4 takeaways from Billy Donovan's planned change to Bulls' starting lineup

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K.C. Johnson
·4 min read
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How Donovan's planned starting lineup change will affect Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Slow starts have been a consistent theme for the Bulls all season. Coach Billy Donovan appears ready to address them.

The Athletic reported late Saturday that Donovan plans to sit Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. in favor of veterans Tomáš Satoranský and Thad Young. A source confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago that Donovan has communicated the planned change to the team.

As the season officially begins the second half with game No. 37, it's significant for a number of reasons. Here are four:

Winning remains as much a priority as player development

The main lineup of White, Carter, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and rookie Patrick Williams sports a record of 2-6 and a net rating of minus-17.6. Just this week, Donovan rued the team's slow starts.

"The first six minutes of games, if you look at the net rating and the numbers, we've been one of the worst teams in the league," Donovan said.

With a two-game losing streak exiting the All-Star break and facing a depleted Toronto Raptors team with five players in the league's health and safety protocols, Donovan likely sees an opportunity to change the team's fortunes. It certainly would change the experience level. The main lineup sports an average age of 24. Making these changes would bump that up to an average age of 25.8.

Carter and White both are recent lottery picks. Donovan has joined executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley in consistently hammering home the theme of player development. But Donovan also has talked about how it can take many shapes, that it doesn't always happen by playing. Film study, eating and sleep habits, workout routines -- all of these can play a part.

Donovan has praised the work ethic of his team and raves about White's ability to respond when challenged. This demotion is his latest challenge.

Carter must find confidence in new role

The third-year big man, who is mired in a five-game slump that left him extremely downcast following Friday night's loss to the Miami Heat, has started all 112 career NBA games. Given that Carter openly admitted regressing in terms of his offensive aggressiveness, perhaps a reserve role could jumpstart his sagging confidence in that he'd be logging minutes against other reserve players.

Of course, the flip side to that argument is that Carter was outplayed by two reserves in the last two games, with the Philadelphia 76ers' Tony Bradley and the Heat's Kelly Olynyk playing well in place of starters Joel Embiid and Bam Adebayo.

White is used to coming off the bench at this level, having done so all of his rookie season until the final game before the shutdown. But Carter must find his footing in a new role.

The chemistry between Satoranský and Young stays intact

The two veterans seemingly connect on at least one baseline backcut for a layup per game. It's clear they're two smart, savvy veterans who know how to read defenses and move the ball.

In this regard, the likely lineup change also could benefit Zach LaVine. Although LaVine is well-versed in seeing multiple defensive coverages, teams have started to trap him more to try to get the ball out of his hands. Playing him alongside smart players who know how to pass and cut could limit an opposing defense's ability to do so.

LaVine has consistently praised both veterans, typically saying something along the lines of "they just know how to play" when asked about their court savvy.

Donovan's closing lineup remains most important

Bringing White off the bench also allows Donovan more flexibility in staggering the second-year guard's minutes with LaVine. Their net rating together has been poor, mostly because of defensive numbers.

But Donovan has favored closing games with shooting and playmaking. This is why Young has closed most games over Carter regardless of who is starting. White typically has closed games because of his shooting and scoring ability. While Satoranský is more adept at ball security and pure passing -- and a solid spot-up shooter -- White is more dynamic offensively. It will be intriguing to see which guard Donovan chooses to close.

One thing has been certain about Donovan all season: He hasn't been afraid to tweak his rotation. And now it looks like the same will happen to his starting lineup.

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