Bulls have to balance development of young players with winning games

SAN FRANCISCO – Zach LaVine wasn’t going to kick young teammates when they were down.

In the aftermath of Bulls coach Billy Donovan opting to shakeup the starting lineup on Friday, moving Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams to the second unit, LaVine made it very clear that the buck still started and finished with himself, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

Dosunmu and Williams were simply collateral damage of the failings of that “Big Three” so far this season.

“It always does,” LaVine said of the blame falling on the three veterans. “Coach has to make his decisions, but as the best players on the team we’ve got to be the ones that make the plays, on bad days take the criticism, good days make sure to help us win, play defense, make the shots. That’s what you do, and why you are in position to do this.

“It’s a player-driven league, and I always think it starts top to bottom.”

LaVine wasn’t lying, but then again he also knows the top – especially the top three – remain very safe with their starting status.

It’s now up to Williams and Dosunmu to not only accept the demotion, but the coaching staff has to continue to make sure they are developing if this roster is to progress forward.

Not an easy wire to walk.

While Dosunmu and Williams said all the right things about their coach’s decision, and even showed in the loss to Golden State that they weren’t going to let it affect their play, minutes will be cut in their new role.

Dosunmu was averaging just under 29 minutes a game as a starter, and played 21 in the loss to the Warriors.

The good news was he went 4-for-4 from the field, hit his only three, grabbed five rebounds and handed out three assists.

“I just take it as this is what it was,” Dosunmu said of his performance and feelings about the change. “Start or not, every day I want to get 1% better. Keep stacking days like that, and at the end of the day you always become a better player. That’s my mindset. Nothing really has changed.”

Then again, Dosunmu was a second-round pick, and wouldn’t even be a starter if not for the Lonzo Ball injury.

It’s Williams that remained the elephant in the room, with the No. 4 pick from the 2020 draft realizing that his draft position seemingly no longer carries weight over wins and losses.

Just like that, he’s gone from 28 minutes per game as a starter, to trying to make the most out of the 19 minutes he played against the Warriors.

A decision that could hamper his development? Donovan didn’t think so.

“The one thing with Patrick is we’ve been trying to get him to be more aggressive,” Donovan said. “Being out there with three terrific offensive players in Zach, Vooch and DeMar, sometimes there’s not those opportunities, so to speak. He’s going to need to be somebody that gives that group a little bit of a pop. So I look at it as this may actually help his development, putting him in some situations where he can be a little more aggressive. I still think the development part for him is in place.”

Williams did put up nine shots in those 19 minutes, which wasn’t bad at all for a guy that averaged 7.4 shot attempts per game as a starter.

“I’m with whatever to win,” Williams said. “You gotta trust the process and control what you can control as a player. I trust Billy, I trust the coaching staff.”

LaVine, however, had a message for his teammates. Williams and Dosunmu can trust the decisions made, but LaVine wanted to make sure they were still hungry.

“I don’t think they should be happy or satisfied with it at all,” LaVine said.

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