The Chicago Bulls are fading, playoff dreams are slipping away and now we are left with, hoping for lottery magic?
It probably shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, the team did return nearly everyone from a team that went 22-43 last season before the pandemic shut down their season.
In retrospect, simply replacing a bad coach and overhauling the front office and expecting a legitimate playoff contender with the same roster was a bit far-fetched.
It’s easy to opine now that the roster is flawed.
Chicago’s lack of a true distributor never really allowed this team to take flight. Lauri Markkanen hasn’t taken the next step and the new front office gave up on Wendell Carter Jr. To be fair, moving Carter netted the Bulls an All-Star center in Nikola Vucevic.
Either way, here we are. As this piece is coming together, the Bulls sit in the 12th spot in the Eastern Conference. They’re 4 games behind the Washington Wizards, for the 10th seed in the conference and qualification for the play-in.
Time is running out, with only seven games remaining.
Not everything has gone bad for the Chicago Bulls this season
Technically the Chicago Bulls have improved from last season, already winning 4 more games than in 2019-20. So, there’s that. The glass is officially one-quarter full, right?
It hasn’t been completely soul-crushing. For starters, Zach LaVine has continued his transformation into one of the league’s great scorers, currently sixth in the NBA in scoring at 27.5 points per game.
He’s truly a star in this league and we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge it.
It’s not just that he’s scoring a lot of buckets. It’s how he’s doing it. According to dunksandthrees.com, LaVine is in the 97th percentile for offensive EPM (estimated plus/minus), 95th in total EPM. For those who say the UCLA product isn’t a winning basketball player, think again. His eW (estimated wins) is in the 95th percentile at 8.1.
We could take a deeper dive into LaVine’s breakthrough season, and we will at some point soon. You get the point though. He’s the Chicago Bulls’ best player, and it’s not that close.
On the offensive end, he’s been playing winning basketball. The numbers back up that statement. LaVine obviously still has plenty of room to grow on the defensive end and he still commits ridiculously silly turnovers.
Without LaVine though, this season would have turned ugly a long time ago.
Oh and, they did acquire another All-Star
When the Bulls acquired Vucevic, the thought was that the playoffs were a no-brainer. It obviously hasn’t panned out that way. It doesn’t mean that the deal was a dud.
There are plenty of factors to consider, especially that the Bulls overhauled their gameplan midseason with minimal practice time to assimilate their new players.
In the end, if faced with the opportunity to swap out a frustrated, overwhelmed young big man in Carter for an established big who happens to be an All-Star, you do it – every time. The timing has turned out to be non-optimal, for the reasons already stated, but the deal itself cannot be judged yet.
LaVine and Vucevic will be fine together. Their games should complement both of them moving forward. Vucevic is in the 93rd percentile for offensive EPM (+2.5), 76th in eW (+3.2), and an above-average ball-handler. The former Orlando Magic big man is in the 80th percentile for assist percentage (20%) and 86th in turnover percentage (8%).
The flawed roster has been the death knell for this franchise
Despite the All-Star season LaVine has put together combined with the addition of Vucevic and new fan (or personal) favorite Daniel Theis, the Bulls will likely miss out on postseason dancing this season.
So what happened? Too many holes on the roster and a lack of development from too many key players.
It’s unfair to point a finger only at Markkanen. Coby White has struggled most of the season to take the reigns of the offense. Denzel Valentine has had too many moments of thinking he’s someone other than Denzel Valentine.
Ryan Arcidiacono is a tough, heady player, but probably shouldn’t be getting too many minutes on a team with playoff aspirations.
For all of Patrick Williams‘ potential, he has struggled to be aggressive enough much of the season. How does his eW of -1.0 compare to the rest of the league? To be frank, not good. He’s in the 1st percentile. Williams’ EPM of -3.8 leaves him in the 18th percentile in the league.
Patrick Williams needs a strong offseason, I think that’s fair to say.
It’s almost over
The long, winding road of the Chicago Bulls’ season will soon come to a conclusion.
This season does feel a bit different from this point last year, besides the whole shutdown thing.
For starters, the Bulls won’t be heading into the offseason with questions about their front office, they have a competent NBA head coach in Billy Donovan and they now have two All-Stars on their roster.
They are at least ahead of where they were at this point in 2020. I’m not completely sure what that means for the future, however. (But at least they have Daniel Theis)
The Bulls’ brain trust of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley (AKME) certainly have their work cut out for them. First and foremost, they need to solve their lead guard dilemma. White is probably more suited for a Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford type role. He’s less effective if he has to quarterback the offense.
AKME will have to determine where to play Williams and the search for wing help should already be in process. It seems as if Markkanen’s future with the Bulls is extremely murky at best, and the front office will have to determine how to proceed with that situation.
The Bulls might not be as far away from contention as it seems at the moment. However, some important questions regarding this roster will demand answers from the front office.