Chicago’s ‘Bruise Brothers’ make starting debut Friday against Bucks
Bulls coach Billy Donovan first messed with the idea of playing Nikola Vucevic and Tristan Thompson together in a practice Wednesday in Miami, debuted it Thursday in Atlanta in the second quarter and started them Friday. Will it have staying power? Thompson seems to think so.
There are still two more meetings with the Bucks this season, a home-and-home with the Cavaliers this month, plus the 76ers and Raptors on the schedule.
All have frontcourts that have given the Bulls matchup problems. And they’re teams that coach Billy Donovan knows he could potentially see in the playoffs.
So sending in the “Bruise Brothers” just feels right.
Donovan started Nikola Vucevic and Tristan Thompson on Friday night against the Bucks after they had one practice in Miami to get it together, then about six minutes on the court together Thursday night in a loss against the Hawks. Whether this combination of two bigs has staying power remains to be seen, but it’s definitely a look Donovan wants to keep playing with.
And, he stressed, it’s not a reflection on Javonte Green.
“I think Javonte’s done a great job,’’ he said.
Donovan had two bigs starting last season after the Bulls acquired Vucevic and Daniel Theis at the trade deadline. He said that didn’t work out because Theis plays a physical style but also wants to play in space like Vucevic. Thompson’s game is much less complicated.
“I think Tristan’s role is pretty defined and pretty clear — he’s a physical screener/roller to the rim,” Donovan said. “One, it’s something we probably need to take a look at, both short-term and long-term. And the other part of it, too, is there’s going to be nights and games that we’re playing against bigger teams, and we may need some of that.”
The Bucks fit that description up front, even without a true center. Donovan used Green, who’s 6-5, off the bench Friday.
For the Vucevic-Thompson combo to evolve into something substantial, they’ll need more practice time, especially in offensive sets. There were a few basic high-lows Friday, but there’s still a lot more to add.
“I’ve done it before with [Kevin Love in Cleveland],” Thompson said, “and I think [Vucevic] and K-Love have a lot of similarities in terms of being a big that can pick-and-pop, can roll, can pass and make plays. So for me, I’ve done it before at a very high level with K-Love, been to four [NBA] Finals and held the [championship trophy] doing it. I think it helps us, rebounding-wise, and with me, I can switch and guard one through five, so I think it helps us defensively. I think we’ve just got to keep building that continuity.”
No harsh words
Guard Zach LaVine might not have enjoyed playing under former Bulls coach Jim Boylen, but he’s not holding a grudge.
Told that Boylen recently admitted he was “really hard on Zach, coached him hard,” LaVine refrained from taking shots about a relationship that was broken early on.
“I feel like I’m always one of the most coachable guys on the team,” LaVine said. “I’m one of the hardest-working. And I put my team before I put myself. I think Jim coaches all his players hard. I wish him all the success. I know he did a good job with [Team] USA. I don’t know what his comments meant. But, yeah, he coached a lot of guys hard. I don’t care. I’m going to go out there and be Zach LaVine regardless.”