Bull’s observations: Zach LaVine, Coby White explode for 51 in hit win

The Bulls blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder 124-103 in their third game of the preseason. This is what stood out:

The Patrick Williams Effect

As Williams got off the bench for all 29 of his first appearances at Florida State, Wednesday was his first start since * notes checks * high school.

Yes, that was less than two calendar years ago. But a nice wrinkle nonetheless – especially considering that the average age of the Bulls starters was only 21.6 years.

Williams put in another assured performance, with 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 27 minutes. One of those blocks came up with one nice recovery to deny co-smoke Theo Maledon; he also chipped three offensive rebounds and a loud putback dunk late in the third quarter (which he quickly followed with a slick fast-break euro and lay-in). Converting six of his nine field goal attempts – and going 1-on-1 from outside the arc – stands out.

The second biggest wrinkle to Williams’ entry into the regular starters was Porter’s relegation to the bench, where, with all the team’s absences, his two-way veteran was desperately needed.

Think about it: with Thad Young, Tomáš Satoranský, Denzel Valentine and Garrett Temple all not with the team for one reason or another, the Bulls’ primary backups were Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Luke Kornet Cristiano Felicio, Zach Norvell Jr. and Simi Shittu (the last two camp pilots, for want of a better term). Not a group overflowing with constancy or perimeter creaton. So experimenting with the dizzying Porter made sense.

Porter made two of his three shots and cut three rebounds in the first quarter, helping a Bulls team make an attack outside of Zach LaVine. He finished with eight points, 12 rebounds and four assists. His mid-range game looked typically deadly, and his work on the glass was evident this preseason: Porter now has 21 boards across three games.

Half observation: Donovan visited a three-man lineup of Williams, Porter and Hutchison this preseason (who looked bouncy tonight with 11 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and steal apiece and some dazzling individual defensive holdings and dunks), and he went back to it tonight in the second quarter and the end of the third. He did that in particular with Lauri Markkanen in the middle.

I haven’t fully baked anything there yet, but – health is warranted – the length and changeability of that group could be an intriguing element to a team that’s been so thin on the wing in recent years.

Zach and Coby are living the sweet life

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a hellish Zach LaVine performance, and the Bulls’ best player didn’t disappoint in this one. When he first checked out in the first quarter with 3:50 left, he had 16 points on 6-out-7 shots (3-out-4 from deep). The rest of the Bulls, in the first eight minutes of games? Five points on 3-for-11. He also had some nice defensive moments – including one chasedown strip van Lu Dort from a Coby White turnover.

Then it was White’s turn. The Bulls sophomore watch again picked up two errors in the first quarter and had some weaknesses early on. But its flamethrowers in the third quarter was worth the price of admission. He made seven of his 10 shots (including all four three he hoisted) on the way to 18 third period points. All in all, he (27 points, 11-for-17) and LaVine (24 points, 9-for-14) combined 51 points on 20-of-31 shots (8-for-14 from deep). Not bad.

The preseason averages for LaVine: 19.6 points in 25 minutes per. And the shooting breaks: 58.3 percent from the ground, 47.1 percent from the depth. He makes it look easy and, as the only known amount on Bulls’ roster, it could fly under the radar. Tonight’s cumulative backcourt performance shouldn’t do that.

Frontcourt still finds the range

This was an uneven performance for Lauri Markkanen. He started missing his first five three-pointers and two free throws and ended the evening with a 4-for-15 from the floor (2-for-9 of 3). He found some nice looks around the basket of pump fakes and drives, a sign of heightened assertiveness that many were crying out for. He also got nine rebounds.

But unfortunately, those flashes can only really matter if the biggest (perceived) weapon in his arsenal – his jump shot – fires on all cylinders. Markkanen is now 10-for-33 from the field and 5-for-19 from three-point heat this preseason. Now it is preseason. The sky is not falling yet. But given his tumultuous third year with many shooting slumps, it would be encouraging if he could find the bottom of the net more often in preseason match four.

Wendell Carter Jr. took just three threes in this one, missing each of them to bring his three-point shooting figure for the season to 1-for-12. Again, not the end of the world. But it seemed like Carter had missed some of the looks he’d seen during the first two games of the preseason. That would be more concerning.

Positive trends on both sides

Listen, this is a bad Oklahoma City Thunder team. When they don’t play their best players big minutes, a fair characterization feels rotten.

Still, the Bulls let them flow towards them tonight on the offensive end. For the second game in a row, they got a first quarter of 30 points (although they again had seven turnovers in the process). Despite some early clankage from long range, they finished the night by shooting 54.7 percent of the field and with 27 assists.

And on the defensive side, they ended up with seismic benefits on the glass and in the battle for the paint points. The growing pains continued within moments, but they benefited from a favorable match on their way to a 21-point victory. After the first preseason game, fans and observers will take it everywhere.

Next up: again in Oklahoma City on Friday, December 18.

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