2021-22 Kia Season Preview

2021-22 Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

An offseason of roster renewal could be what Chicago needs to lift the Bulls back into the postseason.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

How far can the new-look Bulls go in the Eastern Conference?

Arturas Karnisovas, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, got busy after the Bulls wrapped up in May with a 31-41 record. He departed dramatically from the previous regime’s blueprint of building from within and changed up the roster considerably. Whether it changes up the outcome — finishing .500 or better and snagging a playoff berth for the first time since 2017 — remains to be seen.

Chicago already made a bold move at the trade deadline in March, acquiring All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and Troy Brown Jr. He kept going this summer, trading for point guard Lonzo Ball, signing Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley and getting San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan in a sign-and-trade deal. Recent Bulls such as Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, Otto Porter Jr., Daniel Theis and Wendell Carter Jr. are gone. At this point, guard Coby White — Chicago’s first-round pick in 2019 — ranks second in seniority only to Zach LaVine on the 2021-22 roster.

That’s a lot of new styles, strengths and personalities to coach for Billy Donovan and to mesh into any sort of chemistry on and off the floor. That could take time, especially with last year’s rookie starter Patrick Williams missing the first month or more with an ankle sprain. Then again, if the Bulls start too slowly, Karnisovas will be looking for jumper cables and probably do more outside shopping to find them.


BIGGEST QUESTION

What will the defense look like? Vucevic and DeRozan are offense-first guys, and so was LaVine for most of his career until focusing on the other end with Team USA this summer. That’s a big burden falling on Ball’s and Williams’ shoulders. Chicago ranked 23rd in opponents’ field goal percentage, 28th in steals and were the league’s 10th most foul-prone team. Outscoring the other guys is no reliable formula for success.


SEASON PREDICTION

There is an urgency here for significant improvement, at least to secure a spot in the East’s Play-In Tournament. Fans are more or less back, patience is running thin and the front office is past the honeymoon stage. LaVine has a contract extension coming up and mostly has said the right things about winning first, getting paid second. Getting into the Play-In will qualify. Predicted finish: 40-42.


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

Lonzo Ball: A clear upgrade at both ends as a playmaker who can harass dribble-penetrators.

Zach LaVine: Breaking through in 2020-21 as a scorer, shooter and Olympian shifts focus to his defense.

DeMar DeRozan: His three-year, $85 million deal was a money grab, but Bulls get a veteran scorer dedicated to the team.

Patrick Williams: Much to learn after a promising All-Rookie season, delayed a bit by offseason ankle sprain.

Nikola Vucevic: Will need to remain a priority offensively to bring out his best, while LaVine and DeRozan seek theirs.


KEY RESERVES

Alex Caruso: The “Everyman” player off the bench whose work ethic will make him a United Center favorite.

Coby White: Combo guard seems ideal for greenlighted-scoring Sixth Man role.

Troy Brown Jr.: Late-season splits showed more opportunity equals more contribution, especially as defensive wing.

Tony Bradley: Former backup to Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid likely plays that role to Vucevic in thin frontcourt.


LAST 5 SEASONS

How the Bulls have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2020-21 31 41 0.431 110.4 21 111.5 12 -1.1 20
2019-20 22 43 0.338 105.8 29 108.9 9 -3.1 22
2018-19 22 60 0.268 104.5 29 112.8 25 -8.3 27
2017-18 27 55 0.329 103.4 28 110.5 28 -7.0 28
2016-17 41 41 0.500 106.5 21 106.2 5 +0.3 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


STAT TO KNOW

50/40 — LaVine (57.1%, 41.9%) was one of six players who shot 50% or better on at least 500 2-point attempts and 40% or better on at least 250 3-point attempts last season. Vucevic (39.9% from 3) was one 3-point make from being the seventh.

— John Schuhmann

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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