The Billy Donovan era will tip off for the Chicago Bulls when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
Chicago hired Donovan during the shortened offseason to replace Jim Boylen, who went 39-84 in less than two seasons at the helm. Donovan quickly became the Bulls’ top target after a five-year tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were 243-157 under his leadership and made the playoffs every season.
“What I like is he (has a commanding) presence,” said Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who had several conflicts with Boylen last season but quickly has jelled with Donovan. “He’s very straightforward. You can tell if we’re doing good or bad, obviously.
“He wants us to fight. He brings that out of us. He’s encouraging us to be competitive and bring it every night. I’m trying to take it upon myself to get the group going in the beginning. He’s good for us. He knows what he’s doing.”
Like Chicago, Atlanta also is looking to take a big step forward after limping to a 20-47 record last season. The Hawks brought in several veterans including guards Rajon Rondo and Bogdan Bogdanovic, as well as forward Danilo Gallinari and center Clint Capela, to bolster a roster that was talented but inexperienced.
Rondo has been ruled out of Wednesday’s opener because of COVID-19 protocols, and Capela might not play because of a sore Achilles tendon.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has high hopes for star guard Trae Young, who enters his third season in the league. Young averaged a whopping 29.6 points and 9.3 assists last season, and the Hawks are looking to give him more chances to create.
“I think the game is going to become more simplified for him, and he’s going to have more fun with it,” Pierce said.
The teams met three times last season before the league shut down in mid-March. Chicago went 3-0, with each victory coming by double digits.
Wednesday will mark the NBA debut for Bulls rookie Patrick Williams, who was selected No. 4 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft out of Florida State. Williams enjoyed a promising preseason while showing flashes of his ability on both ends of the court.
Atlanta’s top pick was big man Onyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall selection out of Southern California. However, Okongwu will miss the first two games with a foot injury. Upon returning, he’ll likely will take on a reserve role in the early going as he learns from Capela, who will command the starter’s role.
Both teams hope to finish the season stronger than they start it.
Donovan has emphasized mental toughness to his Bulls players. He cautioned them against getting too high or too low after a particular play or game.
“A lot of times because we have really good guys that want to do well and do the right thing, sometimes they can get deflated,” Donovan said. “And we’ve got to understand that there are going to be 100 possessions on offense and 100 possessions on defense, and not every possession is going to go well. We have to have a level of resiliency, mental toughness, mental fortitude to fight through difficulties.”
–Field Level Media