Seven NBA players average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Only two – Elton Brand and Artis Gilmore – have cleared those benchmarks in Bulls history.
In six games since the trade deadline, Nicholas Vučević averages 22.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The team is 2-4 in that part, which is, yes, less than ideal. But it also means there is room for growth, and Taurus seems to be making progress in the process.
Before the game on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, a few early impressions of the Vučević era:
Seismic stylistic shift
Prior to March 25, the Bulls ranked eighth in the NBA League at Pace, averaging 101.07 possessions per game, and 21st in post-ups per game, averaging 6.3. In six games since: 18th in Pace (98.5) and first in post-ups per game (incredible 18.2).
Call it the “Vooch” effect.
Vučević uses 8.3 of those post-ups per night and shoots 15 of them for 21 (71.4 percent). Although he has only four assists from that position since joining the Bulls – the statistics he currently has leads the NBA in full season – it is already obvious how his presence can and wants to bend the defense and open cracks for teammates, whether it is by drawing double teams, misdirecting the opponent’s eyes and fake games (something in which Vučević is skilled) or subconsciously diverting the defender’s attention from the ball man.
Vučević’s versatility to be kicked out of the handover, short crossing and fasting mean that the more he adapts, the bigger the bulls will cross over him. His 73.5 touches per game are led by the team, and 47 touches on the front field ranks fifth in the NBA League, from the trade deadline. It is clear that Donovan is once again fulfilling his reputation as adaptable in his schemes based on the comfort of his players.
“We’ve talked about it a lot (post-ups),” Vučević said about his initial conversations with Donovan. “He asked me what kind of shows I like to lead in order to enter the post. Once I realize in the post, what kind of movement I love, you know, (as a passerby) what I love to do. To cut or stay. Should I go set up screens for other people. Weakness, what I like players to do. So that’s something we’ve talked about and something we want to explore and I think that can be very effective for us. When I catch him in a post with all the shots we have out there, it opens up a lot of space for me to go to work. And then if they come to dig or double the team, they can throw it out and we have guys who can play plays. “
(Warning about an auxiliary factor in Pace’s conversation, specifically: Despite a night with 21 traffic in Indiana on Tuesday, the Bulls’ turnover has fallen since the deadline. This has been reported in Chicago so far, with only seven coughs since joining the Bulls, and four of them against the Pacers.)
LaVine-The game of two Vučevićs
The potential strength of the duo game between Zach LaVine and Vučević was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the bulls ’active rock day.
Although LaVine struggled with an ankle sprain – missing one game and admitting that even after the Pacers ’victory he was still getting his time back – flashes of what would ultimately make such an action so difficult to keep up.
In diving, Vučević has unusually soft hands – “HHe can catch almost anything … He just seems to have a glove, “LaVine said – and is a sharp playmaker in short rolls, making it harder than ever for opposing teams to double LaVines off the screen, especially with proper spacing and timely cutting around them:
And, of course, the threat of pop is always looming. Vučević buried 35.7 percent of the attempts in 3 points (all above the break) and 48.3 percent of the middle class attempts as a bull, and he obviously has a quick trigger. The scary part is that the precision rate of 3 points is still almost five points below his seasonal rating of 40.2 percent.
In the third quarter of that game, the Pacers in particular, LaVine and Vučević the chemistry of the two men seemed closest to being fully realized by the deadline. There are so many ways to break through the defense with this simple two-piece set as a starting point given the gravity each attracts, and this has started to play out more and more in practice.
Vučević played 21 minutes together with Markkanen in their first joint game, which was a defensively disastrous defeat by the Spurs that Markkanen started. In the five games since then, Vucevic and Markkanen have shared a total of 45 minutes.
To the surprise of the precious few, Young was Vucevic’s best front pair. Over a small sample size of six games (113 minutes), the Bulls have plus-2.4 net ratings – 114.6 offensive, 112.2 defensive – with Young and Vucevic on the floor together, compared to a minus of 3.0 net ratings teams, overall. Young’s defensive pliability, post-play, and ability to lighten from the entire floor make it fit into almost any configuration, and Vučević’s long-range shooting covers the lack of ground clearance (Young is 6-for-25 from deep on the season).
