The Memphis Grizzlies will play the Chicago Bulls tonight at home and again on December 4th at the United Center. While fans are accustomed to paying closer attention to Western Conference rivals, it is also important to pay attention to any game where the talent disparity is not so vast.
Last season, the Bulls won 22 games and the Grizzlies won 33. This season, experts are predicting approximately the opposite. In either case, these two teams each have a vested interest in picking up wins where they can get them. Also, with it being the beginning of the season, all teams are hungry, trying to put their best foot forward while shedding the rust from the off-season.
The Grizz should not sleep on Zach Lavine and Otto Porter Jr. While Porter Jr. only played 15 games last season, he has proven in his career to be a threat from beyond the arc. Zach LaVine can provide more than fancy dunks. He averaged 23.7 points in his 63 games last year.
To set the stage for tonight’s game, GBB has asked Jason Patt from Blog a Bull five questions.
Last year, the Bulls won 22 games. What, if anything, happened in the off-season that has you encouraged about the 2019-2020 Bulls team?
The Bulls had a really solid offseason after their disastrous 2018-19 campaign. They drafted Coby White with the No. 7 pick to hopefully be their point guard of the future, and he has opened eyes with his play in the preseason and the season opener.
In free agency, the Bulls struck quick by bringing aboard a terrific veteran leader in Thaddeus Young. They further bolstered the point guard rotation by acquiring Tomas Satoransky in a sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards. Their final notable free-agent signing was a stretch 5 in Luke Kornet.
All these moves put together bolstered the overall talent on the roster, giving the Bulls a deeper, smarter, more skilled team.
NBA fans may be more familiar with the likes of Zach LaVine or Otto Porter Jr., but are there any other X-factor players that need to be on the radar?
I wouldn’t call Lauri Markkanen an X-factor, because he should be one of the best players on the Bulls, if not the best. So, he should definitely be on the radar, especially after going for 35 and 17 in the season opener.
Wendell Carter Jr. is the other young Bull in the front court, and he was selected three picks after Grizzlies youngster Jaren Jackson Jr. in 2018. We may see those two matched up at times, with Carter expected to be the Bulls’ defensive anchor in time.
Aside from those guys, the vets Young and Satoransky will be extremely important for this Bulls team. The backcourt duo of White and Kris Dunn is also intriguing because of the different things they bring to the table. There was a report of trade talks between the Bulls and Grizzlies that involved Dunn before Tyus Jones was signed, and Dunn has transitioned into a defense-first role off the bench after those fell through.
If you were allowed to step in as the coach of the Bulls for this game against the Grizzlies, on what or whom would you tell the Bulls to focus?
Jonas Valanciunas may have been quiet in the opener, but he was outstanding for the Grizzlies after the trade last season and a legitimate threat down low. Outside of him, Memphis is all about Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. as the leaders of their young core. The Bulls will have to stop the dribble penetration of Morant and not allow him to get to his spots to both be a scorer and a playmaker. Jackson going against Markkanen and Carter should be fun.
The Bulls will also need to keep an eye on shooters after getting torched from the outside by the Hornets The Grizzlies may have struggled from deep in their opener, but Jae Crowder and Dillon Brooks can be dangerous from outside if left open. Jackson falls in this category as well.
What do you predict will be the Bulls’ biggest challenges this season?
As we saw in that Hornets opener, the Bulls need to improve defensively. While they forced a good amount of turnovers, they were burned over and over again with ball movement that led to open 3-pointers. They’ll have to figure out their defensive coverages and how to better defend the 3, and there are still questions about their rim protection as Carter learns the ropes.
The Bulls will also have to learn how to close games. Their execution and decision-making down the stretch against the Hornets was awful, with Zach LaVine forcing too much and nobody outside of Markkanen stepping up. LaVine will be better, but whether they can consistently execute in the clutch remains to be seen.
Finally, the Bulls need to stay healthy after several injury-plagued seasons. If a guy like Otto Porter Jr. goes down (he has had some injury issues in the past), Chicago could be in trouble thanks to a lack of wing depth. LaVine, Markkanen, Carter and Dunn have all had their own injury concerns in their young careers.
How would you grade the moves the Grizzlies made in the off-season and why?
You have to love the Grizzlies’ draft. While they didn’t win the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes, getting Morant to be the point guard of the future was a nice consolation prize. Plus, Brandon Clarke could be one of the steals of the draft. That’s a slam dunk draft that deserves an A.
Trading Mike Conley helped the Grizzlies wind up with Clarke, and they also got Crowder, Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver and another first. They got another future first by taking on Andre Iguodala from a desperate Warriors team. Korver and Jevon Carter turned into projects in Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton, plus two second-round picks.
Re-signing Valanciunas to a three-year, $45 million deal was reasonable, and getting a stellar backup point guard in Jones was a fine move. You can debate whether or not the Grizzlies should have just kept Delon Wright, but they did get two second-round picks for Wright. Finally, getting off that unfortunately awful Chandler Parsons contract was a win.
The Grizzlies are probably going to be really bad this season, but they set themselves up for a nice future with the moves they made in the summer. Given their situation, I’d give them an overall grade of a solid B+.
Special thanks to Jason Patt for this interview and keeping us in the know on all things Bulls!