For this game preview, I’d like to stick to my traditional setup. In this rendition, it’s my pleasure to play host to a colleague who I consider one of the most well-informed, up-and-coming Chicago Bulls writers. Please welcome Vijay Vemu, who hails from SB Nation’s notable ‘Blog A Bull’ (currently one of the largest Chicago Bulls-focused websites). This particular Tuesday-night curtain warmer featuring the Raptors and Bulls will follow the usual ‘question-answer’ format, with myself — Sahal Abdi — undertaking the role of questioner (bolded as ‘SA’) while Vijay assumes the respondent role (unbolded as ‘VV’).
In this series of questions, the goal will be to familiarize readers with a comprehensive outlook into the Chicago Bulls season while also addressing the impending TOR-CHI matchup.
Without further adieu, let’s begin:
SA: First off Vijay, I’ve been meaning to ask about this. Let’s rewind a few weeks back. Remember that quadruple OT finish between the Bulls and Hawks? That was arguably the NBA’s game of the year. Take us through that wild experience.
VV: The Bulls vs. Hawks quadruple overtime game was absolutely bonkers. Trae Young and Zach LaVine put their respective teams on their backs and after the first OT things just went haywire. It was also pretty cool seeing the majority of NBA Twitter talking about a Bulls game, which isn’t something that has happened in quite a while.
SA: Since that renowned game, things haven’t gone great for Chicago from the outside looking in. They’re winners of 3 of their last 11 games. Could it simply be a deficiency of talent? A lack of effort? Or has ‘Tank Szn’ officially taken over? What’s gone wrong in the Windy City?
VV: It’s been a combination of everything which has led to his regression from Chicago after
a stellar month of basketball in February. Their defense hasn’t been up to par and against some of the teams they’ve played (Kings, Jazz, Clippers), that just won’t cut it. Otto Porter Jr. has missed the last handful of games and LaVine has been dealing with an injury as well. When the Bulls don’t have either of those guys on the floor and you mix in a shooting slump by Lauri Markkanen, it’s a recipe for disaster.
SA: What two Bulls players have taken the biggest leap forward this season and contrarily, the furthest step backwards?
VV: If had to choose two who have stood out, it’s LaVine and Markkanen. Both have made some solid steps in their all-around offensive game and seem to be capable of taking on a larger share of the scoring workload. In terms of regression, Kris Dunn is the candidate here. Although his defense is still steady and he’s a pest on the perimeter, offensively he hasn’t made much change. His jumper still isn’t consistent and defenses are more than comfortable with letting him shoot it. The turnovers have dropped a bit but it’s still too much for a lead guard.
SA: Talk to me about Jim Boylen. I’ve seen (and heard) enough Boylen takes to last me four lifetimes. Is he the man to lead Chicago back to… glory?
VV: I honestly don’t know about Jim Boylen. He’s been better as a coach since the mutiny but this team really hasn’t made much progress under him. Their bench is still struggling and the defense is still non-existent at times. Granted it’s his first ever head coaching gig in the NBA but if Boylen is back with Chicago next season, he needs to do a lot better as well.
SA: What in-game player matchup are you looking forward to most?
VV: Robin Lopez vs. Serge Ibaka to see if they still have the same energy from their fight a couple of years ago. But in all seriousness, the one matchup which intrigues me is Markkanen versus Pascal Siakam. This will be a good test for Lauri on both ends of the floor against another premier big man in the NBA.
SA: The key to Chicago pulling out a win versus Toronto is…
VV: The key to Chicago pulling out a win versus Toronto would be if someone on the Bulls goes off and has a historic game. I have a feeling this game could get ugly though.
SA: Chicago seems to have a promising core in LaVine, Carter Jr., and Markkanen. I loved the addition of Otto Porter, as well — but what allows this team to take the next ‘Brooklyn Nets-like’ step towards the Eastern Conference playoffs?
VV: They need to hit on their next draft pick and get some bench depth in free agency. Whether it’s a point guard or another wing, the Bulls need to nail this pick in the upcoming draft. It would make a solid core of five guys if the Bulls can land a rookie who can contribute right out of the gate. Also, their bench needs major re-tooling as it doesn’t do the starters any good if the reserves can’t keep them in the game or hold leads.
SA: March Madness is here. On that note, the final question relates to the upcoming NBA Draft. Vijay, as I’m writing this now, the Bulls are projected to land the fourth (4th) selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. Who makes sense for Chicago and why?
VV: Well other than the obvious of Zion Williamson (please lottery gods let Chicago have this first pick), there are two other guys I can see Chicago taking. Ja Morant from Murray State and Jarrett Culver from Texas Tech are the two names I would look for. Morant would be a really fun fit alongside LaVine and his athleticism is off the charts. Culver is a really good wing at 6’6 and can score at will with his length giving defenders problems.
TV: TSN 1, 4 | Radio: TheFan590 | Tipoff: 7:30 PM EST
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher
PG: Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison
SG: Antonio Blakeney, Rawle Alkins, Brandon Sampson
SF: Wayne Selden
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
DOUBTFUL: Kris Dunn (back)
OUT: Zach LaVine (thigh), Otto Porter (shoulder), Chandler Hutchison (toe), Denzel Valentine (ankle), Wendell Carter Jr. (thumb)
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