Bulls have to balance development of young players with winning games
Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu are still very much in the Bulls’ plans moving forward, but they’re no longer in the starting lineup. So how can they continue to develop with fewer minutes while the Bulls try to start winning games more consistently?
SAN FRANCISCO — Bulls guard Zach LaVine wasn’t going to kick young teammates when they were down.
In the aftermath of coach Billy Donovan opting to shake up the starting lineup before the Bulls’ loss Friday to the Warriors by moving Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams to the second unit, LaVine made it very clear the buck still stopped with him, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.
Dosunmu and Williams simply were collateral damage of the failings of the ‘‘Big Three’’ so far this season.
‘‘It always does,’’ LaVine said of the blame falling on the three veterans. ‘‘Coach has to make his decisions, but as the best players on the team, we’ve got to be the ones that make the plays. On bad days, take the criticism; on good days, make sure to help us win, play defense, make the shots. That’s what you do and why you are in position to do this.
‘‘It’s a player-driven league, and I always think it starts top to bottom.’’
LaVine wasn’t lying, but he also knows the top three remain safe in their starting status. It’s now up to Williams and Dosunmu to accept their demotions and for the coaching staff to make sure they continue to develop if the Bulls are going to make progress.
While Dosunmu and Williams said all the right things about Donovan’s decision and showed they weren’t going to let it affect their play Friday, their minutes will be cut in their new roles.
Dosunmu was averaging just less than 29 minutes as a starter and played 21 against the Warriors. The good news was that he went 4-for-4 from the field, grabbed five rebounds and handed out three assists.
‘‘I just take it as this is what it was,’’ Dosunmu said of his feelings about the change. ‘‘Start or not, every day I want to get 1% better. Keep stacking days like that, and . . . you always become a better player. That’s my mindset. Nothing really has changed.’’
Then again, Dosunmu was a second-round pick in 2021 and wouldn’t even have been a starter if not for Lonzo Ball’s extended recovery from an injury to his left knee.
It’s a different story with Williams, the No. 4 overall pick in 2020. Just like that, he went from averaging 28 minutes as a starter to trying to make the most out of the 19 minutes he played against the Warriors.
Will his move to the second unit hamper his development? Donovan said he didn’t think so.
‘‘The one thing with Patrick is, we’ve been trying to get him to be more aggressive,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Being out there with three terrific offensive players in Zach, Vooch and DeMar, sometimes there’s not those opportunities, so to speak. He’s going to need to be somebody that gives that [second] group a little bit of a pop.
‘‘So this may actually help his development, putting him in some situations where he can be a little more aggressive. I still think the development part for him is in place.’’
Williams did take nine shots in his 19 minutes, which wasn’t bad for a player who was averaging 7.4 shots as a starter.
‘‘I’m with whatever to win,’’ Williams said. ‘‘You gotta trust the process and control what you can control as a player. I trust Billy; I trust the coaching staff.’’
LaVine, however, had a message for his teammates. Williams and Dosunmu can trust the decisions made, but LaVine wanted to make sure they were still hungry.
‘‘I don’t think they should be happy or satisfied with it at all,’’ LaVine said.