Why the Bulls need to add experience to starting lineup

  • Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown, left starts to lose control of the ball as Chicago Bulls' Thaddeus Young defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Chicago.

    Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown, left starts to lose control of the ball as Chicago Bulls' Thaddeus Young defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Chicago. Associated Press

Updated 1/27/2021 6:03 AM

The Bulls' long-running reality show, "The Rebuilding Life," featured some disappointment in the latest episode.

Just when it seemed like the Bulls were showing some promising signs with a three-game winning streak, they couldn't compete in consecutive home games against the Lakers and Celtics.


Actually, Monday's 119-103 loss to Boston was close for a while in the second quarter when veteran subs Thad Young, Otto Porter and Garrett Temple led a comeback. With the starters on the floor at the start of the third quarter, the Celtics went on a 14-2 run. Thanks for watching, stay tuned for scenes from our next episode.

When it comes to judging the Bulls' progress this season, it's important to keep an eye on the big picture. The biggest reason they've been more competitive is a heavier dose of veteran experience. Until the young players show real progress, the ceiling for this group will be relatively low. At the moment, the five starters are the worst on the team in terms of plus-minus and net rating.

So it might be time to shuffle the starting lineup and get at least one veteran on the floor. The young players won't learn and improve without veterans around them.

Coach Billy Donovan talked about the dilemma after the Boston game.

"I probably need to look at that," he said. "The hard part is you start those (veteran) guys, the game becomes a lot longer for them. I don't want to put them in a situation ... where the minutes night in and night out are out of control for them and then they become less productive or effective."

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Since their game at Memphis on Wednesday was postponed, the Bulls have a few days to consider some different lineups. Let's examine the possibilities:

Leave it the same and hope for better results with a healthy Wendell Carter Jr.

Obviously, this strategy became impossible with news that Carter will miss another four weeks with a right quad contusion. Carter already missed the last three games. The Bulls did fine without him against Charlotte, but Daniel Gafford and Lauri Markkanen didn't provide much rim protection against the Lakers' Anthony Davis or Boston's Jayson Tatum.

One thing that's tough to figure out with Carter is last season, when the Bulls were a better defensive team, he was probably the one guy in the Bulls' lineup who played well on both ends of the court, up until suffering that high ankle sprain in January. This year, he's followed the Bulls' trend of being better on offense than defense.

Bring Coby White off the bench and start Tomas Satoransky.

The problem with this move is the Bulls started Satoransky last season and in the process, discovered he's a pretty good backup. White may ultimately prove to be a better scorer than playmaker, but the Bulls should probably invest more time in this process, since White is such an important part of the plan.


And keep in mind, even though White has been in a shooting slump the last five games, the overall numbers are pretty good. For the season, he's averaging 15.2 points, 5.6 assists, 2.7 turnovers and shooting 40 percent overall. For a second-year pro adjusting to a new role, that's not bad at all.

Bring rookie Patrick Williams off the bench and start Porter or Temple

This would likely help the starting lineup, but what would benefit Williams' development the most? The Bulls want him to become a defensive stopper and in his first 16 pro games, he's guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Tatum and LeBron James twice, among others.

Williams has had some good moments, but overall, guarding those NBA all-stars hasn't gone especially well. Should Williams keep learning on the job or take a step back? A respite might not be a bad idea. He can always return to a starting role down the road.

Start Young and bring Markkanen off the bench.

If Donovan is going to change the starting lineup, this is the move that makes the most sense, for a few reasons. Even though Markkanen has shot the ball well this season, he's last on the team in both plus-minus and net rating. Those categories don't tell the full story, but the defense is not functioning well with the current starting five.

Young has played very well this season, with Donovan utilizing his post-up game. Young is also one of the most durable players in the NBA, so he can probably handle a bump in minutes.

Ultimately, this is about making the younger players better. Having Young on the floor should help Gafford, Williams and eventually Carter defensively, and also Zach LaVine would no longer be the oldest player among the starters.

Carter's injury throws a wrench into most of these decisions, but it does look like adding a veteran or two to the lineup will be needed.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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