Westerlund: Bulls' Preseason Opener Observations

Chicago fell 122-112 to Milwaukee in its first game action Monday.

Cody Westerlund
October 07, 2019 - 10:43 pm

(670 The Score) The Bulls fell 122-112 to the Bucks' B team in their preseason opener at the United Center on Monday night.

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Milwaukee rested seven players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, D.J. Wilson and Kyle Korver. Please remember that when reading these observations of the evening.

--- After the Bulls spent the better part of a week praising Kris Dunn’s play in workouts in September and early in training camp, he looked like the Dunn of old with the first unit early on, which is to say he didn’t display much feel offensively. Dunn got the start alongside Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Cris Felicio. In his stint in the first quarter, he pulled up for a 3-pointer early in the shot clock, had a floater (lob pass?) deflected and lost the ball when forcing an empty-side action into two defenders.

Dunn was better as the game went on, logging a more impressive stint with the starters in the third quarter. He finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, three assists and one turnoverin 24 minutes.

His point guard competition didn’t shine either. Tomas Satoransky scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting, though he did add seven rebounds, five steals and three assists in 22 minutes. Rookie Coby White had 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting, one assists and two turnovers in 25-plus minutes.

Afterward, Boylen agreed that it was “a fair assessment” to say no one stood out from the pack.

 “We’re going to take this two weeks, 10 days to look at everybody and figure it out,” Boylen said.

--- Boylen was pleased with a lot of what the Bulls did offensively, save for their ugly 37.8 percent shooting. They attempted 38 3-pointers after attempting the fourth-fewest per game (25.9) last season. They got to the free-throw line 38 times, making 26. They had 24 assists and just 12 turnovers.

---  The Bulls’ main problem was their poor defense, as the Bucks got clean looks often and shot 47.7 percent. Boylen cited “individual one-on-one defense” when the Bucks spread the floor as the primary culprit, but the Bulls’ troubles went deeper. They were far too disorganized in their rotations as well. The Bulls blitzed pick-and-rolls a fair deal with Felicio, who usually did a solid job in recovering, but there wasn't defensive synergy behind him to make it work well enough.

Boylen didn’t sound at all surprised one-on-one on-ball defense was where the Bulls fell short.

“They drove us,” Boylen said. “It’s great, because now the film shows what we’ve been talking about, that that’s a big area of improvement for us.”

The Bulls were 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season. For all the depth they've added and optimisim they've exuded, none of it will matter if those defensive struggles continue.

--- Denzel Valentine returned to game action for the first time in 553 days, as he missed all of 2018-’19 after undergoing ankle reconstruction surgery. He hit his first two 3-pointers but otherwise struggled with his shot, scoring 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting (2-of-7 on 3-pointers) in 19-plus minutes.

Valentine admitted that he shed a tear on his way to the arena earlier in the day.

“This is my passion,” Valentine said. “This is what I love. I got emotional on the way here. It’s huge being healthy and out there again.”

--- The 19-year-old White hunted his shot aggressively, shooting those 10 shots and also eight free throws in his 25-plus minutes. He continues to look more like a scoring guard than a point guard, which is fine but worth remembering. In one sequence after a made basket by the Bucks, he pushed the ball up the court and to the hoop so quickly that he earned a trip to the free-throw line with 20 still on the shot clock.  

Boylen liked what he saw.

“He didn’t look nervous,” Boylen said. “He was poised. He was tough. He was physical.”

White called his performance “all right.”

“Offensively, my decision-making,” White said of where he needs to improve. “And keeping the ball in front, playing one-on-one defense.”

--- Markkanen was aggressive in pushing the ball himself up the floor and across half-court himself. He’s heeding Boylen’s wish to push the pace in the Bulls’ multi-ballhandler system. Markkanen had 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting (4-of-8 on 3-pointers) and added five rebounds in 22 minutes.

--- The first returns on the Bulls’ big man depth were positive. Felicio had two early dunks in traffic and played solidly. Rookie Daniel Gafford perhaps impressed more than anyone on the Bulls with 12 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 17-plus minutes.

Boylen has also consistently praised Luke Kornet for his ability to stretch the floor. He’s expected to return to full practice Tuesday after being sidelined by a turf toe injury.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.