Of course, all eyes are on new acquisition Nikola Vucevic for the stretch run, but the big man isn’t alone. Other players need to step up if the Bulls want to play a postseason game.
The sample size is a mere five games for Nikola Vucevic in a Bulls uniform.
The numbers for the big man are 20.8 points per game, 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. The bottom line number that matters, however? The 1-4 record.
So why will he be the most important Bull over the final 24 regular-season games? When the draft asset future is somewhat mortgaged and the philosophy both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball are changed because of Vucevic’s presence, that in itself answers the question.
The Bulls seemingly went from undersized in the paint on most nights, to coming out of the Mar. 25 trade deadline with one of the biggest front lines in the Eastern Conference when they use Lauri Markkanen at the three, with Vucevic the focal point.
There’s a reason that Zach LaVine went from a solo act of scoring 27.9 points per game before the deal, to averaging 19.5 points since Vucevic was added.
Sure, the All-Star guard has been dealing with a sore ankle, but he’s also dealing with another main attraction on the offensive end. One that is still a work in progress to get accustomed to having.
“I think it’s just a matter of them getting used to having a guy that can really post up and we can play out of it,’’ Vucevic said of his presence. “They also had Thad [Young], who’s a very good post-up player, but I think what we have to figure out is once I get it, the movement off the ball. If they double team, what should we do? If they’re just digging hard and let me play one-on-one. So just figure it out and that’s just going to come with reps.’’
Reps that will often have to come in-game and under fire, with the Bulls playing five road games over the next seven nights, starting Tuesday in Indiana.
Reps that will also have to come as the Bulls are pushing for a top eight seeding rather than being in their current play-in-game position at No. 10.
That’s why this part of the schedule is so crucial. It comes against very winnable opponents on paper, but also opponents that are currently standing in the way of the Bulls’ progress toward a postseason appearance.
And while the spotlight will remain on Vucevic in this stretch run, he won’t be alone. These are the three other Bulls players that have to play at a high level for this team to make the trade deadline shakeup worth it:
1. Zach LaVine – There are very few NBA players over the last seven years that have been asked to switch playing philosophies more than LaVine has. Whether it’s been a coaching change or a roster turnover, the All-Star guard has had no choice but to remain fluid in his approach.
Now LaVine is learning how to play with the best big man he’s ever played with, and there’s a certain amount of sacrifice that comes with that territory. The good news for the Bulls is LaVine’s chase for meaningful playoff basketball has become bigger than his chase for numbers.
2. Tomas Satoransky – When the Bulls get solid play from their point guard – especially in the ball security department – they are either winning games or at least in games. Satoransky had his best game of the season Sunday against Brooklyn, and if he can play near that level more consistently the Bulls eliminate a major team weakness.
3. Patrick Williams – The rookie has taken some lumps this season, guard the opposing team’s best player most nights. He continues saying he’s learned valuable lessons in those matchups, and now it’s time for the student to start showing he can be the teacher.