The defense will be something to continue to follow, as the Bulls allow 114 points per 100 possessions from the deadline, which is good for 23rd place in the NBA League. In that respect, they looked better than the second half of the defeat by the Phoenix Suns, and were at least dominant on the glass, taking first place in the defensive jump (knocking down 80.9 percent of available boards at that end) since March 25th.
Vucevic’s influence there cannot be overestimated. With him on the floor, the Bulls collect 80.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds; when it sits down, that percentage drops to 71.1 percent – roughly the difference between first place in the NBA league in terms of defensive bounce rate (abyss) and 28th place. The Bulls limit opponents to just 8.5 points a second chance per game from the trade, also the first in the league.
When does it affect the margins?
Young’s glow has been a parrot far and wide all season, and has only gotten better since then Vucevic’s arrival, scoring double-digit in each of the Bulls’ last six games and averaging 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists – all better than his already stellar averages before the deadline.
Before the deadline, Young played most of his minutes at the center of his career – a lot – but more time on the powerful striker provided him with increased opportunities to match the mismatch, a 14-year-old vet’s favorite pastime. In 32 minutes less, Young has just one post-up less than Vucevic from trading – averaging 8.2 in just 26.1 minutes per game – and has dropped more than twice as many assists (10).
“I was attacking 5s (centers) as opposed to attacking 4s (power forward),” said Young, who averaged 3.3 posts per game before March 25th. “Now the team changes from 1 to 4. They don’t actually switch too much from 1 to 5. So now I’m attacking the smaller guys, taking advantage of the mismatch.
“We know if I start posting smaller guys and – as the coach (Donovan) would say,“ placing ”the guys down there – if I start doing that, then they come with doubles. And they can break out of pairs and make reading necessary to win basketball games. ”
Novak scored double-digit points in four of six Games from the Vucevic era and shooting 56.9 percent of the deadline – 75 percent in the restricted area, where 20 of his 51 attempts took place (a huge rate of 39.2 percent).
With the built-in advantage of playing two gravitational offensive players in Vučević and LaVine, Williams’ bursts and close-range attacks will have every chance to shine moving forward. He shoots 6 for 8 shots in 2 points generated by Vučević’s passes, according to NBA.com monitoring data.
Markkanen, on the other hand, is a bit cramped. He averages just 24.7 minutes from the Spurs game, and that includes a 34-minute outing against the Suns, a competition he started with LaVine coming out.
Donovan led Markkanen in the reserve attack, a little ahead with minutes of the front field, but that was not an ideal position for him. Markkanen’s best game – a 15-point loss, three three-pointers on Tuesday – came with the release of Daniel Theis and against the Pacers ’shrunken, shortened interface. His further adaptation to the reserve role will bear the viewing.
RELATED: Donovan defines new roles for Markkanen, White with the Bulls
LaVine seems to be returning to 100 percent after being hampered by a sprained wrist for several games. But with Vučević behind him, he didn’t have to be a typical, uber-efficient self, while he finds his rhythm again.
LaVine is averaging 22 points on a cumulative 14-for-35 shootout in the last two Bulls games, both wins. Meanwhile, Vucevic averages 27 points, 14.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in that range, shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from 3 points. Since joining the team, Vučević has averaged 17.8 shots per game on 17.6 LaVine … Perfectly balanced, as everything should be.
“Even a game like this where my kick didn’t go that far, you’re not so pressured that you have all the pressure to get out there and try to save the game,” LaVine said after the Pacers ’win, which he shot 6-for-18. “We can report the play, we just put it on him (Vučević) and I know we left, let’s be fine. It’s a relief. ”
LaVine’s turnover – 2.6 per game – is also declining from trade, with the advantage of having a released All-Star valve (albeit at a small sample size). He finally has his racing friend.
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