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A Chicago Bulls Q&A with Stephen Noh of The Athletic

On a new coach, a major deadline acquisition and more

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After a few games without the Q&As (our apologies!), we are officially back and running.

The Sixers are in Chicago tonight, so I had a talk with Stephen Noh of The Athletic to discuss this year’s Bulls team that looks a lot different than it did when the Sixers faced them in the October.

Question #1: Early on in the season, the Bulls fired coach Fred Hoiberg and replaced him with former assistant Jim Boylen. Boylen’s tenure thus far has been newsworthy, though often for the wrong reasons. After watching a Boylen-led team for a few months, do you think he is the long-term solution that the Bulls have been seeking since the departure of Tom Thibodeau?

The jury is definitely still out on Boylen. He was mostly awful in his first seven weeks on the job, largely due to the strategic decisions he was making. He had the Bulls walking the ball up the court and throwing the ball into the post constantly, and they were getting blown out of games as a result.

Boylen freed up the Bulls’ offense in the last five weeks, and they have been a completely different team since then. They’ve reversed from the worst offense in the league to one of the best. He deserves some credit for that change, and Bulls management has publicly indicated that he’ll be given a shot to coach next year.

It’s still way too early to say if he’s the long-term solution, but the answer has gone from “no way in hell” to “maybe” over the course of the last month or so. He’s certainly a big personality like Thibodeau, and you’ll see some animated sideline antics while you’re watching the game.

*Quick note*: Stephen wrote a great piece earlier this week on The Athletic about Boylen’s drastic turnaround from a brutal beginning to what has been an impressive resurgence.

Question #2: The Bulls made a bit of a splash at this year’s Trade Deadline, flipping Jabari Parker’s expiring contract and Bobby Portis to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Otto Porter. What kind of impact has Porter made since his arrival in Chicago?

Porter has been a life preserver for the Bulls. Their rebuild was sliding backwards quickly before his acquisition, but they’ve been 6-3 in games that he’s played.

Sixers fans have undoubtedly seen a lot of Porter back in his days with the Wizards, and most probably think of him as a 3-and-D specialist. That was his primary role in Washington, but he’s been given a chance to do more in Chicago and he’s run with the opportunity. He’s shooting a lot more 3’s, running pick-and-rolls, and creating shots in isolation. His usage is up about six percent from those Wizards days and he’s looked like he’s taking a leap.

Porter has also opened up a ton of space for the other Bulls to operate, and his acquisition has largely coincided with that offensive outburst from the rest of the team. The Bulls’ starting lineup has been excellent with him.

Question #3: Zach LaVine has long been a player who at times is frustrating, but at others looks like a future star. He has settled into a role as a high-volume shot-taker in Chicago, averaging over 23 points per game this season while maintaining decent efficiency. In your view, is LaVine capable of maintaining such high usage on a team that’s competing in the playoffs?

LaVine was forced into taking a ton of shots early in the season when the Bulls were dealing with injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. His usage has tapered off 2.6 percent since the Bulls traded for Porter, and he’s been playing the best basketball of his career as a result.

The Bulls have had incredibly weak point guard play throughout the year, and they’ve adapted by letting pretty much every player other than Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio push the ball up the floor off rebounds. LaVine has been a big part of that change, playing more as a point guard in transition. He’s drastically improved as a facilitator over the course of the last month under that new systemic change.

LaVine is an incredible tough shot-maker and an undeniably talented offensive player. He’s turned himself into one of the best drivers in the league and his pull up 3-point shooting is a real threat. Where he gets into trouble is with poor shot selection and a tendency to fall in love with bad mid-range jumpers. When the Bulls ask him to do too much, the results can be ugly. In his current role, though, he’s been fantastic.

Major thanks to Stephen for taking the time to answer our questions!

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