OK, Chicago Bulls fans, it's not time to panic. Not yet anyway. But one thing is clear: The Bulls won't be winning three of every four games this season like we've grown accustomed to, and there are going to be some frustrations between here and there (there being Derrick Rose's return).
The Bulls lost to the Cleveland Cavs, 86-83, on Friday, then to the Minnesota T-Wolves, 82-75, on Saturday, and didn't look good in either. I'll spare you the play-by-play, but suffice it to say that our Bulls are going to face some challenges this year.
Here are five that are abundantly evident after just three preseason scrimmages.
Scoring/Carlos Boozer - Remember the theory about sending more offense through Boozer? Well, Boozer is actually getting fewer shots per game (9.3) than his career average (13.2), and he's not producing with what he gets (7.7 points on 36 percent, 3.3 rebounds). If not Boozer, who's going to pick up the scoring slack in Rose's absence? When Kirk Hinrich is your leading scorer, as he has been the past two games - both losses, by the way - you're in trouble.
Point guard - Hinrich has been great through three games (11.2 ppg, 6.0 apg). During the Bulls' third quarter rally against the Cavs Friday night, there he was, dishing off, hitting the three, taking a charge. Problem is, he can't play 48 minutes a game, and the Bulls have no reliable backup. Nadda, nyet, none. Nate Robinson (6 of 23, five assists, eight turnovers) isn't a point guard and never will be, and, unlike some fans, I have zero confidence in Marquis Teague. Derek Fischer, anyone?
The subs - Optimistic Bulls fans contend that this year's bench, once acclimated, will be just as good, or even better, than the chemistry-rich Bench Mob. I'm not convinced. The subs are 30-of-109 from the field (27.5 percent) with 30 turnovers, the D has been lacking and they don't look anywhere close to cohesive. While I don't recall how long it took the Bench Mob to start clicking, I don't remember them ever looking this…well, bad.
Three-point shooting - The Bulls are shooting a horrible 13 percent from deep (6-of-46). That's pretty disappointing for a team that ranked fourth in the league last season (37.5 percent), and it's also somewhat concerning. Hopefully, Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic will be able to compensate for the loss of Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III.
Big holes - The slow starts that sometimes plagued the Bulls last season returned with a vengeance Friday, as the starters allowed the Cavs to shoot 60 percent from the floor and build a 21-point lead. Coach Tom Thibodeau was not a happy camper. Bottom line, the Bulls simply do not have the offensive firepower to dig big holes early in games.
There have, however, been some positives. Nazr Mohammed has been a pleasant preseason surprise; he double-doubled against the Grizzlies, had seven offensive rebounds against the Cavs, and tallied 10 points with six rebounds against the T-wolves. Joakim Noah, who doubled-double last night, is playing with incredible energy, although he'll need to take more shots than he did the first two games (eight) to keep his man honest. And Jimmy Butler, who played all 48 minutes Saturday, is showing he can be a capable replacement for Ronnie Brewer.
The Bulls, who have just four preseason games remaining to work out the kinks, play two games this week: Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, and Friday against the T-Wolves.
Sources: NBA League Pass Audio; Cleveland Cavaliers-Chicago Bulls recap & box score, Associated Press/Yahoo Sports; Cleveland Cavaliers-Chicago Bulls recap & box score, ESPN; Thibodeau upset with Bulls' effort, ESPN; NBA-TV; Chicago Bulls-Minnesota Timberwolves recap & box score, Associated Press/Yahoo! Sports; Chicago Bulls-Minnesota Timberwolves recap & box score, ESPN; Bulls drop "foul-fest" to 'Wolves, CSN-Chicago
YCN featured sports contributor Steve Merritt is - for better or worse - a lifelong Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs fan. He's followed the Bulls since 1969, when he began tuning in after bedtime on a cheap dime store radio tucked under his pillow.
Other Chicago Bulls articles by Steve:Chicago Bulls' Core Looks Good in Preseason Opener: A Fan's View (October 10)
Build Your Own All-Chicago Bulls News Network: A Fan's View (September 30)