By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
If you’re wondering about the name of this column: yes, it’s fun to rhyme “champagne” with “Cam Payne.” However, Cameron Payne’s 21-point outburst, along with the Bulls barely escaping with their first victory — both against Charlotte last week — is a symbol of this Chicago Bulls season: a young team facing superior talent night after night with the expected results, but who occasionally show flashes of brilliance and resilience.
With the likely prospect of this difficult season leading to another high draft pick and (possible) future success, the metaphorical champagne of the future will only be popped because of this year’s campaign — with Cam Payne included.
But it does still rhyme, and rhymes are fun. Now let’s get into this week’s column.
“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade
Depleted, but Determined
It’s very easy to vacillate between hope for the future and agony at the present when you’re a fan of a young and rebuilding NBA team. The Chicago Bulls have shown signs of promise this year, even as they sally forth without four of their starters.
In holding the Atlanta Hawks under 90 points, the Bulls earned their second win of the season Saturday and they came within 10 seconds of beating the best team in the Western Conference (record-wise, at least) last night.
However, they took two horrible defeats on the road against Charlotte and at home against the Warriors, the latter featuring an NBA-record 14 three-pointers from Trayce Thompson’s older brother.
It would be easy to say, “the Warriors are good and the Bulls aren’t. What did you expect?” but the Bulls have not taken that loss in stride. Both Fred Hoiberg and Zach LaVine expressed their disapproval with the team’s overall effort in Monday’s game and Hoiberg referred to it once more in the post-game press conference following last night’s loss to the Nuggets.
As I said last week, there are teams who might respond to such a thorough beating from the league champions with a standard cliche about an 82-game season, and those teams are ones that have accepted losing. The Bulls have not, and that’s a great sign.
The main focus of this season is still player development, and with Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine all out, all eyes are firmly fixed to Wendell Carter Jr.
The rookie center has had a slow start to the season, but he’s been solid on the defensive end and has warmed to the task of rebounding. I was very interested to see how he would perform in yesterday’s match-up with Denver’s Nikola Jokic, and the youngster did not disappoint, turning in 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals.
Carter has also shown a propensity for keeping blocks in play rather than sending them out of bounds, a necessity for a team that wants to pounce on rebounds and start fast breaks. Imagine the 6-10 Carter blocking a shot, racing up the floor and cramming an alley-oop or getting an easy put-back. Now multiply that image by four. That’s an easy eight points a night alone.
It’s what every Bulls fan is dreaming of, but remember he’s only played eight games — don’t start printing your playoff t-shirts yet.
I’ve been very hard on Fred Hoiberg, as anyone who’s spoken to me knows, but I like his firm response to the blowout losses of the last seven days, he’s shown he will not accept defeat with a smile, and the players have taken up the party line. Will that attitude add up to wins? Not always, but I would rather see a team fight with what they’ve got instead of laying down. Hey, maybe the tanks aren’t warming up!
Beast of the Week: Antonio Blakeney has been an instant shot of offense off the Bulls’ bench. In the previous four games, Blakeney tallied 14.5 points per game on 54% field goal shooting and 50% three-point shooting, all while averaging about 18 minutes each contest. Blakeney’s not a crack defender by any means, but having him as complementary scorer alongside Ryan Arcidiacono (who’s also played well) has kept the Bulls in games so far this year. Get him on the floor, Hoiberg!
Predictions: Oh man, I really wanted to be wrong about the Nuggets game. That would have been an exciting win. Alas, I was 4-0 on last week’s prognostications, and the outlook doesn’t look much better this week, as another two playoff contenders are coming to Chicago. (Indy has alternated between wins and losses, though, so that pick is logical. Right?)
Nov. 2 vs. Pacers – W
Nov. 3 vs. Rockets – L
Nov. 5 at Knicks – W
Until next time, keep your champagne on ice, Bulls fans.
Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and basketball in general for WARR