Bulls newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. may not be putting up gaudy statistics thus far in the preseason, but he’s finding his way on his new team.
“I’m getting comfortable. It’s a lot to learn, a lot to pick up because things are very specific here, so I’m getting into that process now where it’s a lot less thinking, just reacting, knowing where I’m supposed to be, which I think will help me out in all aspects,” said the veteran, who played for Golden State, Indiana and Milwaukee before coming to Chicago as a free agent over the summer. “Honestly, it’s a combination of a bunch of different ones, but the nice thing is it sort of covers all areas, so for every specific situation that you’re in, there’s kind of a rule or a guideline. In a lot of ways, the defense has been easier for me to pick up than the offense, but I’m getting there. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
The son of the former NBA player, coach and general manager of the same name, the 6-foot-10 sharpshooter has enjoyed the arduous workload Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has put on his plate.
“I think it’s pretty much par for the course, what I expected. This is a bunch of guys that work, from the coach on down. We’re here to get better every day. There’s no part in coming and wasting your time,” Dunleavy said after Sunday’s practice at the Berto Center. “We had a lighter day [Saturday] and we had a day off Thursday, so I think we all expected to be in the gym Saturday and Sunday, and getting ready for this week coming up.
“The way guys come out and practice with intensity each day, the professionalism, the guys sticking [around] after [practice] to work—I’ve had a hard time finding a basket to shoot at after practice because there’s so many guys getting extra work in. I’ve never been in a situation like that, so that’s a good thing,” the Duke University product continued. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work. You’ve got to come and you’ve to get your rest, and you’ve got to bring it physically and mentally every day. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully at the end, there will be a reward.
“It’s higher than anything I’ve played at, at the NBA level. Very similar to going back to college [at Duke], to ‘Coach K’ [Mike Krzyzewski]. It just doesn’t matter if you’re playing against each other in practice, a preseason game, regular-season game. You need to bring a high intensity and you need to get better every time, so I’m kind of on board with him. There’s no point in going through the motions. If you’re going to come in here, you might as well get your work in and do it right.”
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Dunleavy also was impressed by both the performance new teammate Derrick Rose put on and the overall intensity in Friday night’s Bulls’ win over Indiana.
“Man, that was—that was impressive. It was great to see the competitive juices come out in a preseason game in October. A lot of times, people don’t really care, but I thought both teams were looking to win. It felt like a late spring game to me and it was fun. The crowd was great,” he said. “I’m trying to remember a time where I’ve been in a preseason game and it’s been that competitive. I can’t. Man, that felt like a regular-season game, for sure.”
Thibodeau has utilized Dunleavy as both a starter, in the absence of injured shooting guard Jimmy Butler, and off the bench, his expected role. The veteran’s versatility—he can play both wing positions and function as a small-ball power forward—gives the Bulls some lineup flexibility.
“I think I can play with both [the starters or bench] pretty well. When I’m out there with the first unit, obviously there’s more scorers and then with the second unit, I think I can look to be a little more aggressive,” he explained. “Between me, Lu and Jimmy, we can kind of play that stretch four and I’m comfortable enough guarding guys inside, boxing people out and stuff like that, where I wouldn’t feel too overmatched. I mean, unless there’s somebody—I’m not going to guard Dwight Howard or somebody like that—but for the most part, I can handle people.”
One thing that hasn’t been a positive for Dunleavy is not having all of his teammates on the court together at once. Rose and Butler, who could return for Monday night’s matchup against Milwaukee at the United Center, have missed time, but the biggest Bulls absence in the preseason has been All-Star center Joakim Noah, who has only played in one contest due to a lingering strained-groin injury.
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“Besides everything that Jo brings, a little bit of that depth, too,” Dunleavy said of what the Bulls miss without Noah in the lineup. “He’s just such a force in there, on both ends of the court. He’s such a unique player. He protects the rim for us and rebounds, but also makes a lot of plays on the offensive end, so we miss [Noah] a ton. We hope he gets back soon, but you’ve got to let the process play itself out.”
But the new addition is confident that with so many holdovers, coupled with his own experience, chemistry won’t be an issue for the Bulls.
“Obviously that’s not great, with the injuries, but I think the chemistry’s pretty good. It’s a lot of guys who have been here before and I think I’m fitting in pretty well. Just being in the right spots. I know where to be and stuff like that, so I’m not going to mess anything up. Just to have that core group back, it helps,” he said. “With Derrick being out last year, but he’s just picked up where he left off. It’s really not a lot of new guys. It’s basically me and a couple rooks, and so I think the chemistry is pretty good. We’ve got a lot of things we can better at, and build and grow, but for five preseason games, I feel like we play well together.”
Having been around the league a bit since the Warriors selected him third overall in the 2002 NBA Draft, Dunleavy isn’t sentimental about Monday’s home game against the Bucks, the team he last played for. He also played for Indiana, the Bulls’ last opponent, and like the Pacers, Milwaukee’s roster has vastly changed since he played for the franchise.
“You’re around long enough, played on enough teams, there’s going to be a lot of those matchups. Same way with Indiana the other night, Milwaukee coming up. It ‘ll be nice to see a couple guys, but they’ve changed over a lot, so [I’m] not as familiar as I was last year with them. But it’ll be nice to see some people,” he said. “They’ve got some good young pieces, so you’d like to think their future’s bright, but it’s not something for me or us to worry about right now. With them being in the Central Division, they’re our rivals, and we’ve got to go out there and beat them.”
Sounds like Thibodeau’s type of guy.