Last night the Bulls won their fourth game in this young season beating the Trail Blazers 111-108. That leaves the team at 4-4 through eight games. While the team may have started off rough with an 0-3 start they are looking like they are getting more comfortable in head coach Billy Donovan’s system. This was something that we knew would take some time but it was on full display last night as seven Bulls players scored in double digits.
Final Numbers 📈
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 6, 2021
Beyond just the numbers you can see a nice mix of youth and veteran experience on the floor for the Bulls. You get to see Donovan tinker with the lineups to put the right players on the floor at the right moments. This is such a stark contrast from the last few years with the Bulls.
No way Bulls win this game in the last couple years. LaVine struggled with his shot all night, but hits the biggest one of the game. Definite signs of growth with this team & you can’t overstate the impact of the coaching change.
— Mark Schanowski (@MarkSchanowski) January 6, 2021
As someone who covers the Bulls, you can already see the difference that Donovan has brought to this team.
The culture change
The biggest thing that Donovan has brought to the Bulls is the culture change. Over the last 5 years, the Bulls just didn’t have a good culture. Both previous head coaches Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen were unprepared for a head coaching role. They simply put the “best” players out on the court and stuck to traditional lineups. It didn’t work out well for them and they didn’t set any sort of tone for the team. They made a losing culture even worse with their style of play. It’s clear that this is something the players have noticed under Donovan. After the game last night SG Zach LaVine was asked if the Bulls of last year would have won that game.
"Do the Bulls win this game last year?"
Zach LaVine: "No."
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 6, 2021
He is absolutely correct here. The Bulls were down 20 points in the game last night and came back to win. That speaks volumes about the type of coach that Donovan is. Under Boylen, this team would have let that lead get higher and higher and probably would have lost by 30. Donovan has instilled hunger and drive into this team and it was on full display last night. This is one of many things that Donovan has already set in motion to make this team better.
Billy Donovan on #Bulls' comeback win from down 20 points to Blazers: "Hopefully it's something we can build on in terms of the competitive spirit and fighting spirit."
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 6, 2021
We are all right there with Donovan hoping the team can build off this as they continue their west coast road trip.
Mixing the veterans with the young guys
One of my absolute favorite things about Billy Donovan so far is his use of the veterans. In a lot of instances, you will see coaches keep the veterans in the starting lineup and have the younger guys coming off the bench. Donovan has been doing the exact opposite of that for this Bulls team. He has rookie Patrick Williams in the starting lineup and the Bull’s average age in the starting lineup is 21.6. Donovan is clearly not afraid of using his youth. However, it goes beyond just the starting lineup for this team. Donovan has been bringing forward Otto Porter Jr., forward Thaddeus Young, and guard Garrett Temple off the bench and mixing them in with the young players. The veteran presence on the floor allows the younger guys to focus on different aspects of their game.
I love Chicago's blend of youth and veterans. Thad Young and Temple are such stabilizers off the bench. LaVine focusing on playmaking vs. Portland was cool. That's the next step of his game to develop. Patrick Williams, Coby White both impressive. Lots to like about the Bulls.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 6, 2021
If you look at the Bulls vets so far this season they are making a difference while on the floor. Combined this group brings in an average of 31.9 PPG, 13 RPG, & 6.9 APG. This type of productivity allows the younger players to work on their game and not feel like all the pressure is on them. Donovan has leaned on his veteran players at the end of games to ensure they can close them out. It has paid off so far and it is allowing the younger players to learn from them. Donovan’s lineups have been huge for this Bulls team and they will be key to making this season successful.
Playing to the player’s strengths
One other area that has been key for this team is Donovan playing to his player’s strengths. He isn’t going to have unrealistic expectations for his players because he coaches them based on their strengths. He breaks them down individually and wants them to play their game instead of fitting into their position. While a lot of players on this team are still learning and fitting into their roles this will pay off as the season goes on. Bulls fans need to remember this team is still very young. Donovan is working with them to understand everyone’s strengths and amplify those strengths each night. This will take time but Donovan is working to get there. Look at PG Coby White, for instance, he is learning to fit the true PG role. It has been a learning process but he’s 2nd on the team in assists per game and is on his way to becoming a good point guard in the league.
You can’t expect this transition to happen overnight. Donovan is using his veteran guys to take off some of the burdens from White to allow him to understand and learn the game as a point guard. This is a process that will take time and will require some patience. Donovan has this team on the right track and he has shown that early. This team started 0-3 and has gone 4-1 since. While there’s still a lot of season left we have to give Donovan credit for this start. Let’s see if the team carries this momentum into tomorrow’s game against the Sacramento Kings