Sam Smith: Who’s taking the Bulls’ last hit this season?

So who is “the Man?”

“We know each other, we know each other,” Zach LaVine said of running mate DeMar DeRozan at the start of training camp this season. “We have a great relationship and continue to learn to play against each other. We saw how the teams defended and adjusted us throughout the (last) season with different double teams, me in pick-and-roll, him in position. So just try to use that to our advantage and be able to help each other get better. Better shots, easier looks and help this team win. That’s the whole story. Having another year under our belts, playing with each other, I think it’s only going to get better, especially when we’re both healthy. ”

What DeRozan was enthusiastic about.

“Man, I mean, a healthy Zach makes our lives a whole lot easier,” DeRozan added around the same time. “A big part of my charge last year was that Zach was out. We’ve always talked about making it easy for each other. Being so high and low and not having each other made it hard for both of us. Having a healthy Zach and a healthy me makes our jobs and the jobs of everyone around us much easier.

“It can be very exciting and scary for other people,” DeRozan added. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to him this summer, just to check in on him, to get that leg back together. I want to be with a healthy Zach. A full year of this is something I dream about every night.

Which makes sense and rings true.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan were the only teammates to be in the NBA’s top 15 goalscorers per game during the 2021-22 season.

But, you know, what happens when it comes time for the final blow?

Of course, everyone says it’s a natural equation and whoever has the best opportunity will give it a shot. Keep the opposition off balance and all that.

But that’s not the reality in the NBA.

Even the most theoretically Democratic offense in professional gaming history, the triangle, featured Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in stride.

There was an interesting exchange between coach Doc Rivers and James Harden that was picked up on NBA microphones during the league’s recent training camp tour. Rivers tells Harden, whom 76ers president Daryl Morey has compared to the greatest scorers in NBA history, that there’s a pecking order on every team. “It’s not a democracy,” says Rivers.

That’s right, give the ball to Embiid!

No one is suggesting that one of the problematic issues around the Bulls is having two potential 25-point scorers per game. But as the Bulls wrap up their preseason at the United Center against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, one of the biggest oddities is that pecking order.

It’s a fairly well-established formula in the NBA.

There are few great teams with multiple stars that don’t have a defined chain of command.

It was easy with the Bulls championship of the 90s. Not just because of Michael Jordan. Jordan’s running mate, Scottie Pippen, was an ideal fit like chattering gears because he specialized in elements of the game other than scoring.

But the most successful teams in recent years have had clear food chains. Everyone knew how to feed the big dog.

It’s always been Steph Curry with the Golden State Warriors. Although Curry purposely delayed when they had Kevin Durant. Like Dwayne Wade did when the Miami Heat had LeBron James. Wade said he realized he had to step back even though he was the senior player at Miami to allow James to flourish. That’s when Miami started winning titles.

Now in Miami it’s Jimmy Butler, in Milwaukee Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant with Memphis, Luka Doncic with Dallas, Nikola Jokic with Denver. Chris Paul is vital in Phoenix, but Devin Booker has the ball. There isn’t much doubt among the majority of the best teams in the NBA.

In most of the biggest teams of the past with multiple Hall of Famers, the players knew who the guy was.

The Boston Celtics had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; but it was Bird.

Their Lakers rival had Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the ball went to Abdul-Jabbar. This facilitated the fact that Johnson preferred him from the start as a facilitator.

The inability to identify Type A with the Lakers ultimately led to the Lakers breakup of the 2000s when Kobe Bryant grew tired of differing.

The Bulls took a hard look at that math last season when they scored one of their best first-month wins with a furious comeback last November to defeat the Boston Celtics of top wingers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Afterwards, Marcus Smart slammed the pair, saying, “Every team knows we’re trying to go Jayson and Jaylen. Each team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everyone’s scouting report is to get these guys to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.

This led as the Celtics struggled to reach .500 in January to months of speculation and suggestion that the pair should be broken with a trade. It provided entertaining possibilities…until, you know, the Celtics knocked out everyone in the Eastern Conference playoffs behind Tatum and Brown’s play and made it to the NBA Finals.

So it can and has been done.

DeMar DeRozan takes (and lands) a winning shot against the Wizards on New Years Day 2022.

Last season, particularly following some of the most notable clutch shooting the league has seen in years, the closest role on the Bulls obviously went to DeRozan. Even by default, it was to be DeRozan with LaVine slowed and grounded with knee issues.

That’s in the past, everyone said, although DeRozan was the star of the Bulls’ three preseason games, while LaVine said he got into the regular season. Which isn’t unusual since the Pelicans and Nuggets top scorers sat out last week when they faced the Bulls.

DeRozan produced with his usual efficiency and desire to play, putting in around 25 minutes in all three games. That fits most top scorers, but not so much the over-30 crowd. He’s averaging 21.3 points, making seven free throws per game with nearly five assists, but has yet to shoot three. He leads the team in scoring.

LaVine puts in about 22 minutes per game and averages 7.7 of 12 field goal attempts for DeRozan. LaVine is averaging just 8.7 points, which is sixth on the team and shooting around 39%. That will surely change once the season starts.

The potential complication is in some ways knowing who they are.

By all accounts, they are close friends, although both have families with LaVine and his wife who just had their first child. They have always supported each other without the hints of rivalry that some claim to have seen in the past on the Celtics. They regularly promote themselves. Although with both, their game is best started from their dribbling.

DeRozan is 33 and his contract with the Bulls expires after next season.

LaVine is 27 on a five-year contract that started this season.

The two will certainly say — and have said — it doesn’t matter who scores or shoots, and LaVine has been consistent and repetitive since he’s been with the Bulls that winning transcends everything, and that’s only when you win. that you get the proper credit. So it shouldn’t be a problem knowing how to get there as long as you do.

Because that’s what it’s all about.

The content on this page has not been reviewed or approved by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are his own and do not reflect the views of the Chicago Bulls or its basketball operations staff, parent company, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that come with being an accredited NBA member of the media.