The Better than expected Bulls?
On some measures, the Bulls had a successful season
You're lectured in sports that you are what your record says you are. You know, as football guru Bill Parcells would say, blame nobody, expect nothing; do something! Injuries? Everyone has them. Youth, age, inexperience? Trades, bad luck? Nothing as obnoxious, as Scott Fitzgerald said, than other people's luck? No, I don't know who he coached.
No excuses. The Bulls at 27-54 have been a bad team. Yes, they had players out for more than 200 games for injuries and another dozen or so for assorted reasons that included heavyweight champion of practice. Almost until Christmas, nobody was worse. They had a double digit losing streak, and then after they got good lost seven straight. They never lost a game by 50; but they did lose one by 49.
Still, as the Bulls prepare to say goodbye for almost six months with Wednesday's final regular season game in the United Center against the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls can begin to look back on a pretty successful season.
Uh, how's that?
"I think it's (the organization) in a really good place," insisted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "I know everyone is excited about certain things that happened this year. Now it's about getting everybody together and getting more consistent next season and I'm confident that will happen. But I give our guys a lot of credit for putting our guys in a really good position right now with everything with the young pieces we have, with two draft picks coming up this June and hopefully getting everyone together and moving forward in a positive direction this offseason. So I'm really excited about everything and I know a lot of people in the organization that are as well."
Coach speak? Well, he has to say that, right?
Sure, but even with the franchise's poorest record in 14 years, it's not unreasonable to believe the season, if not a success in classic terms, was a plan even exceeded.
Consider the guys who are expert about this. No, not the players, and certainly not media. It's the people in Las Vegas who do the analysis for a living all year. When you talk about a business, well, theirs is not personal, but it tends to be pretty serious. Consider this for a scenario one can't disabuse.
Every time we stepped on the floor and the film room, our guys have been willing to learn and it's been a great teaching environment. Our guys in my opinion have gotten better. - Coach Fred Hoiberg
Before each season, the betting wins over/under are revealed through the Props with Jimmy Shapiro. At the end of the season, to their credit, they see how they did. Yes, in gambling there is a regular bottom line.
The Bulls this season, ever with meager win total, finished in the over with their predicted amount of wins. In fact, the Bulls were tied for the sixth best in winning more games than expected. And how many more would that have been if not for the post All-Star break chorus line auditions? Well, that's another issue.
According to the post season/preseason comparisons, the best teams this season in exceeding their preseason projections going into the last games were:
And the biggest underachievers:
The overachieving Bulls?
"I probably shouldn't say that," Hoiberg acknowledged at the final practice of this season. "Our guys, they've gone out and competed every night. And that's what it's all about for our group. If you go out and play harder than the other team, you're going to put yourself in position to win; sometimes against teams who have superior talent. We've had stretches where we played really good basketball. For the most part all year we've been competitive. We've had a couple, obviously, that we've got it handed to us like a lot of teams in our situation. (But also) playing with great effort, winning some games that on paper didn't look like we had much of a chance. I give our guys a lot of credit for how they approached everything for the full 82-game season and practices and shootarounds. Every time we stepped on the floor and the film room, our guys have been willing to learn and it's been a great teaching environment. Our guys in my opinion have gotten better."
That was the limited goal for this season, and it's not difficult to make the case there's been impressive improvement.
For Zach LaVine, it's been less statistical than regaining his health from his ACL operation. Lauri Markkanen became one of the league's top rookies, which wasn't that unexpected, though hardly assured, being selected No. 7 in the draft. Despite being plagued with a variety of generally unusual injuries, Kris Dunn looked more like a top NBA point guard than the rookie bust some suggested.
Bobby Portis, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday, Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine and even Robin Lopez—despite the limited play the last six weeks—all have had career scoring seasons.
Though the three prime players from the Jimmy Butler trade rarely played together because of injuries, rehabilitation and late season tryouts, the Bulls won their games when it was Dunn, LaVine, Holiday, Markkanen and Portis starting or Dunn, LaVine, Nwaba, Markkanen and Lopez. When it was Dunn, LaVine, Holiday, Markkanen and Lopez, the Bulls won two of five. So they were over .500 in that small sample of getting those three in a working starting lineup even with LaVine on limited playing time.
And then there was December, generally the cruelest month for us here in Chicago. T.S. Eliot suggested it was April, which means he must have been a Chicago baseball fan.
The Bulls won seven straight games in December and 10 of 12 with the return of Nikola Mirotic. But also because of the vibrant play of Markkanen who went on to that almost iconic game at Madison Square Garden, a series of Dunn winning shots and then LaVine's return and winning three straight before Dunn was injured with the concussion.
It's hardly fixed, and no one in the NBA is revising their 2019 title selections. But it appears a path has been selected and there aren't the obstacles in the mirror that are closer than they seem.
"I point to the stretch of the season we had after that tough start when we played as well as any team in the Eastern Conference," noted Hoiberg. "We had the second best record in the conference in the month of December and then got off to a very solid start in the month of January before Kris Dunn went down. The way we were playing we were second in the league in pace during that stretch; we were a top five team in scoring during that stretch. We had a lot of things we can build on, especially when you get all the players in the fold and the mix. We did show a lot of positive signs and that's a big thing and hopefully we can get back to playing that style and it's something we can build on.
"You can't just say we played great for six weeks of the season and that is going to carry over to next year," Hoiberg acknowledged. "It's going to take a lot of work to get back to that point and hopefully build on some of those things we were doing."
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