What I'm seeing from the Bulls in preseason
Picking out positives from Coby White, Patrick Williams, and Billy Donovan. Concerns about Wendell Carter.
There are way too many caveats to even list as to why we shouldn’t take too much from preseason games. With that said, I have seen some stuff from the first three Bulls games under the Donovan era that will probably carry over when the real action starts. Here’s what has caught my attention.
Is Coby White a point guard?
I thought White had some good moments last year, but I wasn’t buying him as a point guard at all.
The things I liked: He was solid as a catch-and-shoot threat, he competed defensively, and he was a great transition passer.
What I didn't like: His shot selection was poor, his court vision was rudimentary in the halfcourt, and he was out of control on many of his drives.
I wanted to see if White could improve those weaknesses in preseason. Through the first two games, nothing really changed for me. He did have some nice passes in the Bulls’ second game, but they were basic dump offs to the roll man.
White’s biggest issue with his passing has been that he can’t progress past the first read. He hasn’t been able to ping the ball to shooters on pick-and-rolls, which is an essential pass that most point guards at the NBA level can make.
Compare him to veteran Tomas Satoransky running the exact same play from earlier in the preseason. Satoransky finds an open shooter at the top of the arc. White keeps his head down, barrels into a sea of defenders and loses the ball.
What is concerning about this play is that White never even gave himself a chance to make the right decision. Ryan Arcidiacono was open in the same spot that Satoransky hit, but wasn’t on White’s radar at all.
After watching roughly 80 games of White at the college and pro level, I had never seen a single shred of evidence that his court vision was improving.
That changed on Wednesday. Something clicked for him against the Thunder, and he was trying advanced passes in the halfcourt. His pedestrian three assist, four turnover stat line does not tell the story at all. His teammates robbed him of assists by missing shots, but he was creating offense like he never had before.
White is reading the court better and improving his feel. Here’s a small thing, but one that wouldn’t have happened a year ago. Watch him command the offense to end the third quarter on Wednesday. He recognized the time and situation, directed Lauri Markkanen to pull back on his screen to get the timing just right, and got the clock stopped perfectly at the 33 second mark.
This is what White needs to do on a more consistent basis if he wants to be an NBA-caliber point guard. Understand game situations and prove to defenses that he is capable of whipping the ball to any spot on the court.
Can he do it? Before Wednesday, I would have said no. Now, I’m not quite so sure.
The Patrick Williams hype train
I already wrote about Williams’ impressive preseason debut in great detail. In his second and third games, he’s confirmed most of the things that I picked out during that short appearance. On defense, he’s displayed great positional awareness, extremely active hands, and attentiveness to boxing out. The Bulls have rebounded better with him on the floor in every game so far.
Offensively, I think I may have been wrong when I stated earlier that he’s not comfortable taking above the break 3’s. He’s hit 3 of 5 since that first game and shown less hesitation in letting it rip.
He’d shown that he was a good corner crash guy on the offensive glass in the previous games, but now we have a highlight to back it up.
"At this level I learned that they really don't box out a lot,” Williams said in his pregame availability. You better get a body on Williams, because he’s coming from that corner.
It’s been mostly good for Williams through the first three practice games, but two areas where he does need to improve are staying down on pump fakes (Eric Gordon and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both got him badly) and reaching for steals in the passing lane, leading to slow closeouts. Spencer Pearlman mentioned in his excellent write-up for The Stepien that these were problem areas for Williams at Florida State too.
Mixing in zone defense
The Bulls didn’t play too much zone under Jim Boylen, but I’ve seen it sprinkled in twice so far under Donovan. He likes to go to it after timeouts with the intention of screwing up the other team’s ATO play. The Bulls pulled off a spicy press into a zone against the Thunder on Wednesday that worked to blow up what coach Mark Daigneault drew up.
This has become a way more common occurrence league-wide. John Schumann of NBA.com had an excellent story last year on the chess match that is going on between coaches during timeouts. It’s a fun strategic wrinkle to look out for.
I’m worried about Wendell Carter
Preseason is a time for hope, but Wendell Carter has given us very little reason to have it. This was supposed to be his year to show that he could pass and shoot. Instead, he’s been missing cutters left and right, as shown by Will Gottlieb over at his Bulls Patreon page. He looks petrified when he catches the ball on the perimeter, and Al Horford was camping the lane all night against the Bulls as a result.
Carter doesn’t look right, and there’s not enough time to fix his issues before the season starts. He needs to shoot to keep defenses honest. If anyone needs a big game in the last preseason matchup to get their confidence up, it’s him.
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