forward is averaging 13.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, while shooting a scorching hot 67 percent on almost 10 (9.6) field goal attempts.
Young has never been heralded for his efforts on the offensive end of the ball, rather, it’s been his defensive prowess that’s gotten him paid time and time again throughout the years. But this season, something’s different. His 4.3 assists average on the year is a career-high by a mile and a key cog in this Bulls’ offense.
Having both LaVine and Young on the floor at the same time provides Chicago with two capable playmakers. For the veteran and team-MVP, it’s reminded him of his time before the Bulls, as a member of the Indiana Pacers:
It’s kind of like the same thing when I was in Indy. We played for each other. We always tried to have 30-plus assists a game and everybody just played for one another. This kind of gives me the same vibe and the same feel. Guys are locked in, and we’re all playing for each other.
Chicago’s not averaging 30 assists nightly, but their 26.1 dimes per game average on the year is good for the eighth-best mark in the entire NBA. Give 32-year old Young some credit. He may not play (and has never played) the point guard position, but he’s been their best distributor of the basketball this season.
Coaching is Proving the Difference in Chicago
As much as the Bulls’ talent has been executing as of late, it’s no coincidence that they’re doing so under the tutelage of longtime NBA coach Billy Donovan, now in his first season at the helm in Chicago.
When you look at the turnover of the roster from last season to this one, you’ll see little to no change. Some of the guys on the backend of the rotation didn’t make it back, and Kris Dunn predictably found a new home.
But the real free agency splash for the Bulls was hiring Donovan, who’s found a groove and got his team in stride just weeks ahead of the trade deadline. Thaddeus Young sees the difference in this team, and recognizes it’s not by way of an overhaul of players or the arrival of new faces:
Same team pretty much, but just different mentality, different mindset. Different understanding of the game. Everybody is being utilized slightly different than they were last year. Overall this team is in a great space. We believe we can win every single game we go out there and play.
That last line from Young in particular spotlights just what Donovan’s meant for a Bulls team that walked into the last offseason with more questions than answers. Chicago won just 22 of 65 games last year, a 24-win pace over a 72-game span as this season has been reduced to. Monday’s win over the Houston Rockets makes for 14 in 30 games this season, which averages out at an improved 33-win trajectory.
But, as all great coaches do, Donovan refused to take credit:
I’ve seen these guys make progress and make strides,” Donovan said. “These guys have done a good job coming into the end of this first half. From where we were in the first game to where we are now, the credit goes to those guys. They’ve put the work in to try to get better and improve in a lot of different areas.
Wednesday night’s matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves will provide the Bulls with an opportunity to have their first over-.500 month since December of 2017. There’s reason to be optimistic that this team will make it happen.
Because, as Thaddeus Young and Billy Donovan are seeing first hand, everything’s coming up Chicago as of late.