Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on this past (partial) season of Bulls basketball.
And while I know this team isn’t too exciting, I think our perception of it has been a bit skewed by the obvious tension between fans and the front office/Jim Boylen. But thanks to the renewed sense of optimism, which tracks alongside the front office overhaul, I thought I’d write down some of the things I *do* like about this current roster.
Let’s dive in!
• They’re Young: Heading into this season, the Chicago Bulls were the second-youngest team in the NBA. The roster currently sits with an average age of 24.2, with veteran forward Thaddeus Young, 31, as the team’s oldest player (the next oldest is Tomas Satoransky at 28-years-old). Four of the Bulls five projected starters for the 2020-21 season will be former lottery picks, age 24 or younger. Youth isn’t always a good thing (*points to the 22-43 record*), but it almost always means there is room for improvement. With the right player development department, which is said to be the primary focus of new general manager Marc Eversley, we could see continued growth from Lauri Markkanen (22), Wendell Carter Jr. (20), Coby White (19), and Daniel Gafford (21) over the next couple of years.
• They’re inexpensive: This pretty much goes hand-and-hand with a young, inexperienced roster. If some of these players fail to pan out, the Bulls will have the flexibility to move pieces around in the near future. Yes, with Otto Porter bound to accept his $28.5 million option this summer, the Bulls will be limited over the next year. However, once his money and Cristiano Felicio’s ridiculous four-year, $32 million contract are off the books, the Bulls are easily positioned to have max-level cap space heading into the coveted 2021 free agent circuit. Also, I think it’s important to mention that Zach LaVine’s four-year, $78 million contract is practically a “steal” when you consider the type of production the Bulls get out of him.
• They have Coby White’s hair: Have you seen it?
• They’re big: I wrote about this during the preseason, but the Bulls actually carry one of the biggest starting lineups in the NBA. Compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference starting groups (at least at the beginning of the season), the Bulls had the second-tallest squad behind the Philadelphia 76ers. In theory, this not only benefits the Bulls in the “position-less basketball” category but also on the defensive end. Switching shouldn’t be as big of a worry, especially when you consider this lineup doesn’t really sacrifice speed for their height (more on that below).
• They’re not that terrible on defense: Are the Bulls the 13th-best defensive team in the NBA? No. Are they absolute trash? Also, no. Jim Boylen’s aggressive blitz pick-and-roll defense will naturally force a lot of turnovers, and thus, bolster the team’s defensive rating. The system itself is flawed, and the Bulls should probably move on from it sooner than later. However, these players still deserve some credit for being pretty darn scrappy. They’ve easily averaged the most steals per game (10.0), and they’ve accumulated 652 total steals on the season, which is 87 more than the second-place Raptors. In general, these players all possess the necessary make-up to be solid defensive players … except maybe Zach LaVine. Wendell Carter Jr. has an elite 7′ 5″ wingspan and natural rim-protecting ability. Gafford has great timing and a strong physical frame. Lauri Markkanen is a quick-footed seven-footer (who just desperately needs a confidence boost). And Coby White is a decent-sized guard with very good lateral quickness (and, in my opinion, he’s been better than expected on the defensive end this season).
• They really don’t like Boylen: So relatable.
It’s painful watching Jim Boylen try and pump up his players. pic.twitter.com/4aCq58H5WM
— Elliot Isles (@ElliotIsles) December 3, 2019
• They get to the rim: The Jazz, Thunder, and Nets are the only teams to average more drives per game. All season long, the Bulls have been able to get to the rim for some high-percentage looks … they just haven’t been able to finish. The team has a 43.8 percent field goal percentage on these drives (4th-worst in the NBA), and they draw just the 14th-most free throw attempts. Soooo, while it’s good that this team looks to drive to the hoop a lot, someone needs to teach them how to convert.
• They’re fast as heck: The Bulls PACE should probably be a lot better than 16th in the NBA, especially if White is the point guard of the future. Also, according to NBA Stats, the Bulls are the second-fastest team in the league with an average speed of 4.32. New front office leaders Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have both said they like their teams to play quick, so I’d expect this to be an area of focus moving forward. I’m glad, it fits this roster.
• They’re willing to share the ball: I’ll admit, I might be stretching on this one. The Bulls are 23rd in assists per game this season, which is bad. However, take a look at potential assists, and they’re 16th in the NBA … which is less bad! I feel like if you watched every game this season like I did (for your sake, I hope you didn’t), then you’d notice guys on this team looked to pass the ball quite a lot. In fact, oftentimes, I’d say they made one pass too many. I’ll never knock unselfish play though, the Bulls just need a true leader to help them understand how to appropriately distribute the ball.
• They have Zach LaVine and Coby White: Zach LaVine has only gotten better over his six seasons in the NBA. He may not have reached All-Star status just yet, but he’s certainly proven to be an elite scorer. Meanwhile, Coby White flashed extreme potential over the Bulls last nine games, averaging 26.1 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. Oh, and White only started one of those games.
The Bulls, led by Coby White and Zach LaVine each scoring 30+, took a W at home last night against the Wizards.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 24, 2020
• They know when to ask the hard questions: Well, Zach does.
• They’re the Bulls: Ugh, I’ll always like them.