The sun may be rising over the horizon. For the first time this season the Chicago Bulls have a winning streak.
It’s hard to get too excited though considering who they are beating. In wins over the short-handed Sacramento Kings, who were without De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, and the Memphis Grizzlies who played without Ja Morant, the Chicago Bulls improved their season record to 8-14.
In both games the Bulls continued to aggressively challenge the three-pointer. They held the Kings to 27.3 percent and the Grizzlies to only 23.3. In what has been a difficult start to Jim Boylen’s first year as a head coach, one positive is the Bulls rank third in the league in opponents three-point percentage.
However, the prevention of the three has also come with unwanted results. The Bulls still rank 30th in the league in opponents defensive rebounds. They just aren’t getting back fast enough from the double teams up top. Their 50-46 rebounding advantage against Memphis was only the seventh time this season they managed to out rebound a team.
Wendell Carter will need significant help for that to continue. The most obvious player to provide additional muscle is Lauri Markkanen. Opponents are shooting 50.7 percent against him and his 6.9 rebounds per game are well under the nine he averaged last year.
A good sign though is that Markkanen is starting to show breaths of life having scored in double digits over the last three games. He was expected to average close to twenty points and ten rebounds a game. He is now averaging 13.6 points. More importantly though, he has shot over fifty percent in the last two games and has began to look more confident. That improvement needs to translate to the defensive end.
Another Chicago Bulls player that has shown promise he may be on the verge of a breakout is fourth year wing man Denzel Valentine.
Valentine suddenly finds himself in the rotation and is making the most of it after hardly seeing the floor for the first 17 games. He started to see more action once Chandler Hutchison went down with yet another injury and it is unclear when Otto Porter will be able to return.
In the last two wins, Denzel played double-digit minutes, shot 4-9 from three and the Bulls were plus 15 and 9 with him on the floor. The former AP National College Player of the Year still maintains a smooth game and is capable of setting his teammates up for open shots as well as creating his own.
At the age of 26, even though he missed the entirety of last season, Denzel finds himself as an elder statesmen. He has embraced leadership roles since his days at Michigan State. That will be important on a young second unit that includes rookies Coby White and Daniel Gafford.
The other positive trend that cannot go unnoticed is the emergence of Zach LaVine, who has averaged over 30 points during the last six games. LaVine hit big shots down the stretch in each of the last two wins and once again talk has picked up that he will represent the Bulls at the highly anticipated all-star game at the United Center.
Finally, free agent starting point guard Tomas Satoransky is finding his groove. He has recorded 14.5 points and seven assists over the last four games. Against the Kings and Grizzlies, the first team as a whole has played better. Their habitual poor performance didn’t have to be redeemed by a bench mob that had been keeping them in games all season.
The next game against the 4-19 Golden State Warriors will give the Bulls a chance to revenge what was perhaps their worse loss back on November 27th.
At that time, fans were ready to jump ship.
This is a basketball apocalypse. Even our most consistent player, WCJ, has been awful the past 2 games. There is nothing to celebrate, nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for. The season is over. Happy Thanksgiving.
— See Red Fred (@cbefred) November 28, 2019
But now, with a win, they can go to 9-14 and still be very much in the playoff hunt. With a loss, calls for Boylen’s firing will re-ignite. Dislike of Boylen on social media is so intense that some fans are even concerned winning may only delay the inevitable need to make a change.
One thing is for sure though. Assuming the Bulls can handle the Warriors and string three wins together, the real test of whether there has been sustained growth will be when the Bulls go into Miami to face the red-hot Jimmy Butler and Heat. Only then will we know whether they have turned a corner or are just pulling our legs by beating garbage teams.