“Playoffs!? We’re talking about playoffs!? You kidding me?”
Sorry … wrong sport, I know. But it feels like the proper opening.
Thanks to a surprisingly non-catastrophic offseason, the Bulls have positioned themselves to be – at least – in the playoff conversation. With the Eastern Conference practically always up for grabs, the bottom feeders (in this case the Bulls) will be duking it out for a shot at the No. 8 seed.
And if all goes right for Chicago, and the young core can stay healthy, competing for one of the last playoff spots doesn’t feel out of the question. We know the current roster set-up has plenty of potential and versatility, but a lot will be left up to the improvement of Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine. Oh, and whether or not Jim Boylen can actually be the head coach of a winning organization.
The Bulls will need some major improvement for a playoff run to be in their future, so let’s take a look into the past to see how realistic this all is.
The average win total over the last decade to crack the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs has been 36.1 wins. However, that number is dragged down considerably by a stretch of terrible Eastern Conference basketball from the 2010-2014 era. If we look at the last five years, which I think is more indicative of the modern league with the rise of Golden State-style basketball, the average win total to bring home the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference increased to 41.4 wins
If we are basing things off an estimated 41 wins to reach the playoffs, the Bulls would have to jump 19 wins from the previous season (finished 22-60) to make a playoff appearance this season a reality. Honestly, that seems like a pretty big jump to make in just one offseason, especially without the addition of any “superstar” caliber player (Michael: Perhaps the Bulls didn’t add a superstar, but a full healthy season from Wendell Carter Jr. plus the additions of Tomas Satoransky and Coby White can’t be overlooked!). However, getting it done isn’t unprecedented by any means, in fact, the Bulls have made a jump of over 19 wins twice since the turn of the century.
- 2003-04 to 2004-05: +24 wins
- 2009-10 to 2010-11: +21 wins
I think it’s important to note though, both of these timeframes saw some pretty significant additions to the roster. During the 2003-04 to 2005-06 spurt, the Bulls added both Luol Deng and Ben Gorden (two players who averaged double-digit scoring numbers). As for 2009-10 to 2010-11, the Bulls had an offseason where they brought in Carlos Boozer, who is probably still the current front office’s best free-agent signing during their tenure.
When you take a look around the rest of the league, it appears only three other teams have accomplished multiple +19 increases as well, with the Nuggets, Heat and Cavs all taking massive jumps from one season to the next. In case you were curious though, here is what I found when looking for all other teams who have achieved above a +19 increase from one season to the other since the 2000-01 campaign:
- Milwaukee Bucks: 2013-14 to 2014-15: +26 wins*
- Toronto Raptors: 2005-06 to 2006-07: +20 wins*
- Philadelphia 76ers: 2016-17 to 2017-18: +24 wins*
- Boston Celtics: 2006-07 to 2007-08: +42 wins*
- Brooklyn Nets: 2011-12 to 2012-13: +27 wins*
- Denver Nuggets: 2002-03 to 2003-04: +26 wins
- Denver Nuggets: 2011-12 to 2012-13: +19 wins*
- Portland Trailblazers: 2012-13 to 2013-14: +21 wins*
- Oklahoma City Thunder: 2008-09 to 2009-10: +27 wins*
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 2013-14 to 2014-15: +20 wins*
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 2007-08 to 2008-09: +21 wins*
- Golden State Warriors: 2011-12 to 2012-13: +24 wins*
- Phoenix Suns: 2003-04 to 2004-05: +33 wins*
- Miami Heat: 2011-12 to 2012-13: +20 wins*
- Miami Heat: 2007-07 to 2008-09: +28 wins*
- Charlotte Hornets: 2012-13 to 2013-14: +22 wins*
- Washington Wizards: 2003-04 to 2004-05: +20 wins*
- Atlanta Hawks: 2013-14 to 2014-15: +22 wins*
- New Orleans Pelicans: 2004-05 to 2005-06: +20 wins
- Memphis Grizzlies: 2002-03 to 2003-04: +22 wins*
The recent sample size is 20 different occasions, which, actually … that’s not too shabby. Of course, all of these improvements are incredibly circumstantial, but it can be important to note how friendly the league has been to massive swings in win total.
If you notice though, the only large increase as of late happened two seasons ago with the Philadelphia 76ers. Otherwise, a fair share of these one-offseason improvements happened during that 2010-2015 range; which, again, was a pretty rough time for the Eastern Conference as a whole.
The Bulls are positioned to be in a much more competitive conference this season, with current lower-end teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat also looking to take the next step forward. With an improvement in the balance of competitive teams, it feels harder for the Bulls to take such a vast jump upward in the win column. The Eastern Conference has been improving little by little over the past several seasons, and the 76ers turned things around thanks to the addition of two All-Stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Yeah, and the Bulls don’t have that right now.
Recent history shows hitting the +19 isn’t impossible, but the framework of the current NBA and who the franchise lands play a key factor. I guess we’ll find out if the Bulls have done enough.