Will constant lineup changes affect Bulls down the line?
Besides having a very different roster this season, the Bulls have dealt with a long string of lineup changes.
The latest cruel blow was forward Javonte Green entering health and safety protocols, according to the official NBA injury report. Barring some sort of false negative, Green will likely be sidelined for at least 10 days.
Green has started 12 of 23 games this season as an undersized, 6-foot-4 power forward, averaging 5.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and usually one impressive dunk per game. He played 29 minutes in Thursday's 119-115 victory over the New York Knicks.
Center Nikola Vucevic missed seven games when he went through COVID protocols in November. Guard Coby White entered protocols on Wednesday.
Patrick Williams started as the Bulls' starting power forward but was lost five games into the season due to wrist surgery.
Without Green, Alize Johnson figures to return to the rotation. Troy Brown Jr. got some playing time against the Knicks, taking some of White's usual minutes.
Alex Caruso, who started at power forward while Vucevic was out, is listed as questionable for Saturday's game at Brooklyn due to a hamstring injury. Even with the Nets hosting Minnesota on Friday, the Bulls-Nets game will feature the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings.
Between the roster moves from the summer, injuries and positive COVID tests, the Bulls are facing another handicap -- a decided lack of practice time.
Before leaving for New York this week, the Bulls had consecutive days off for the first time in four weeks. On Wednesday at the Advocate Center, they held a formal practice for the first time in roughly 20 days. So with all the changing lineups, coach Billy Donovan has had to make adjustments mostly through film sessions and morning shootarounds.
"(Wednesday's practice) was really good for us, because I think what happens is when you have the kind of schedule that we had, there's a lot of slippage that happens when it's just game after game after game," he said. "Because you're trying to tie in your own corrections that you've got to make through video and then obviously you're trying to prepare for your next opponent."
Since the Bulls use small lineups most of the time, the players have to work out things like when to double the post, when to trap on the perimeter, how to match up.
"I don't think there's any players that like practice, but it's necessary," Caruso said. "It's a necessary evil to getting better, necessary to improve on things that you can't do live in games. You need reps doing stuff to make sure you can implement it into games. So even (Wednesday), it wasn't super-taxing physically, but mentally we tried to make sure we focused and locked into the stuff that we highlighted that we need to get better at."
Caruso felt this group of players came together quickly during training camp, for a variety of reasons.
"Just having a cerebral group," he said. "We've been watching a lot of film, trying to be vocal, trying to talk about stuff, just trying to pay attention in games and figure it out because we haven't had a lot of practice time."
The Bulls beat Brooklyn once already this season, winning 118-95 on Nov. 8 at the United Center, despite 38 points from Kevin Durant.
Looking ahead, the Bulls will have multiple days off four times before Christmas. They are off to a good start, but maybe some practice time will make things even better.
"We needed a day like (Wednesday) just to work defensively some on our identity," Donovan said. "It hasn't been the greatest thing scheduling-wise with the new team that we have early in the season have not had a lot of practice time. I think we definitely need some of that."