Chicago basketball report: Bulls at the bottom of the stats rankings — while both Illini men and women are ranked to start season

Folks, we’ve officially entered peak basketball season.

College basketball is back. The Chicago Bulls are already battling to get back to .500. And the NBA In-Season tournament is drawing attention and ire from fans.

Every Wednesday throughout the season, Tribune writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead — for the Bulls, Sky and local basketball.

Bulls snap losing skid with blowout

The Bulls have struggled to secure wins in the opening weeks of the NBA season, falling into a skid that included a loss in their first NBA In-Season Tournament outing against the Brooklyn Nets last Friday.

They momentarily snapped out of that rut with a convincing win over the Utah Jazz on Monday, converting 30 points out of turnovers to sail to a 130-113 win. But that result came against a floundering 2-6 Jazz team, providing little insight into how the Bulls can compete against stronger opposition in the East.

The Bulls rank in the bottom third of league statistics in nearly every major category: shooting percentage (44.8%, 26th), 3-pointers made (10.5, 26th), assists (21.6, 29th), rebounds (41.1, 26th), pace (97.67, 28th), defensive rating (114.9, 23rd).

Every player on the roster is shooting at a lower percentage than last season with the exception of Alex Caruso, who is up 8.8 percentage points. Coach Billy Donovan has been optimistic that his team’s shooting woes will shake out.

“I think sticking with it, having the spirit that if we generate good shots, we’ll make those shots, I think we played with that,” Donovan said. “It’s always good to see the ball go into the basket. When the ball goes in, it does change a lot of things. But we’re going to have games like the first five or six games where we don’t shoot the ball particularly well and we still have to have the spirit to defend and do the things that we can control to overcome a bad shooting night.”

Illinois men’s and women’s basketball start the season ranked

The Fighting Illini opened the NCAA basketball season with both teams in the Top 25 rankings. The women’s basketball team is ranked No. 23 and the men’s team is ranked No. 25.

This is the first time the women’s team has earned a Top 25 ranking since 1999. The Illini will face an uphill battle in the Big Ten as they chase superstar Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes, who hope to avenge their national championship loss from last season. And Big 10 women’s basketball will be more competitive than ever with five teams in the Top 25: Iowa (No. 3), Ohio State (No. 7), Indiana (No. 9), Maryland (No. 14) and Illinois (No. 23).

With four top scorers returning from last year’s roster, second-year coach Shauna Green voiced confidence in her team’s chances during an interview with The Associated Press.

“Last year we made some strides,” Green said. “Definitely not where we want to get to, but a great start, and it’s very nice to have our returning five starters back. We’ve added some depth this year. We just were not deep enough (last season).”

The team opened its season with an 81-61 victory over Morehead State on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the men’s team opened its season with an 80-52 win over Eastern Illinois on Monday to defend the early ranking. Freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn led the scoring with 18 points.

Before the season formally began, the Illini hosted a fundraiser exhibition game against Kansas and former coach Bill Self to benefit the Maui Strong Fund, which provides relief to families displaced by fires in Hawai’i earlier this year. Illinois beat the No. 1 Jayhawks 82-75 led by former Lincoln Park High player Terrence Shannon Jr., who scored 28 points.

Illinois will begin to face ranked competition in earnest on Nov. 14, when they host No. 5 Marquette.

Patrick Williams moved out of the starting rotation

Coach Billy Donovan made the first change to the Bulls’ rotations early this season, pulling forward Patrick Williams out of the starting role after five games. Torrey Craig replaced Williams after impressing with his stalwart defense and sharp shooting from behind the arc throughout his Chicago debut.

In his fourth year with the Bulls, Williams still hasn’t proven he can hold down a spot in the starting lineup. He recorded two scoreless games in the opening two weeks of the season and struggled to produce the rebounds that Donovan has emphasized as the core of his role. Williams is shooting 34% from the field and 21.4% from 3-point range.

So far, the shift to the secondary rotation has been beneficial for Williams, who has averaged nine points and four rebounds off the bench over the past three games.

“I always carry a chip on my shoulder,” Williams said. “Any chance I get, I’m attacking it. Obviously it gets you going. It’s just basketball, so I can’t go out there with that type of attitude. I just go out there and play basketball.”

In-Season Tournament courts draw attention

The hardwood at the United Center was the star — or the villain — of the show last Friday.

The Bulls debuted their new court for the In-Season Tournament, which featured an all-red paint job emblazoned with a Bulls logo at center court. The new color palette was an adjustment for players and fans alike — and earned a fair amount of complaints from viewers at home.

But Bulls players appreciated the extra touch of the bright red court, although they admitted the new wood was slippery to play on.

Number of the week: 10,000

Andre Drummond recorded his 10,000th rebound, becoming one of only 43 NBA players to achieve the milestone. LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan are the only other active players who have recorded more than 10,000 rebounds in their careers. Drummond is the third player — behind Pau Gasol and Dennis Rodman — to reach 10,000 rebounds while playing in a Bulls uniform.

Rebounding has been the cornerstone of Drummond’s career. He has the highest rebound percentage of any player (24.83%) and led the league in rebounds for five of his 12 seasons in the NBA.

There’s no use chasing the top career rebounds tally — that belongs to Wilt Chamberlain, who finished his career with 23,924 rebounds. But Drummond will clearly finish his career in the upper echelon of rebounders in the league’s history.

“I do what I do best,” Drummond said. “I set out to be the best each and every night, try to get as many rebounds as possible, put my team in a good position on both ends of the court, offensively being able to finish the play or get it back out for a 3 and defensively keeping their guys off the glass. So I take pride in that.”

Week ahead: Bulls

Wednesday: vs. Phoenix Suns, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Thursday: Off
Friday: Off
Saturday: Off
Sunday: vs. Detroit Pistons, 6 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Monday: @ Milwaukee Bucks, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Tuesday: Off

What we’re reading this morning

5 numbers that explain the Bulls’ slow start to the season
No. 25 Illinois — with Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins — has one of the most experienced rosters in nation
Can anyone challenge Purdue? A team-by-team look at the Big Ten for the 2023-24 college basketball season.
Who can catch Iowa in the Big Ten women’s race? Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana are eager to mix it up.
No. 6 South Carolina beats No. 10 Notre Dame 100-71 in the 1st women’s basketball game in Paris
Zach LaVine is unbothered by 76ers rumors. ‘Trades are just part of the business,’ the Bulls star says.
Column: Teresa Weatherspoon is here to ‘stir things up’ for the Sky, but the GM will be key to the recipe
Kansas coach Bill Self signs the richest college basketball contract ever given by a public university
What to know about the Bulls roster — and the expectations for the 2023-24 NBA season


“I’ve been traded before. Trades are just part of the business and guys get shuffled around every year. I’ve been in trade talks since I’ve been here for some reason. I feel like I’ve held up my end of the bargain in my commitment to the Bulls, but there’s not a lot you can do with rumors and people putting your name in trade talks.” — Zach LaVine to the Tribune on the pressure of trade rumors


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