Chicago Bulls: Season opener preview vs. Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls will open the season tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center.

Reunited and it feels so GOOD.

After nine months of quarantines, trade inquiries and questions about just how the heck the NBA would commence, we have made it to opening night for the Chicago Bulls.

Without a doubt, this season has set itself up to be one of the most exciting for Windy City basketball. New head coach Billy Donovan is the captain now, and his previous work with the Oklahoma City Thunder invites optimism for Bulls fans everywhere.

That glimmer of hope starts the Coby White and Zach LaVine. During the preseason, both players showed their potential upset; Zach appeared to make strides as a defender, Coby as a playmaker.

There are fans who believe that LaVine, who averaged over 25 points per game last year, still has not reached his ceiling on either side of the court. At just 25 years old, Prime LaVine could just be getting started.

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White’s game needs to step up in a more significant way. After his first year, and just one start in 65 games, the former Tarheel was an assumed scorer and not a point guard.

However, White’s passing was on display in the preseason, working in the pick-and-roll with his bigs and finding players to kick out to when his lane to the basket suddenly closed. While his teammates need to work on converting those open looks, Coby White is trending up.

Speaking of bigs and needing to convert on open looks, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are the biggest question marks in the starting lineup. It’s easy to see why Markkanen did not get a contract extension when looking at his performance last season and this preseason.

Lauri has trouble in the middle two preseason games, knocking down 5 of an attempted 25 shots in games two and three, only to cap it off with a 22-point finale against the Thunder.

In a huge “prove it” year for the Finnish forward, Lauri will have to reestablish himself inside with his athleticism by cutting and size. He did bring back the drag step that Bull’s colorman Stacey King loves to see, but his shooting from deep will need to improve and quickly.

Markkanen might see more minutes as a center in the Billy Ball system, which hopefully will yield better play on the defensive side as well.

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Carter is a mystery headed into the 20-21 NBA season. He wanted to show his willingness and effectiveness to shoot the deep ball as he did during his lone season with Duke. His results? Let’s just say they were disappointing (1 for 12).

I personally still believe in Carter’s ability to be an offensive weapon, but I would rather see it in the post and coming off fake handoffs and shooting those wide-open 18-footers.

The last piece of the starting lineup is the 3 spot, which according to reports will be filled by rookie Patrick Williams, according to official game notes.

Williams showed veteran poise and a surprisingly effective jumper in his first preseason action. The fourth overall pick was showed his defense was as good as advertised and evidently impressed Donovan enough to throw him into the starting lineup without Summer League or a rookie mini-camp.

The most significant news coming out of the Advocate Center is that Thaddeus Young is still out, recovering from a severe leg infection. Beyond that, the bench rotation, now led by Otto Porter Jr. and his $28 million is anyone’s guess.

Tomas Satoransky is questionable after coming out of COVID protocols, as is Devon Dotson.

For the Atlanta Hawks tonight, Trae Young will be the biggest defensive assignment for the Bulls. His electric scoring and flashy passing earned him a contract with Adidas and signature shoe during the offseason.

The rest of the starters will include rim-running big man John Collins and a toss-up between DeAndre Hunter, Cam Redish, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic to fill out the other three spots.

Bogdanovic was acquired after the Sacramento Kings declined to match his offer in restricted free agency, while Reddish and Hunter will be entering their sophomore campaigns after a pair of underwhelming rookie season.

The Hawks will be without Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and rookie Onyeka Okongwu for tonight’s battle. Clint Capela is listed as doubtful.

Next. Chicago Bulls: Expectations have shifted on Patrick Williams. dark

The game will start a 7 P.M. tonight with Adam Amin and Stacey King calling the game from NBC Sports Chicago. Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington will have the radio broadcast duties from 670 the Score, with pregame starting at 6:45 P.M.

Let’s start this year with a win!