It is always a nice thing, when an NBA team adds a star—or in the Bulls’ case, more than one star—to talk about sacrifice. Players who may have been accustomed to a role in one situation get thrust into a new situation with other stars and must figure out how to make it work, which, generally, means accepting the fact that everyone involved will taking fewer shots.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan said as much back on media day in September. “I think on any team there is going to have to be sacrifice,” he noted.
That was relevant because the Bulls, after adding Nikola Vucevic in March at last year’s trading deadline, brought on Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan this offseason, packing star-caliber players around the Bulls’ centerpiece player, Zach LaVine. While some scoffed at the ability of DeRozan and LaVine to play together, those two have actually made a nice pairing, with Ball doing a lot of the yeoman’s work in setting up the offense.
Vucevic? Well, he has not really fit in quite yet. In fact, when the Bulls talked about the need to sacrifice so that the new team could work together, it seems that what they meant is that Vucevic should sacrifice. Because, checking the stats, while Ball has seen his shot attempts drop slightly from last year, to 10.6 from 12.7, LaVine’s have actually inched up, from 19.4 to 19.6.
DeRozan’s have shot up significantly, from 15.1 to 19.0. But Vucevic has taken the brunt of the sacrificing, his attempts dropping from 19.9 to 14.3 this year.
Donovan: Bulls Need to Help Vucevic More
It has not helped that Vucevic has come into this year and, through nine games, suffered through an awful slump. His rebounding (10.8) and passing (4.2 assists per game, a career high) have been good, but Vucevic is shooting a measly 38.0% from the field and 25.6% from the 3-point line.
But Donovan does not blame Vucevic for that—he blames himself and his other players.
“I don’t want to speak for him on this,” Donovan said, according to NBC Sports Chicago. “I think we all have to do a better job helping him. I think there’s times where he’s in position where maybe the ball’s getting there sometimes too early and he hasn’t quite got a chance to get set, or we’re finding him too late and maybe he’s not expecting it. I think he’s talked a lot with Lonzo and DeMar and Zach about how they’re working together in two-man games, and I think some of those combinations of players, Vuc is gonna have to work with.”
Much Different Offense Than in Orlando for Vucevic
During his time in Orlando, Vucevic was the fulcrum of the offense, and the ball ran through him in the high post. But that was mostly because the Magic lacked much offensive talent and struggled to find a point guard. Vucevic is playing with three guards capable of serving as playmakers.
The trio of Ball, LaVine and DeRozan have quickly gelled in their two-man games, but that has not happened with Vucevic. He is not complaining about it, though. He addressed the topic this week, according to Bulls.com:
Obviously, my role is a little different than what I had offensively last year when I came here than with Orlando. There’s more talent and more guys who can score. So it’s a little different offensively for me. So I just try to do different things, passing, defensively rebounding; there are many ways you can impact the game, screening and doing other things that I can to help the team. When you have so much talent around you, you have to adjust, a little bit change your game and play a different way. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
It’s just us learning to play with each other. For some of the guys maybe it’s an adjustment to play with a big man who can pop and shoot and space the floor as much as I do. It’s learning to play together and building that chemistry.
Vucevic says he is making adjustments. Now, he just needs his teammates to do the same.