Donovan bluntly assesses Bulls' progress towards winning originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Billy Donovan has never been one to shy away from blunt assessments. Especially as he guides the Bulls through the process of, in his and his players' words, learning to win.
"I do think the group here wants to win, but they’re going to have to take another step," Donovan said following a Saturday practice.
"I always say this in life, like I’d like to go to the moon. I really would," he continued. "I have no interest in doing what it takes to become an astronaut. So like, ‘I want to win!’ ‘OK, great, are you really willing to do what goes into winning?’"
That comes just under 24 hours after as brutal a loss as the Bulls have suffered in recent memory, 127-125 in overtime against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The contest featured, at one point, a 22-point third quarter lead, and a 16-point advantage with roughly four-and-a-half minutes remaining. The Bulls committed 17 of their 24 turnovers between the second half and OT, with five coming in a four-minute avalanche at the end of regulation.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that's a formula for failure.
"Like coach says all the time, it's just self-induced," said Coby White. of the team's mental lapses in late-game situations. "But the bright side for us is it's all things that we can fix... Everything's there, it's just that little whatever thing it is we missing."
That right there -- "whatever thing it is we missing" -- is the key. Working hard is one thing, which Donovan says his group has displayed a willingness to do. But there's a gray area between working hard and working smart when it comes to piling wins at the NBA level.
Donovan knows this. His team, young as it is, is still learning the nuances.
"I do sense from the group that there’s a willingness, but there’s so much more they have to do outside of what takes place in between the lines," Donovan said. "They’ve got to invest in each other, they’ve got to spend time after practice with each other in terms of like, ‘Hey Zach (LaVine) and Lauri (Markkanen), let’s work on some pick-and-rolls. Hey Coby, you had some turnovers in pick-and-roll with OP (Otto Porter Jr.) last night, let’s get out there and do that, work together.’
"There’s a lot of things they have to invest in that’s probably a little bit different than maybe they’ve had to experience in the past, but that’s what I’m trying to work them towards, is getting them to see some of those things, and sometimes you have to go through some painful lessons before you can take another step forward.’’
That's why Saturday's practice was lengthy and film-focused, specifically on the last 4:40 of regulation of the Thunder game.
"I think it was a good day for us," White said. "It was less physically, but a lot mentally."
Fouling 3-point shooters, which the Bulls have now done at crucial junctures in three of their last four games. Navigating screens on both ends of the floor. Turnovers. Cross-matching in transition. Succumbing to the physicality of opponents.
"I probably sound a little bit like a broken record," Donovan said as he highlighted the above as areas to improve.
It all boils down to attention to detail. Putting aside blowouts to the Hawks, Pacers and Bucks, the Bulls have lost games to the Warriors, Kings, Lakers, Clippers and Thunder by a combined 12 points.
"To be honest, the concentration is a major problem. We have to be able to concentrate in the game, and I know things are happening quickly and you don’t want guys over-thinking, but we don’t concentrate," Donovan said. "We have these spells for three, and four, and five minutes where we lose concentration and focus, and we’ve got to be able to do a better job of that."
Until that comes around, this team's aimless orbit will continue.