The Chicago Bulls return to live basketball Friday night, as they host the Houston Rockets. The Bulls haven’t played a game since March, when the season was postponed due to Covid. The Rockets however were invited to the NBA bubble in July, but were eliminated in the 2nd round of the playoffs in September. Both teams made changes at the head coaching position, Chicago hiring Billy Donovan and Houston hiring Stephen Silas.
Projected Starters: Coby White, Zach Lavine, Otto Porter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr
Bench: Tomas Satoransky, Patrick Williams, Daniel Gafford, Ryan Arcidiacono, Chandler Hutchison, Luke Kornet, Devon Dotson, Adam Mokoka, Noah Vonleh, Zach Norvell, Cristiano Felicio, Simi Shittu
Inactive: Denzel Valentine(hamstring strain), Garrett Temple(Covid), Thaddeus Young(leg infection)
*updated this morning with news Thaddeus Young is OUT tonight.
What to Look For?
Bulls New Defensive Scheme: Reports out of camp are the Bulls have played a lot more drop coverage defensively, versus the blitzing coverage they mainly used under Jim Boylen. While the Bulls defense was respectable, they struggled rebounding the ball finishing the 3rd worst team in rebounding percentage. And while their defense held its own against bad teams, good teams weren’t phased by the blitz. Drop coverage will keep their bigs at the rim, ideally helping with the rebounding. Also some believe will play more to the roster’s strengths. The Bulls hope to maintain and improve the respectable level of defensive they played at last season.
Starters Won’t Play Much: Billy Donovan said he doesn’t anticipate a lot of starters going into the 2nd half. And specifically Billy Donovan has alluded to being cautious with wing Otto Porter Jr, saying his health is the “most important aspect” of the upcoming season. Expect the bench to get most of the playing time, and don’t expect a whole lot out of Otto Porter tonight.
Patrick Williams: The Bulls selected Patrick Williams 4th overall to many people’s surprise. The Bulls’ new front office have placed a lot of faith in their pick, and it will be intriguing to watch Williams play for the first time since being selected. What position can he play? Can he really handle the ball at the NBA level? Is he the real deal? I don’t want to overreact to anything we see tonight, but it will be hard not too.
Wendell Carter Jr new “facilitator” role: “I think there’s a lot of things he can do: he’s a facilitator, a good passer for a big man. Doing more around the perimeter will be a big part of his growth… I think Wendell is someone who is very bright… and he can make people around him better”. A quote from head coach Billy Donovan. Many believe Wendell’s skill set has been improperly used under Jim Boylen, and it seems new head coach Billy Donovan is one of those people. It will be really intriguing to see how much different Wendell will be used, but mainly how much different his production can be.
Top 3 Questions?
Is Markkanen more than a “catch and shoot guy”? Billy Donovan opened media week by saying Lauri Markkanen must be more than a “catch and shoot guy”. And he is right, because Lauri should be able to do more. But for some reason last season, Lauri seemed content with popping out to three or just standing on the perimeter. Was it the way he was used? Or has Lauri just settled into this way of playing on this current roster? I am interested to see how Donovan will try to get Lauri going and become the player many say he can be.
Is Otto Porter healthy? The beginning of last season, Otto Porter dealt with a hip injury that affected his play and eventually his availability. A hip injury that plagued Otto in his time with Washington. It was obvious right away last season something wasn’t right with Otto, and I hope it is obvious this season nothing is wrong. Otto Porter is vital to the Bulls having success this season.
Can Noah Vonleh challenge for roster spot? Chicago Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas mentioned Noah has a chance to compete for roster spot. For Noah to make the team, the Bulls would have to waive one of their guaranteed contracts. Meaning the Bulls will have to pay someone to leave. Likely victims would be Luke Kornet or Cristiano Felicio. Noah will have to impress for Bulls to be willing to do this.
Projected Starters: John Wall, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Jae’Sean Tate, DeMarcus Cousins
Bench: Chris Clemons, Ben McLemore, David Nwaba, Jerian Grant, Bruno Caboclo, Mason Jones, Keyon Martin Jr, Kenny Wooten
Inactives: James Harden(Covid protocols), Sterling Brown(Covid protocols), Christian Wood(elbow), PJ Tucker(unclear)
*updated with news Christian Wood and PJ Tucker are also OUT. Updated starters with Coach Silas’s announcement.
What to Look For?
John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins: The two former college teammates, now NBA teammates, Wall and Cousins are finally healthy(for now). The two former All-Stars are both happy to be back, and both have spoke on how they are excited to show they can still play at a high level.
The Backup Point Guard Battle: The Rockets traded backup point guard Austin Rivers this off-season, which was likely a financial casualty more than anything. The Rockets will rely heavily on Chris Clemons who played in only 33 games last year at under 10mpg, The Rockets also signed veteran point guard Jerian Grant, whom Bulls fans should be familiar with. Jerian Grant played in only six games last season with the Washington Wizards. Both are not only fighting to make the team, but for a rotation spot.
Former Bulls Battle For Spot on Team: I spoke about it a little bit above. There are two former Bulls on this Rockets team, Jerian Grant and David Nwaba. Both are trying to make the Rockets team, along with Gerald Green.
Top 3 Questions
Can the Rockets Have a Good Defense? One of the downfalls in the playoffs for this Rockets team was defense and rebounding. Reportedly Stephen Silas has practiced defense 80% of training camp. They also will play different than last year’s small ball team, players citing they have been switching a lot less in practice. For this Houston team to be great their defense will need to be good. I’m interested too see how quickly they are picking up what Silas wants them to do.
How Good is Christian Wood? The Rockets committed 3 years 41 million guaranteed to Christian Wood this offseason. Christian really banked on his hot finish with the Detroit Pistons last season, where he averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds the last 14 games. It will be interesting to see if he can carry that success into this season with the Houston Rockets.
How Much Will Harden’s Situation Be a Distraction? If you haven’t heard, James Harden has demanded a trade from Houston. Not only that, didn’t show up to the start of camp to attend a friend’s birthday party. There is a clear disconnect between Harden and the Rockets’ new direction. While Harden won’t play tonight, his situation is very real and the other players are aware of it. Not only aware are asked about it everyday. Hopefully the situation doesn’t affect the on court performance of the team.