A summer of change saw the Chicago Bulls make the jump from play-in hopefuls to Eastern Conference contenders. Yet, despite the Bulls’ flurry of moves during the offseason, they’re still a little thin in the size department off the bench.
NBA Stats has the Bulls listed as 27th in the NBA for rebounds per game, as Chicago struggles to toe the line between defensive harassment and physical presence. Of course, there are times when going with a small-ball lineup is necessary and often beneficial, but other teams know your weaknesses and adjust their rotations accordingly.
“I don’t know if we’ve gotten totally hurt on the boards. I haven’t had those conversations to say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to try to do something between now and whenever it may be.’ For me as a coach, [I’m] just working with the guys we have, and those guys have been great to work with, and for the most part, they’ve pretty much kept themselves ready,” Billy Donovan told Joe Cowley in a recent interview with The Chicago Sun Times.
Of course, the Bulls do have All-Star center Nikola Vucevic on their roster, but with him missing a string of games during mid-November, the Bulls’ weakness was exposed for all to see. Sure, you can run switching schemes to limit opponents’ advantages in the pick-and-roll or when a big man cuts to the rim, but you can’t control the glass.
One way to counter opponents’ size is by being a hound dog on defense, jumping passing lanes, playing physically on the perimeter, and diving for every loose ball. That brand of defense has been suiting the Bulls roster over their first 20 games, with the team ranking 9th in steals per game per NBA Stats. The downside to such a physical and aggressive form of defense is the inevitable fouls you will commit as you scratch and claw on every possession, something with which Donovan believes the team needs to find a balance.
“There’s also a balance of we’re at our best defensively when we’re physical, and we’re scrambling. We’re more active, and we’re generating turnovers. So you don’t want to take away our team’s aggressiveness.”
The Bulls Could Look Elsewhere for Size Reinforcements
Since becoming the Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations, Arturas Karnisovas has been quick to act when he perceives there to be an issue with the roster construction.
Having presided over Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso joining the franchise throughout the year of 2021, Karnisovas is earning the reputation of a wheeler-dealer. When speaking with Cowley during their interview, Donovan was asked about the possibility of the front-office looking outside of the franchise for additional size off the bench.
“My guess is that Arturas, Marc, all those guys are evaluating the team every day and looking at ways that they can help our group,” Donovan replied when discussing any potential moves in the coming weeks and months.
There are question marks around what the Bulls could potentially offer in any trade to deepen their bench, especially after giving up some of their more tradeable assets in the deal to sign Vucevic at the 2020-21 season deadline. However, should Karnisovas decide that another big body is what his team needs to make a deep playoff run, it’s highly plausible that he picks up the phone and chases some form of deal relentlessly.
Bulls’ Continue to Impress With New Roster
When the Bulls signed Ball, DeRozan, and Caruso to join up with Zach Lavine and Vucevic, eyebrows were raised around the league. Yet, despite what most analysts believed, the Bulls have developed a chemistry and have been winning games at an impressive clip.
Sitting 4th in the Eastern Conference with 13 wins out of their first 21 games, Chicago has been impressive on both ends of the floor. On offense, the developing partnership between Ball, Lavine, and DeRozan has been both enjoyable and spectacular to watch. In contrast, the addition of Caruso has provided the team with a certain edge on defense. The Bulls roster comprises multiple perimeter defenders who can lock down their opponents, leading to the Bulls having the 5th rated defense in the league per NBA Stats.
Regardless of if Karnisovas adds another big-man to the rotation, Chicago projects to be a serious force in the East moving forwards and will likely embark on a deep playoff run once the post-season rolls around. But that was Karnisovas’ plan all along; any moves he makes now are simply to supplement the players already at Donovan’s disposal as the Bulls continue to dream of lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy in the not too distant future.