When news broke at 5:00 p.m. Cairo time on August 2, 2021 that the Chicago Bulls had taken possession of the Lonzo Ball in tag and trade, it felt as though a prayer had been answered.
The organization has been craving for a long-standing answer at the lookout since they sent Derek Rose to New York in 2016. Names like Rajon Rondo, Chris Dunn and Thomas Satoransky were talented switches, but it didn’t take long for each to crash in their own excruciating way. Fast forward to a new front desk and Ball—who had been No. 2 the year before finally beginning to make his way as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans—found himself in the driver’s seat.
A talent for first-passes driving the tempo, defending multiple positions, and hitting the triple ball at a high rate, he felt like the perfect running companion for bucket-hungry scorers like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. And he was.
The bulls boomed with the ball on their head from the moment the ball jumped. 17 points, 11 assists, and 10 double triple rebounds had fans flooding the United center with drool during the opening game. Two games later, he hit five seconds to help elevate his team above the troublesome Toronto side. Next came his season-high 27 points against Anthony Davis and the team he drafted, as the Bulls managed an 18-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The ball was the perfect goalkeeper for the renewed Bulls. This is becoming more and more apparent for all the wrong reasons.
Paul played his last game of the season on January 14. What was previously expected to be just a six to eight week recovery timeline from a meniscus tear turned out to be an unspecified absence. The bulls officially went to power The ball will be out until the end of the season on April 6 Because of the constant discomfort in his knee. By the time the team finally made the announcement, the damage had basically been done.
After the ball was put off the bench, the Bulls saw offense drop from fourth to 20th, according to NBA stats. The lack of transitional playmaking and 3-point shooting was an immediate problem. Not only did he help boost the Bulls’ overall efficiency with his 42.3 percent clip from behind the arc, but he made several easy baskets by turning defense into attack. The Bulls held their third-best effective field goal percentage in the league on January 14, but dropped to the 15th league average over the rest of the season.
Defensively, the opponent’s TOV% ball on/off difference finished at +3.1 percent, which ranked 96 percent. We saw a similar effect in points allowed per 100 possessions, with the ball on/off differential coming in at -8.6, which also ranked 96th, per clean glass.
Now, are all the bulls fighting in the second half due to the absence of the ball? of course not. Many other players had injuries and the schedule increased dramatically. However, this drop helps underscore how much the two-way ball affects this current roster, which is why the latest news is a punch mixed with a hinged sandwich.
Ball – who is now expected to miss his training camp and the start of the regular season – has not yet been given a timetable for a comeback. He is said to still be experiencing pain in his knee during rehab and has put the Bulls who have made the fewest moves this season in a very uncomfortable position.
While part of the reason for the annoyance has to do with the rest of the Eastern Conference members who upgraded their rosters this summer, the biggest reason is that no one in Chicago can replicate what Ball is doing.
This team is designed to be a ball running point guard. Built around three attack-minded all-stars, the bartender and doorman. It feeds all mouths on the one hand before it misses on the other. Finding a player like this doesn’t seem particularly difficult on the surface, but it is, especially someone who’s as good at it as the ball.
In other words, there is simply no alternative to it. The Bulls will have to slip on Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso or Goran Dragic in the starting point guard slot, and asking any of these three to do what the ball does will cause them to fail. Instead, all coach Billy Donovan can do is ask them…well…do it.
In many ways, that’s why I think someone like Dragic was signed in the first place. Nobody expects him to replace what the ball brings to the field, but they do expect him to play smart, stable basketball. Find your open teammates, play hard in defense, and hit some open shots. What they order from Dosunmu and Caruso should be pretty much the same. They should all focus on what they do well and not try to be something they are not.
I know this idea can sound pretty straightforward, but we’ve all seen teams try to stuff round pegs through square holes (look, look at the Coby White point guard experiment). The margin of error for the eruption is really thin, and the last thing they want to do is head into this season thinking they can play the same kind of basketball they played last season. They can’t – at least as long as the ball is on the bench.