The Chicago Bulls notched a decisive 130-113 victory over the Utah Jazz on November 6 but Nikola Vucevic is far from satisfied. That’s because the Bulls are off to a 3-5 start, putting them on pace for their worst finish since 2020-21.
‘‘We definitely put a good 48 minutes together,’’ Vucevic said, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times on November 6. ‘‘We knew coming out of that Denver game, especially the second half, we needed to come out and play much better. This was a good response. Hopefully we learn from it and realize playing like this is our best chance.
‘‘I’m not a believer in just one game changes everything, but it can be a good steppingstone for us to understand. Now it has to be game after game after game.’’
The Bulls are coming off a 40-42 campaign last season.
Their uninspiring start does not bode well. Vucevic and Zach LaVine already pointing to this season as a veritable make-or-break situation. If they don’t get it corrected, significant changes could be made.
“We know we can do better, and we have to do better,” Vučević said, per Yahoo Sports NBA reporter Jake Fischer on August 31. “And we know it’s kind of our last chance as this core of guys to do something.”
Through two-plus seasons, the Bulls have a 92-89 record with Vucevic in the lineup, per Statmuse.
It is a record befitting of the uncertainty surrounding their mediocrity.
Bulls Big 3 Hasn’t Worked
Individually, each of LaVine, Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan is potent. Combined, they struggled to post an above-average production last season despite more time together than any other trio in the league, with a minus-0.4 net rating, per NBA.com. This season, their net rating has plummeted to minus-19.3 as they rank 10th in minutes together as a trio in the early going.
The Bulls made it a priority to bring Vucevic back this offseason. They inked the two-time All-Star to a three-year, $60 million contract ahead of free agency. And they have shown flashes of being successful with all three of their stars operating at a high level.
Vucevic says they know what works.
“We always talk about we gotta get to the paint,” Vucevic said via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic on October 30. “When we do get to the paint compared to when we don’t, the numbers are a pretty drastic difference. And it’s not necessarily just shooting in the paint. Just getting to the paint, and making plays out of it.”
This also plays into Vucevic’s assertion that he has sacrificed the most between himself, DeRozan, and LaVine. His desire for a bigger role was also a topic of discussion before he agreed to return without so much as visiting any other teams in free agency.
Nikola Vucevic Wanted Bigger Role This Season
“That was a big thing for me,” Vucevic said via the team on media day. ”Using my play-making ability to help the team in different ways. And I think we can see a lot of more teams do it and do it at a higher level. … And I think we also have a team that can function that way.”
He has already had an animated discussion with head coach Billy Donovan on the sideline. And the team had what LaVine insisted was not a team meeting but rather a “basketball conversation” after dropping the season opener. It’s not hard to see everyone feeling the added pressure of repeatedly coming up short.
The win over Utah has to serve as a stepping stone as Vucevic says if they want to change the narrative around them.