When this iteration of the Chicago Bulls was put together, it was done so with the idea that they could be an Eastern Conference version of the Denver Nuggets.
After all, Arturas Karnisovas, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations, came from Denver and was in the front office when the team selected two-time MVP Nikola Jokic with the No. 41 overall in 2104. It was part of the Bulls’ selling point to fans when Karnisovas was hired in April 2020.
So, surely, Karnisovas can appreciate this message from Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.
“It’s very impressive how disciplined Denver is, everyone sticks to their role, their spacing is really good, always in the right spots when Jokic gets doubled,” Vucevic tweeted on May 29. “Unstoppable in transition too.”
Denver took a commanding 3-0 lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals with a 119-108 victory.
Vucevic’s message comes after what was arguably Jokic’s worst game of the series, a 24-point, eight-assist, six-rebound showing. Jokic, 28, is averaging 27.0 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 11.3 assists in the series, has a 53-point showing, and has posted seven triple-doubles all in this postseason.
But, to Vucevic’s point, Jokic’s teammates held him up as he struggled shooting through three quarters in a pivotal Game 3. Jokic was 4-for-12 (25.0%) from the floor with just nine points through three quarters.
Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has been equally as key to Denver’s run.
Murray buoyed the Nuggets with 30 points on 13-for-25 shooting (52.0%) through those same three quarters.
They combined for 11 assists and 10 rebounds to that point before Jokic erupted in the fourth with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting. But the most impressive stat is that Denver had just three turnovers through 36 minutes of such a critical game and finished with just five total giveaways to 12 turnovers for the Lakers.
It is the fewest turnovers by any team this postseason and just the 73rd instance in NBA history, per Stathead.
The Bulls’ Version of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray
If Vucevic is the Bulls’ Jokic, that means Zach LaVine has to be their version of Murray – an electric satellite scorer who is also a threat as a playmaker when called upon. LaVine is more than capable as a scorer, superior athlete, and physically bigger player.
He is also been vocal in his desire for Vucevic, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, to return next year.
“Vooch has been great ever since he came here from Orlando,” LaVine said during his end-of-season media availability on the Bulls’ YouTube channel on April 15. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the team…I’m gonna be trying to swindle him and try to keep them here as much as I can as well.”
The Bulls posted a plus-0.3 net rating with LaVine and Vucevic on the floor, ranking in the 54th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. And, when you add the third member of the Bulls’ big three, they are naturally better.
Chicago had a plus-0.7 net rating (56th percentile) when their top trio of LaVine, Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan was on the floor together.
The supporting cast made a big difference, with the combination of Patrick Beverley and, more notably, Patrick Williams alongside the big three posting a minus-31.6 net rating. Without that lineup dragging down their numbers, the Bulls’ plus-32.3 net rating with their three best players on the floor would rank among the best in the league.
DeMar DeRozan Has to be Like Michael Porter Jr.
Denver also has Michael Porter Jr., a one-time potential Bulls draft target in the run-up to the 2018 NBA Draft.
He scored nine of his 14 points in the second half including going 3-for-6 from deep.
For Chicago to truly achieve what Denver has, they need to space the floor better, and part of that Karnisovas identified as players passing up on open looks. His message might have already made it into the Bulls’ locker room.
DeRozan has acknowledged that the evolution of the game demands he shoots more threes.
Chicago ranked 30th in three-pointers taken and made this past season with the latter being a monumental one-spot drop from the 2021-22 campaign while their efficiency also worsened, albeit only slightly going from 36.9% to 36.1%.
DeRozan shot more threes after suffering a quad injury, averaging 3.3 attempts per game and connecting at a 37.2% clip over the final 13 games of the regular season. That would be by far his best shooting season across a full campaign and is encouraging for the Bulls’ front office and potentially fans.