Sunday, August 14 2022

The Chicago Bulls have had a rough 24 hours. Not only did the Bulls lose their first game of the season in gut-wrenching fashion after a failed game-winning attempt by DeMar DeRozan fell just short, but they also lost starting forward Patrick Williams for four-to-six months to a wrist injury in the process.

Williams fell hard in the third quarter after a dunk attempt, which was ruled a Flagrant 1 foul against Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson. After wincing on the ground in pain for a bit, Williams went straight to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Fast forward to Friday afternoon, and Williams is expected to miss the rest of the season with a dislocated wrist, but there is optimism that he could return for the playoffs. 

It’s a tough break not just for the Bulls, but for Williams too, who dealt with an ankle sprain and shoulder strain all within the last month. During Chicago’s practice on Friday afternoon, Bulls coach Billy Donovan shared how unfortunate this is for the young forward.

“I feel bad for him,” Donovan said. “He obviously missed a month with the ankle. I thought he had a great summer considering the fact he got drafted and came right to camp with no Summer League [last year]. He ended up a really durable player for us last year. He missed one game and pretty much was guarding all the best players on the other team throughout the entire league and not really having ever played against those guys. I think he had a wealth of knowledge and experience that this summer needed to be productive for him. And it was. And it’s just unfortunate that he can’t see a lot of that work out at this point in time. I’m disappointed for him.”

With Williams sidelined for the rest of the regular season, it puts Chicago in a tough spot when it comes to its depth chart, which was an area of concern entering the season. To make matters even worse, the team’s upcoming slate of games will make Williams’ absence even more noticeable. Here’s who the Bulls face within the next two weeks, as well as the frontcourt threats they pose:

It’s safe to say the Bulls are going to have their hands full starting with their Saturday night matchup against the Jazz. In matchups against the likes of Gobert and Embiid, it may call for the 6-10 Tony Bradley to get some more minutes. Bradley saw a few minutes of action against the Knicks after Williams’ injury, and he scrapped for some offensive boards to match the physicality of New York. But sticking Bradley in the starting lineup would mess with the floor spacing the Bulls have, so he makes more sense as a matchup-oriented player, rather than someone the Bulls should stick with for the rest of the season. This means the Bulls really have only one option to go with: small ball. 

Donovan already mentioned on Friday that Jevonte Green could be the replacement for Williams, as the 6-4 guard filled in for him during the preseason when he was injured. So it’s pretty much expected that the Bulls will go small over the course of the season. Other options mentioned were Derrick Jones Jr., who has played in only one game so far this season, or going with DeRozan at the four and Alex Caruso as the small forward to trot out a four-guard lineup.  

While it is essentially Chicago’s only option right now, it’s not a terribly bad one given the results they got from it against the Knicks. When Williams went down on Thursday, we got a glimpse of what a small-ball lineup in Chicago would look like. It resulted in guards Lonzo Ball, Caruso and Green taking turns guarding All-Star Knicks big man Julius Randle for most possessions in the second half, with a mixed bag of results. 

Most shooting possessions involving Randle in the second half resulted in fouls, as the Bulls tried to compensate for their lack of size. But it wasn’t for lack of effort by any means. Though Chicago’s guards were undersized in guarding Randle, they didn’t make any post-up easy on him. Like this one in which Ball does a great job of bodying Randle and forcing him into a tough shot:

Or Green cutting off Randle as he was coming down court with a full head of steam:

Where the Bulls lack in size, they make up for it in defensive effort, something that many expected them to struggle with this season. But the additions of Ball and Caruso have done wonders for Chicago on that end of the floor, resulting in the fourth-best defense in the league thus far. It’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Ball come away with this steal on Randle in the fourth quarter:

Although it was just one game, and Randle had his worst scoring performance of the season, Chicago managed to stick around in the game despite the loss of Williams. It won’t be ideal to face players such as Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo without some real size in the frontcourt, but with guys such as Caruso and Ball in the lineup, who rank near the top of the league in steals and deflections, Chicago has a chance to at least put up a fight on the defensive end.

Once we get later into the season, the Bulls can canvas the league for trade options to give them some more depth in the frontcourt. Perhaps taking a flier on Marvin Bagley III would interest the Bulls, as he’s fallen out of the Sacramento Kings‘ rotation. Whether it’s Bagley or someone else, though, there will surely be trade options for Chicago as the season wears on. But for now, they’ll have to hope Caruso, Ball and Green can keep up the effort and activity on defense to keep them stable on that end of the floor.



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