Westerlund: 5 Thoughts On Bulls’ Preseason Opener

By Cody Westerlund–

(CBS) The Dwyane Wade era dawned in Chicago on Monday night as the Bulls fell 93-91 to the Bucks in their preseason opener. Here are the notes and observations of the night.

1. Wade logged just 11:41 of playing time, with the Bulls following through on their plan to only play he and Jimmy Butler in the first half. Wade shot 2-for-3 from the field, including 2-of-2 on 3-pointers after coach Fred Hoiberg last week gave free the green light to shoot from deep.

That’s notable because Wade was just 7-of-44 on 3-pointers in 74 regular-season games last year.

“I’ve been working on it a lot with coach,” Wade said. “Fred’s been working with me a lot after practice on my threes. I was like, ‘Why not? Let’s see where the first one goes.’

“Within the offense right now, everybody’s trying to find their way, trying to comfortable. You got to find your spots.

“For the first two to go down, that’s pretty good. That means I got a couple more in the chamber for next game I can shoot.”

2. While largely praising his new-look Bulls early on in training camp, Hoiberg’s biggest gripe has been dumb turnovers in practice. That reared its ugly head Monday, as Chicago had eight turnovers in the first eight-plus minutes and finished with 22 for the game.

Hoiberg can tolerate the aggressive mistakes but not those of the silly variety. There were too many of the latter Monday.

“It puts your defense in jeopardy when you turn the ball over like that,” Hoiberg said.

“A lot of teaching moments.”

New point guard Rajon Rondo had five turnovers, and it was evident in the first game action that it will take the Bulls some getting used to playing with him. On multiple occasions, Rondo pushed the ball, only to see nothing materialize with he didn’t have any teammates flanking him.

Rondo also added two points, seven assists and six rebounds.

“There was some good and there was obviously some bad,” Hoiberg said of the Bulls getting accustomed to playing with Rondo. “When we got out and played with pace and made the safe, simple play, good things happened.”

3. The Bulls have an open competition for the starting power forward slot between Taj Gibson and Niko Mirotic, and the early returns weren’t good for Mirotic. He was awful Monday, scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting, making too many poor decisions with the basketball (two turnovers) and missing a layup.

Gibson had a strong game, with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 12 rebounds. Gibson also brings much more to the table defensively.

Mirotic has previously admitted that he’s sometimes let his struggles spiral into more bad play. So if he wants to win the starting slot – which would be what the Bulls prefer to add outside shooting to the first unit – he needs to respond mentally.

Hoiberg bristled at the idea that Mirotic is destined to be an inconsistent player now that he’s in his third year in the league.

“Niko’s had a great camp, he really has,” Hoiberg said.

“He had his struggles tonight, there’s no denying that. He’ll bounce back.”

4. Rookie wing Denzel Valentine looked good in his professional debut (of the non-Summer League variety) before leaving in the second half with a sprained left ankle. On several occasions he broke down the Bucks defense and hit teammates with the right pass, finishing with two assists and playing what Hoiberg called “solid” basketball.”

Valentine also looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands than Jerian Grant did. Those two figure to be battling for the backup point guard minutes behind Rondo.

“He has such a knack for making the right plays,” Hoiberg said.

Valentine scored four points in 11 minutes. He called his ankle sprain “mild” and thought he’d be fine after taking it easy for a few days.

“That was the part that was a bummer, because I felt comfortable,” Valentine said. “I feel like I was getting in a rhythm.”

5. In the department of organizational basketball politics, it’s worth noting that Butler has succeeded Derrick Rose as the last Bulls player to be introduced pregame. There was intrigue regarding that after the addition of Wade and exit of Rose after eight years in Chicago.

Wade was introduced first, with a big roar accompanying the line “from Chicago…”

Wade had previously said he didn’t’ care in what order he was introduced, and Wade and Rondo have each called the Bulls “Jimmy’s team.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and coversthe Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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