The Chicago Bulls were one of the few NBA teams this offseason that was looking for a new head coach. During the pandemic in April, the infamous duo of Gar Forman and John Paxson were fired from the management office, while Paxson is staying on as a head scout. Then in August, head coach Jim Boylen was fired after two disappointing seasons with the young Bulls squad. The Bulls considered new hires for the position like Nets’ most recent coach Kenny Atkinson, 76ers assistant Ime Oduka, and Wes Unseld Jr. from the Nuggets. However, after Billy Donovan parted ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls could not resist bringing him on. This move already represents a whole new face of management for the Bulls, led by former Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karinisovas.
Billy Donovan has been an NBA coach for five years, all with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Before that, he coached the Florida Gators for 19 total years, two in which he coached back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007. He is the only other coach among three other college basketball coaches to accomplish that feat. In his 19 season with the Florida Gators, they made the NCAA March Madness tournament 14 times. He recorded an overall record of 502-206, a 71.5% win percentage, including the postseason for the Gators. He nearly left the Gators in 2007 after their second title to coach in the NBA for the Orlando Magic, but changed his mind and decided to continue coaching in the NCAA until 2015, leaving the Gators after recording only his third losing season in his coaching career.
With the Thunder, they made the playoffs every year since his beginning and only ever made it to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2015-2016 series, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors. Even after the departure of Kevin Durant in 2015 and Russell Westbrook and Paul George in 2019, Donovan has managed to keep the Thunder winning. This season, he was left with Chris Paul from the trade from Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Danillo Gallinari on his team. The addition of rookie Shai-Gilgeous Alexander helped them out too with 18 points per game, leading the team in the regular season. Before the start of the season, ESPN gave the Thunder a .2% chance of making the playoffs this season, and Donovan helped his team deliver by becoming the fifth seed in the East. The Thunder made an exit in the first round after losing to the Houston Rockets in the bubble. Donovan finished his career with the Thunder with a 400-223 regular season record and an 18-23 playoff record.
Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma Thunder last season were well better in a lot of categories statistically than the Chicago Bulls. A big highlight for the Thunder last year was their free throw shooting comparatively to the Bulls. OKC was second in the NBA in percent of points from free throws with 18%, while Chicago was 14.5% ranking 27th in the league. OKC last year shot 79.4% from the stripe while Chicago shot 75.5% ranking near the bottom of the league. The Bulls’ offense last season was primarily based on taking open threes and mid-range shots under Jim Boylen’s orders, so they were kept off of the free throw line a decent amount. Hopefully, Donovan can encourage the team to continue with outside shooting while also getting to the basket with Lavine, Markannen, and Carter to improve their chances of free points from the stripe.
Moreover, the Thunder had a large margin on the Bulls in other categories such as rebounding, turnovers, and fouls. The Thunder out-rebounded the Bulls 51.8 to 39.5 total rebounds per game and 35.2 to 31.4 in defensive rebounds per game. OKC also ranked 14th in turnovers per game, while the Bulls ranked 27th in the league in turnovers per game with 15.5. Lastly, in terms of fouls, OKC hardly fouled as a team, ranking fourth in the NBA with only 19.1 per game. The Bulls on the other hand, ranked 22nd in this category with 21.8 per game. These are important to player development and coaching structure for the Chicago Bulls which they lacked in a great deal last season.
While Donovan was in OKC, he helped the Thunder develop a defense that they did not know they had. They allowed only 108.6 points per game, ranking sixth in the league. Similar to Chicago last year, they excelled at perimeter defense and allowed an opponent three point percentage of 34.2% which was third best in the league. They also held their opponents to a 45.3% field goal percentage which was tenth in the league. If Donovan can bring the same defensive scheme to the Bulls as he did with the Thunder, the Bulls could be one of the better defensive teams in the league.
The Bulls’ offense, as I said before, was primarily a shooting offense on the perimeter and also tried to take advantage of fast breaks. The Bulls were more defense oriented instead of offensively focused, but failed to complete most of the orders that Boylen wanted in that philosophy. While the Bulls had the sixth most fast break points in the league and were an above-average defense in the league, they only shot 34.8% from the three, ranking 24th in the NBA. They had no structure in a normal offensive set and Billy Donovan will look to bring that in for the Bulls next season.
Contrast to the Bulls past two coaches, Billy Donovan is a winning coach. He proved his ability to dominate in college and continued the same winning mentality into the NBA. Certainly, his departure from the Thunder was most likely driven from his failue to produce in the playoffs, but the Bulls are not yet at that stage. Donovan can make a playoff team of this young Chicago Bulls team, and that would be an astronomial start for the Chicago Bulls, who were one of only eight other teams in the NBA last season that were not invited to the NBA playoff bubble. Bulls fans should be excited about the arrival of Donovan to lead their squad, but also the management team led by Arturas Karinisovas and Mark Eversley. Don’t forget, the Bulls have an upcoming fourth overall pick in the NBA draft, and the Bulls’ front office certainly knows how to draft for their teams. On the Nuggets, Karinisovas drafted Jamal Murray and Novak Jokivic, who led them to a Western Conference Finals this past season. I expect the Bulls to be a solid team next year after finally clearing house from the front office to the coaching position.