A return to the playoffs last season after four lottery finishes wasn’t just refreshing, it was overdue by the traditions and expectations for this franchise. Now the challenge for Chicago – the players and coaches, sure, but particularly the front office – is to prove that was a step rather than a peak or plateau.
The Bulls were one of the league’s happy surprises through the first four months. Basketball bods Arturas Karnisovas and his crew had been aggressive, adding Lonzo Ball, sleeper Alex Caruso and somewhat written-off DeMar DeRozan around Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and promising Patrick Williams. The pieces fit, coach Billy Donovan pushed most of the right buttons and only seeding seemed to be a question for the postseason.
Then injuries hit, notably to Ball, Caruso and Williams. A limited 3-point game, poor shooting defense and shoddy rebounding undercut the early exuberance. The Bulls went 1-14 against the East’s top four clubs. Now last season’s superlatives are this season’s imperatives, with Ball still out and LaVine expected to play up to his new $215 million max contract. Stopping the ball at the point of attack and blanketing the other guys’ top scorers are musts.
Can a point guard’s health hold this operation hostage again? It might seem unhelpful to compare Ball’s slow-to-heal left knee to Derrick Rose’s multiple knee injuries, but there’s plenty of linkage in the minds of Chicago fans. The Bulls were 27-13 in mid-January when Ball went out with seemingly a minor knee issue. They went 19-23 from there, sliding from first to sixth as Ball underwent surgery, then an aborted rehab. Now he’s out again after another surgery and uncertain return.
The Bulls’ coming-out party and strong first half were a happy surprise and an indication of their potential. But Ball’s knee is a real setback as this season begins. It’s probably expecting too much for DeRozan to repeat his magical season, and it might be too much to think Williams’ game will take a huge jump. Plus the East is better, so… Projection: Play-In Tournament.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
741 — DeMar DeRozan led the league with 741 field goal attempts from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), 274 more than any other player attempted and 48% of his total field goal attempts.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Alex Caruso: Best option to start if you prioritize defense and facilitating the scorers on the court.
Zach LaVine: Now that he has gotten paid, defense and playoff success are keys to LaVine’s reputational climb.
DeMar DeRozan: From “worst offseason pickup” in 2021 to second-team All-NBA, but can’t be asked to carry same load.
Patrick Williams: Frisky summer work has raised hopes and expectations after his second season was mostly lost to injury.
Nikola Vucevic: His numbers at both ends dropped almost across the board during Bulls’ 8-13 post-All-Star swoon.
Lonzo Ball: Lingering left knee issue has Bulls season, his career in question.
Goran Dragic: At 36, in 15th NBA season, a solid addition to run the second-unit offense.
Ayo Dosunmu: Overachiever as No. 38 pick rookie, he was at his best when not overworked.
Javonte Green: Made himself surprisingly valuable with increased opportunity (45 starts, 1,519 minutes).
Coby White: Streaky player with scoring chops to be Bulls’ “instant offense” off the bench.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Bulls have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
Last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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