Whether you’re high or low on the 2019-20 Chicago Bulls, I think we can all agree they have lot to prove before they convince anyone they’re playoff-bound.
For example, a majority of the over-under projected win totals for this season have not drifted too far away from the 30-win mark – which … just isn’t enough to sneak into the postseason. But at the same time, plenty of NBA analysts (and fans) do seem to feel that this roster could compete for a low playoff seed in this wide-open Eastern Conference. Before we get into some raw numbers/probabilities, let’s explore that narrative.
As of today, I’d argue that only four teams fall into the ‘”lock” category, in terms of the top-8: The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors (you have to put respect on their name, even without Kawhi). The Pacers and Nets certainly don’t fall far behind this group, but both have kinks to work out between now and then.
Nonetheless, let’s assume all six make the playoffs though (order them however you’d like). That leaves us with just two remaining spots for which the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls can fight. That’s not ideal, but it’s also not a death sentence.
Bring on the numbers.
BBall Index’s Jacob Goldstein decided to crunch his own data (with the help of 10,000 season simulations), and Bulls fans will be happy to know that Chicago actually does make the playoff-cut:
— Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein) August 14, 2019
Based on Goldstein’s projections, the Eastern Conference playoff picture will look like this next season:
- Bucks (57.5 wins, 99% chance of making playoffs)
- 76ers (51.4, 97%)
- Raptors (46.4, 88%)
- Pacers (43.7, 79%)
- Boston (46.5, 89%)
- Magic (43.5, 78%)
- Heat (38.9, 54%)
- Bulls (38.9, 55%)
Missing something? Yeah, the Nets don’t crack the top-8 according to this algorithm, falling right outside the pack with 37.9 wins.
The whole list is a bit surprising, when you consider that Detroit needed 41 wins to grab the No. 8 seed last year, while this year, it might take only 39 wins. But considering how the bottom has become more competitive, I can envision this reality with relative ease (even if the Heat *and* Bulls making it in over a team like the Nets seems a little shocking).
What’s more telling, however, is the drop-off between the No. 6 and No. 7 seed in terms of wins and playoff probability. These sort of odds can’t be taken as gospel, but if there’s a broader lesson here, it’s probably this: the final two seeds appear to especially be up in the air. And if the Bulls or Heat are going to make it, that’s the most realistic way.
Earlier this offseason, I discussed the likelihood of Chicago improving by 19 wins last season to reach the (historically requisite) 40-win threshold, but as we said then: even if it’s not impossible and has been done before, it’s not going to be easy.
Instead, if the Bulls do find themselves in the playoffs alongside a team like Miami or Detroit, it’ll probably be thanks an utter dog fight between the bottom of the Eastern Conference (i.e. not because the Bulls were particularly good, but because everyone else was … eh hem … equally bad).
Indeed, we haven’t seen a team under the 40-win mark make the playoffs since the Nets did it back in 2014-15. That year, the Nets (38-44), Pacers (38-44) and Heat (37-45) were all competing for the final spot, and that’s something that could be echoed this season between Miami, Detroit and Chicago.
With several Eastern Conference teams on the rise, or at least trending in the right direction, it should make for some compelling basketball throughout the conference this season. And with that said … I fully expect a messy-ride into the playoffs, if there’s going to be a ride at all.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.