The Chicago Bulls made some strong moves this summer, but what does it really mean?
With most of the drama of the NBA offseason mostly completed, the NBA has it somewhat of a dull period. Even Summer League is over, so we can’t even get hyped about obscure players we won’t remember by the time training camp opens. So what now? I guess it’s time to do an evaluation of who the Chicago Bulls are at this point in the offseason.
The offseason moves made by GarPax and the front office addressed some key weaknesses, but not ALL weaknesses. At least not yet. I’d like to think there are still moves to be made, and since Kris Dunn is still on the roster, it’s a safe bet that they (the front office) aren’t done yet. Heading into the summer, the major problem areas were:
- Point guard – Kris Dunn as the incumbent and Ryan Arcidiacono his main understudy. Neither have shown to be quality NBA starters at this point. The Bulls haven’t been shy about their desire to upgrade
- Wing depth – adding Otto Porter Jr. in February was a solid pickup, ridding the team of Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, two players the team had no real interest in bringing back for 2019-20. The downside is that Porter is now the team’s highest-paid player, and limits their flexibility on the free-agent market. However, we’ve seen that if a team wants to create cap space, no contract is truly untradeable (unless it belongs to Chris Paul, yikes!). Behind Porter and Zach LaVine are two unproven wings, Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison. Valentine is coming off reconstructive ankle surgery and Hutchison has yet to provide consistent quality play.
- Frontcourt depth – Robin Lopez entered the summer as a free agent and has since bolted to join his twin brother Brook Lopez in Milwaukee. That left the Bulls with Cristiano Felicio as the only experienced big behind Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen, so I don’t think I need to go into further detail as to why that would be a concern.
So to recap, the Bulls entered the summer needing help at the 1, depth behind their starting 2,3,4 and 5. Gotcha, not a problem. Why did they go 22-60 last season? It’s all starting to make sense.
Now, deep into July and entering the NBA dead period, let’s see how the Bulls are now:
- Tomas Satoransky – He’ll likely spend most of the season as the starter, or at least it would make sense that he would. I wouldn’t expect Kris Dunn to be on the team the entire season if he even makes it to opening night.
- Coby White – The seventh overall selection in the NBA Draft, he’s the future PG for the Chicago Bulls, just maybe not this season. He’ll get plenty of minutes and probably should be starting by the end of the season unless the Bulls happen to be in the midst of a playoff chase.
- Ryan Arcidiacono – He’s a fan favorite and will give the team a solid effort, but if the Bulls are going to be good, how much should Arcidiacono really be playing?
- Kris Dunn – I think we know already what his future is with the Bulls — short.
- Zach LaVine – Offensively, he’s actually fairly underrated, especially coming off of last season. He averaged 23.7 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 37.6 percent from 3-point land. The question is, do these numbers matter? Is he an effective scorer who makes those around him better? Will his production lead to actual wins? His offensive win shares for last season was 1.7. If you’re unfamiliar with what that means, it’s simple: LaVine’s offense equated for 1.7 Bulls wins. Now, numbers themselves can be misleading and rarely tell the whole story. However compare LaVine’s OWS with say, CJ McCollum who had a 4.0 OWS and it lends the question of whether the Bulls can win with LaVine as their 2 guard. This is not even mentioning Zach’s terrible approach to defense. But that’s been well documented and we can dive into that later.s
- Denzel Valentine – If healthy, he could be an effective player. But it’s a big, big IF. Also, when there’s an IF and a COULD in the sentence, it doesn’t show a lot of confidence, of which I have very little in Valentine. Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic had a thorough look at Valentine’s injury history here. Let’s just say this, the word reconstructive is a little scary when it comes to ankles and basketball.
- Shaquille Harrison – He’s another lunch pail guy. He’ll give you his all, but that won’t include much of a jumper. If Valentine and Hutchison are healthy and productive, I can’t see Shaq being in the rotation.
- Otto Porter Jr. – It was like he was liberated from the nation’s capital when he arrived in Chicago in the thick of winter. He was free of Scott Brooks‘ lack of offensive imagination. In 15 games for the Bulls, Porter averaged 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting lights out from downtown – 48.8 percent. He gives the Bulls a solid wing scorer and alleviates the pressure from LaVine and Markkanen. The big downside of Porter is his contract, he’ll make $27.25 million this season with a player option for $28.48 million for the following season. His salary puts a dent into any free agency plans GarPax potentially would have.
- Chandler Hutchison – At this point, what’s there to really comment on? It just seems like Hutchison should be producing more than he has. To be fair, he was a rookie last season, but as a 4-year player at Boise State, I had higher hopes that he’d hit the ground running last season, but alas, he did not.
- Lauri Markkanen – He’s the biggest key to the Bulls rebuild. He’s big, can shoot and can handle the ball a little bit too. If Jim Boylen is smart, and I mean, maybe he’s sneaky smart, he’ll get the ball in Markkanen’s hands as much as possible. Oh, he can rebound too. He averaged 9.0 rebounds per game last season and I think he can get into the double-digit category next season. He should be an All-Star fairly soon.
- Thaddeus Young – A solid free-agent addition for Chicago. He’ll give the team a quality scorer off the bench and a strong veteran presence. Anyone poo-pooing the need for another leader in the locker room must have already forgotten the near-mutiny the team almost staged after Boylen took over. Young will help on many fronts next season.
- Daniel Gafford – I’m not big on Summer League performances, as I don’t think they really translate to actual NBA play, but the 2019 second-round pick from Arkansas was a nice surprise. He plays with a ton of energy and might see some minutes. He seems to be a Boylen-type guy through and through.
- Wendell Carter Jr. – Another casualty of the injury bug last season, but if Carter can stay healthy Chicago should see a big improvement. That is if Boylen lets Carter use his skills and doesn’t limit him to just post touches. Carter seemed scared to shoot from outside at times during his rookie season and it was hard to see. The former Duke big man can shoot the 3-ball better than he showed last season and should be a defensive maven in time.
- Luke Kornet – An under the radar signing this summer. Kornet will stretch the defense with his shooting ability and should provide enough quality minutes to keep Felicio cemented to the bench. Kornet’s per 36-minute averages were impressive, 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per-36. That’ll do.
- Cristiano Felicio – I think I’ve said enough.
The roster as it stands is pretty good, probably not as good as some fans want to believe and not as bad as others. I’m not quite on the playoff bandwagon until I see what the team can get for Dunn. It’s just so difficult to go from 22 wins to a playoff team without adding a star player and bringing back the same head coach. That’s not to say they can’t make a strong run at an eighth seed, but it’ll be more difficult than some want to believe.
For now, I’ll say the Chicago Bulls are on the outside looking in for the playoffs next season, but a 15 win improvement isn’t out of the question.