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Bulls fought fire with fire against Wolves, earning best win of season

Bulls fought fire with fire against Wolves, earning best win of season

On Tuesday night, the Chicago Bulls tried something new against the Minnesota Timberwolves: starting their two centers, Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond, together.

The Bulls normally start Vucevic and surround him with four perimeter players, but head coach Billy Donovan elected to move Vucevic to the four in this game and play Drummond alongside him at the five.

The Bulls started the two big men to counter Minnesota’s huge frontline of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, and the results were rather interesting.

The two-man lineup of Vucevic and Drummong has appeared in just seven games and played 54 minutes together. However, in those seven games, the pairing has the highest offensive rating (130.6) and overall net rating (14.3) Vucevic has had with a teammate this season.

Against the Wolves, Vucevic and Drummond had a net rating of 8.7 and a plus-minus of +3. They shared the floor for 25 minutes, achieving an offensive net rating of 134.7 – again, the highest of all two-man lineups with Vucevic.

Although there were some spacing issues, the two big men worked their way around it on some offensive sets. The rest of the minutes were then staggered to cater to each big man and have a different playstyle for each when they were on the floor.

Out of Vucevic’s 10 baskets, half of those came with Drummond on the floor. Among those were pick-and-pop jumpers (2), fadeaway jumpers from the left wing (2), and a driving floater in the lane. 

On Vucevic’s two threes, the Bulls utilized the two big men differently. First, Drummond sets a high pick for the ballhandler while Vucevic trails down the floor at the top of the key. Vucevic’s man, Naz Reid, helps at the nail on the drive, leaving Vucevic open for the triple.

In the second play, notice how Drummond is slotted at the dunker spot while the ballhandler and Vucevic flow into an empty corner pick-and-pop action for another three.

What’s even more impressive is that the two started practicing the twin-towers combo the day of the game.

“We just started practicing it today,” Drummong said post-game. “That wasn't long either, but we figured it out. He's a smart player, I'm a smart player. I stay out of his way and likewise. We figured it out throughout the game and found good chemistry."

The 12-year veteran thrived against the three-time DPOY Gobert and Minnesota's top-ranked defense. Drummond was backing Gobert down in the paint, pulling off some highlight plays and celebrating with “too small” gestures after he scored.

With this interesting lineup, the Bulls scored 129 points, which is way more than what the Wolves usually allows (106.8 points per game), as they have the best defensive net rating in the NBA.

Vucevic and Drummond ended up combining for 40 points, and this allowed Coby White to take over in the fourth quarter and overtime. With the Wolves' defense keying in on both bigs, White came up with 21 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three. He finished the game with 33 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds.

An Most-Improved-Player frontrunner, White knocked down tough threes late in the game, which has been a big part of his improvement this year.

But the spotlight belonged to Vucevic and Drummond. Even though it was a small sample size, there's excitement about how the pairing can be used against certain matchups going forward.

“They got to pick their poison,” Drummond said of his pairing with Vucevic. “Whether you let me beat you up in the paint or he [Vucevic] can shoot the three or beat you up in the paint too. So, it's a great tandem, for sure.”

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