Westerlund: Bulls-Pelicans Observations

Tomas Satoransky has the inside track to start at point guard.

Cody Westerlund
October 09, 2019 - 10:43 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- The Bulls’ third-stringers coughed up a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 127-125 loss to the Pelicans at the United Center on Wednesday, but that did little to dampen the spirit of coach Jim Boylen.

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He liked what he saw from his rotation in building a 21-point lead through three quarters on a night the Bulls went 14-of-37 from 3-point range and assisted on 38 of their 49 field goals.

“I thought at moments, we looked like a team,” Boylen said. “We looked like how we want to look.”

Here are the observations of the evening.

--- Tomas Satoransky got the starting nod as the Bulls continued their point guard competition. He had a poor first stint, committing three turnovers in the first seven minutes. From there, he was superb.

While a fair deal of the offense was initiated by Zach LaVine, Satoransky contributed with his chances, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting (1-of-1 on 3-pointers) and adding eight assists and two steals in 20 minutes. And that’s the key moving forward – being efficient in limited opportunities and stretching the floor.

Satoransky called his transition with his new Bulls teammates “natural,” though there's a learning curve as well.

“I’m still learning some situations, how to play with these guys,” Satoransky said. “I’m still learning how Zach (LaVine) is quick. He’s really quick, so you have to give him the pass early. I think we did a good job of moving the ball well.

“We kind of showed the way we want to play in the season – moving the ball well, having open shooters and just playing with pace.”

Rookie Coby White played well too, but Wednesday offered a glimpse of what we should see opening night: Satoransky starting for the Bulls at point guard and contributing in whatever manner needed.

Boylen plans to pick a starting point guard soon, as he wants to establish a rhythm in the final few preseason games.

“That day is coming,” Boylen said.

--- Assuming Satoransky is tabbed as the starter, White will come off the bench. He showcased Wednesday how he can help. White had nine points on 4-of-7 shooting and added three assists in 13 minutes in the first half. He had a nifty driving layup through traffic and drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing in transition.

White looked more in control than in the preseason opener Monday, though he struggled with his shot in the second half. That came as he played many of his minutes without projected rotation members. 

--- At the 6:11 mark of the second quarter, the Bulls turned to a five-shooter lineup: Satoransky, LaVine, White, Lauri Markkanen and Luke Kornet. The makeup of the quintet was notable, because it has been a long time since the Bulls have put five shooters on the floor that an opponent had to respect. Even when the Bulls went to shooting-heavy lineups in recent seasons, the presence of a non-shooting threat at point guard (Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn) mitigated the space-the-floor danger.

That lineup scored 20 points in a stretch of 5:07, pushing the pace and getting good looks consistently. It also gave up 21 points, having the type of defensive trouble you might expect.

--- I expect Boylen to give that five-shooter lineup a fair deal of playing time early, because he loves Kornet. He was praising Kornet’s addition behind the scenes in the offseason and continued pregame Wednesday.

“He was as big a piece as Thad and Sato for what we’re trying to build and what we’re trying to do,” Boylen said.

The 7-foot-1 Kornet saw his first action after missing the first week of training camp and the preseason opener with turf toe. He looked sharp, scoring nine points on 4-of-7 shooting and affecting a couple Pelicans shot attempts at the rim.

Boylen preaching the need to shoot more 3-pointers is music to Kornet’s ears. He averaged 4.1 3-point attempts in 16.8 minutes per game across his first two NBA seasons, both with the Knicks.

“Honestly, like every team I usually play on, we end up shooting a lot of threes,” Kornet said with a laugh. “Just because I think my spacing helps some other guys get it and I try to find guys in the same way.”

--- After an abysmal defensive performance in a loss to the Bucks on Monday, the Bulls did better in one-on-one situations stopping dribble penetration. Still, it projects to be a steep challenge for Chicago on the defensive end. Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson was dominant in the paint, scoring 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting.

The Bulls have defensive concerns across multiple levels and layers – rim protection when the currently injured Wendell Carter Jr. is out, perimeter players’ ability to slow dribble penetration and rotations when they choose to be aggressive in defending pick-and-rolls.

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