Following a lost 2017-18 season, the Chicago Bulls are facing another season of dismal basketball
After finishing with the third-worst record in the East last season at 27-55, the Chicago Bulls brace for a similarly difficult 2018-19. Even the most wildly optimistic Bulls fans would admit that the playoffs are unlikely, though a team as young as Chicago can benefit from realistic expectations. They have a burgeoning core of young players, and this upcoming season will be used for development. Surprisingly, the Bulls may have won the Jimmy Butler trade simply by escaping the ensuing drama, and while Minnesota frets about off-court issues, Chicago will get to rebuild in peace.
Probably the biggest offseason move Chicago made was luring former Milwaukee Buck Jabari Parker back to his hometown. Judging by the preseason, Parker will likely play a facilitating forward role, coming off the bench. In 31 games last season, Parker averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. Though hampered by injuries throughout his Milwaukee tenure, Jabari demonstrated a solid scoring touch in his first four years in the league. In Chicago, look for the offense to flow through him when the second unit is on the court.
One of the riskier moves Chicago undertook over the summer was retaining guard Zach LaVine, once viewed as the prize piece of the Butler trade. In his injury-shortened 2017-18, LaVine tallied 16.7 points per game, along with three assists. Fans are justifiably concerned about LaVine’s ability to bounce back from his serious ACL injury, and their concern is compounded by the fact that Zach signed a mammoth four-year, $78 million deal in July. If the two-time Slam Dunk champion loses some of his explosiveness as a result of the injury, this deal could develop poorly over the next four years.
Another piece in the Butler deal, however, proved to be one of Chicago’s bright spots last season: Lauri Markkanen. Though the Finnish forward will likely be plagued with comparisons to Euros like Dirk Nowitzki or Kristaps Porzingis, he stepped up and proved himself worthy of a lottery selection with an excellent rookie year. Last year, he posted 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game en route to an All-Rookie First Team nod. Markkanen was expected to be one of the Bulls’ featured players this season, though he, like much of the rest of the roster, has been sidelined with injury. Markkanen suffered a sprained right elbow in practice at the end of September, and is expected to miss the first several weeks of the season.
Kris Dunn, the final piece in the Butler deal, will be another player to keep an eye on this season. Coming off the best season of his career, Dunn will look to prove that he can start for a playoff caliber team. Last year, he averaged 13.4 points, six assists, and 4.3 rebounds while playing nearly 30 minutes a game. He’s not much of a 3-point shooter (32.1% in 2.6 attempts), but thrives when he’s attacking the basket. Players that can penetrate the paint and collapse the defense will always have a place in the league, but a subpar 3-point shot might hamper his development in the modern NBA.
With most of Chicago’s top options injured or working their way back, the Bulls will be able to get a good early look at their lottery selection Wendell Carter Jr. Though he’s behind the perennially underrated double-double threat Robin Lopez on the depth chart, Carter Jr. will most likely play starter-caliber minutes. In his lone season at Duke, he averaged 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and two assists from the 5 position. In the preseason, he put up 7.0 PPG and 5.6 boards, and impressed in Summer League with 2.6 blocks over five games. Lopez could find himself as trade bait by the deadline, which gives Carter Jr. a high probability of starting by the year’s end.
The biggest problem for the Bulls last year was their defense, and this season is no different. In 2017-18, they ranked 24th in the league in defensive rating (110.9), while ranking similarly in almost all opponents’ offensive categories. The Bulls also allowed opponents to take and make the most threes in the league last season, a potentially catastrophic number considering the league shifting to long-range offensive schemes. While their defense was atrocious, Chicago’s offensive numbers were just as bad. They ranked 28th in offensive rating (103.8), though they finished ninth in the league in pace. Chicago will be at their best when they can push the ball and score in transition, but will probably struggle in the half-court offense.
With their roster consisting of the walking wounded and fringe NBA players, the Chicago Bulls will not be expected to accomplish much this season. Due to the change in the draft process, “tanking” in the conventional sense will not even do the Bulls much good. Although the playoffs may be out of sight, this year can still be instrumental in contributing to their future success. They will spend much of the year getting healthy and playing their youngsters, and determining who can be part of a contending roster over the next five years. If they can do that, this year should be viewed as a success.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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