Chicago Bulls fall short in season opener

The Chicago Bulls kicked off their 2018-19 campaign in The City of Brotherly Love. They did so without two of their best players. Lauri Markkanen is still out with his elbow injury. Meanwhile, Kris Dunn had an “excused absence” due to the birth of his first child.

The game started with a torrid pace. Both teams combined to score 79 points in the first quarter. Chicago had the 41-38 lead after one, shooting 60.7 percent from the field and 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from 3-point range.

Unfortunately, the Bulls could not keep up with the athletic, uptempo 76ers. Philly outscored Chicago 64-35 in the second and third quarters. The game was basically decided from there, with the Sixers going on to defeat the Bulls 127-108.

Losses hurt, but here are six things to takeaway from the Bulls’ season opener. However, we’ll examine things from a more unique perspective. Instead of your run-of-the-mill recap, we’ll make three observations, ask two questions, and make one prediction.

3 Observations

Zach LaVine is the scorer this team needs

Zach LaVine picked up where he left off in the preseason. On Thursday night, he continued his mission to prove his four-year, $78 million contract was worth every penny. LaVine finished with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He has only reached the 30-point plateau seven times before in 230 career games.

LaVine was particularly dangerous off the bounce. He got anywhere he wanted on the court with a simple screen and a sizeup dribble. It’s comforting to know that the Bulls have at least one player that can consistently go and get his own shot whenever it’s needed.

Of course, there is still room for improvement. He went 2-of-7 from beyond the arc and had more turnovers (5) than assists (3). Still, LaVine is shaping up to have a big year as one of, if not the, go-to guy in the Bulls offense.

Bobby Portis wants to be a sixth man, but he’s playing like a starter

In the summer, Bobby Portis seemed up for being an offensive weapon off of the bench. Granted, he will be once Markkanen returns from his injury. However, he’s been playing very much like a starter so far this year. Portis finished with 20 points, the second-highest total on the team. He went 8-of-15 from the field and shot 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Portis also grabbed 11 rebounds.

Portis’ tenacity on both ends of the floor is what sets him apart from the rest. He has not been afraid to shoot the ball, allowing him to stretch the floor in the same vein as the sidelined Lauri. Portis has also been an asset on the defensive end. The Bulls have plenty of shooters, but they will need all of the defense and efficiency they can get.

Cameron Payne just isn’t working out

The Bulls front office has had full faith in Cameron Payne as a player since acquiring him in February 2017. They truly believe that he can thrive as a point guard in Fred Hoiberg’s offense. That’s why he was tabbed to start on Thursday when Dunn was ruled out.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see much progress from his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Payne ended up scoreless on four shot attempts and grabbed a single rebound in nearly 22 minutes. On the bright side, he did dish out five assists and only turned the ball over once.

Backup point Ryan Arcidiacono played much better in front of a hometown crowd. He finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting with four rebounds and eight assists in 28 minutes.

Kris Dunn will return soon, so we shouldn’t have to worry about Payne starting again for much longer. Still, when Hoiberg is considering who the backup or fill-in starter will be moving forward, he should probably take a longer look at what Arcidiacono can offer.

2 Questions

Can Jabari Parker get his starting role back?

The Jabari Parker bench saga continues. He went 1-of-5 in nine first half minutes before leveling out with a 6-of-11 second half. All told, he had 15 points and five rebounds on the night. He was still a liability defensively, further solidifying his place as the backup power forward instead of the starter he was paid to be.

Things will only get more complicated when Lauri Markkanen returns. Lauri will move back into his starting role while Portis will move to being the sixth man. So what will that mean for Parker?

The only answer that would justify his contract would be for him to be the starting small forward as planned. In order to do that, he needs to start making strides on both ends of the floor. For now, he’s only showing that Hoiberg made the tough but correct move when he altered his original rotation.

Can this team improve their 3-point efficiency?

The Bulls finished last season averaging the sixth-most 3-point attempts per game (31.1) in the league. However, they also had the tenth-worst 3-point percentage (35.5 percent). Thursday night looked like more of the same, as Chicago shot 11-of-33 from outside.

Portis (3-of-6) and Aricdiacono (2-of-3) were the only players to shoot efficiently from long range. Meanwhile, Justin Holiday (2-of-9), LaVine (2-of-7), Parker (1-of-4), Antonio Blakeney (1-of-3), and Payne (0-of-1) all struggled.

Chicago is filled with confident shooters. They will likely need to outscore opponents to win games due to their defensive deficiencies. In order to turn that corner, the Bulls need to figure out how to get more of their 3-point shots to go down.

1 Prediction

There’s going to be plenty more nights like this

The Chicago Bulls already came into their game against the Philadelphia 76ers as the underdogs. With Markkanen and Dunn out, the talent gap became even larger. They gave a game effort in the first and fourth quarters, but were ultimately outmatched.

We will likely see more nights like this over the course of the next 81 games. Chicago has the ability to get into back-and-forth scoring battles with their opponent. Most of the time, however, that team’s superior defense will ultimately create enough separation to get past the Bulls.

Fortunately, we will likely see plenty of effort out of whoever is on the floor even in those losses. Fred Hoiberg seems to prefer keeping players on the court that aren’t always the most talented, but the most willing to play hard. This will lead to plenty of garbage time runs that make the final score closer than expected.

Chicago took a rough loss on the road. However, the Bulls are about to get some home cooking. They will host the Detroit Pistons in their United Center opener on Saturday, Oct. 20.

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