Billy Donovan still has no idea if the new-look offense will translate when the Bulls tip-off their 2022-23 regular season in Miami on Wednesday night.
The coach has hopes, he has a solid idea, but the specifics of what certain groupings will look like on the floor and how his players will embrace a more read-and-react style of play outside of preseason games and practices?
That’s the great unknown.
That’s what the last few days of this training camp were about. Donovan and his staff need to at least have a feel of what packages they are bringing down to South Beach when the team charter heads out after the Tuesday practice, and what they are still building out as the season begins.
“It’s striking that balance between you put so much stuff in, you’re not really good at anything, and then all of a sudden you get into the season, games start coming, and you have no time to practice,” Donovan said. “So the things we know we’re going to have to do game-in, game-out, you’re trying to really drill down those things, get them to compete in those things.”
The best news to come out of the last month for Donovan was no new injuries.
Obviously, starting training camp in late September, knowing that Lonzo Ball was headed for a second left knee surgery in less than a year was a gut-punch, but not an unexpected one.
That gave the Bulls the entire camp to hold “try-outs” for the point guard position. A length of time they really didn’t need, as former Morgan Park standout Ayo Dosunmu instantly staked his claim by preseason Game 1.
Dosunmu is not Ball, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a poor man’s version of him.
Dosunmu can defend at a high level, sees the floor well, and if he can knock down the corner three off the drive-and-kicks from Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, well, the Bulls just might have a solid option to hold down the fort until the evaluation on Ball’s knee is known next month.
What should also allow Donovan to rest a bit easier at night was how his “Big Three” showed up to camp and played throughout the preseason.
While LaVine seemed to use exhibition games to simply get his wind built up, the reports out of intrasquad scrimmages were completely different. Rookie Dalen Terry might still be looking for a piece of his soul that LaVine stole over several afternoon head-to-heads.
DeRozan was his usual workman-like self, getting his 21 points and 4.7 assists in just under 25 minutes per game in the three preseason games he played in, but it was Nikola Vucevic that had the Bulls breathing a sigh of relief.
Since he started making the three-pointer a regular part of his repertoire, Vucevic was coming off his worst season shooting from beyond the arc, hitting just 31.4%. The fact that he hit 7-of-14 (50%) from long range in the preseason is at least a sign that he could get back to normal “stretch-Vooch.”
If opposing defenses have to again respect Vucevic from outside, that leaves more operating room for DeRozan’s mid-range game and a clearer runway to the rim for LaVine.
What it will also allow is for Donovan to go with his “big lineup,” playing Vucevic and Andre Drummond at the same time.
Just one of those looks that are still a work in progress heading onto the regular-season stage.
“We have to still build out the offense,” Donovan said. “I think when we start to play, we’ll get to some moments where we can now start to get into some different combinations, some different areas, whether it’s playing Vooch and Andre together or going small, and seeing what that looks like.”