In any sport, it’s important not to use a single-game sample size to make any grandiose proclamations about a team, especially if that one game doesn’t even count. But for Chicago Bulls fans, it’s hard not to get excited about what they saw from their team against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 5.
In a 131-95 preseason throttling of a team that’s likely destined for the NBA draft lottery once the 2021-22 season ends, plenty of things went right for the Bulls: They shot 43 percent from 3-point range, generated 36 assists against nine turnovers, held the Cavs to 35 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from deep, and had seven players reach double figures in scoring (including four starters).
But even going by just the EYE TEST(TM), there’s a lot to be excited about with this team, particularly when it comes to their defense, passing, and creation.
While insignificant in the grand scheme of things, there were a lot of positives to take away from the Chicago Bulls’ first preseason game.
Looking through some of the highlights, the improved playmaking immediately stands out as well as the impact of several players’ gravity. On Chicago’s first possession of the game, they run Pistol action for DeMar DeRozan, which flows into a ball screen with Nikola Vucevic. Anticipating a drive, Darius Garland shows help at the nail, which opens up a good look for Lonzo Ball:
(Side note: nice job by Ball drifting away slightly before the pass to make that a harder contest for Garland.)
The sharing didn’t stop there. Vucevic, who’s regarded as one of the better passing big men, showed what can happen when a team offers up uninspiring help defense:
And, of course, Ball was Ball:
There were much more highlights to choose from — this pass from Ball to a cutting LaVine, LaVine freezing defenders with a shot attempt only to find a slashing DeRozan in transition, Alex Caruso getting it to the open man in the corner off the pick-and-roll, and Ball doing the same — and they all show that perhaps the fears that the Bulls wouldn’t have enough shots to go around might be for naught.
Besides, it probably means fans can expect more highlights like this:
Many of those Bulls dimes came off of transition opportunities, which now brings us to the side of the floor most Chicago fans are worried about, though there was no need to in this game. Cleveland’s inefficient shooting night and 20 turnovers gave the Bulls plenty of chances to run the floor, but before you go “well, it’s the Cavs”, Chicago’s effort on that end contributed to much of those struggles.
It was a collective success for the Bulls, but it also helps when Ball and Caruso live up to their respective defensive reputations:
Again, it would be foolhardy to look at this game and think that the Bulls are Eastern Conference contenders (or even a lock to make the playoffs). It’s still fair to ask whether this team can consistently match this effort when the stakes are higher and the competition is better.
But that doesn’t make the Bulls’ triumph over the Cavs any less exciting. After all, the hallmark of a good team is to blow out teams like Cleveland, so seeing the Chicago Bulls squeeze the life out of an inferior division mate while looking as impressive as they did on both sides of the court provides a bit of optimism for what to expect this year.
And after four seasons of pessimism, that is a welcome change.