While we might have to wait and see which of the Bulls new free agent signings (Alize Johnson, Stanley Johnson, and Matt Thomas) make the roster, we pretty much know how this team will look heading into a highly-anticipated October.
So with training camp on the horizon (September 28th), I wanted to go through the roster and provide some general thoughts on each “unit.”
We are going to start with a nine-man rotation of sorts. Then, in a secondary post, we will look at who’s on the outside looking in and who is competing for a rotational role.
Here are some words …
Pull up 2019-20’s opening night starting lineup and compare it to this one. Need a moment to cool off? Same.
On paper, the Chicago Bulls have a starting lineup that stacks up with several Eastern Conference elites (caveat: *on offense*). The five-man unit features three All-Stars and two high-upside talents who are standing right on the brink of a career year. LaVine will undoubtedly be the man in charge. He will likely be forced to play off the ball more than ever before with another ball-dominant backcourt player like DeRozan in the mix, but any opportunity he wants to score the basketball will still be his. Not to mention, with his athleticism and three-level scoring ability, more off-ball play should be something he can handle.
Ball will takeover lead guard duties and play in arguably the best situation of his career. He will be right alongside two elite scorers in the backcourt and three players who can get out into transition. Many have said they expect the Bulls to play much faster than they did after acquiring Nikola Vucevic last season (25th in PACE after the deadline), thus favoring Ball’s skillset. And while I do believe we will see this team push the pace more, I’m not so sure this starting unit will be singeing the court.
DeRozan is a pick-and-roll maestro who proved to be one of the league’s better half-court playmakers last season. I expect Ball to get his liberties in the offense to work in the fastbreak, but I also anticipate the Bulls slowing things down to allow DeRozan to play the point-forward role on many possessions. DeRozan does a lot of his work in isolation, as well, ranking 13th in isolation possessions last season and 10th in points per possession. He will need the ball in his hands in the halfcourt to be anywhere near as effective as we’re used to seeing. We should also remember Nikola Vucevic is not known for his ability to run the floor, but he is one of the league’s better screeners (and one of the more frequent post scorers). Combine that with DeRozan’s playmaking (let alone LaVine’s pick-and-roll potential), and slowing things down makes plenty of sense.
Ball will still be important as a ball mover and catch-and-shoot 3-point threat in the halfcourt, though. He will surely find himself with plenty of open looks as defenses focus their efforts on players like LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic.
Meanwhile, Patrick Williams is this unit’s 5th-option on offense and first on defense. While he showed encouraging signs during Summer League to play a more aggressive brand of basketball, no one should anticipate the ball in his hands. Again, like Ball, he should be the beneficiary of some looks (via lobs or well-timed cuts to the basket), but the Bulls will ask Williams to focus his efforts on the defensive end once again.
Speaking of which, there is no denying this first unit lacks … well … any real defensive upside. The only player who had a positive defensive box plus-minus last season was Ball. Do I think it will be as awful as some anticipate? No. But it still projects to be a below-average unit that will rely heavily on Williams near the basket and Ball along the perimeter. LaVine can hopefully take a much-needed step on this side after playing arguably his best defensive basketball at the Olympics, but whether or not that step would take him anything more than “average” is truly hard to say.
Expect a lot of points … on both sides.
The Second Unit
Troy Brown Jr.
Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley added plenty of intriguing talents into the mix, but none seem to be coming for Coby White’s job. White projects to be very important to the team’s second unit, as none of the Bulls’ new faces possess the kind of offensive-minded play he does. To put it further into perspective: Neither Caruso, Brown, nor Bradley has ever averaged double-digit field goal attempts in a season. So, yeah, this bench is pretty opposite of its starting group.
If White were healthy, I think we would all feel comfortable with him returning to this sparkplug bench role, but the fact of the matter is he will be coming off a torn labrum. Not only is his return timetable still unclear, but we are not quite sure how long it will take for him to get back into a scoring rhythm upon his return. With that being the case, I do expect a starter to stagger into the second unit to help carry the offensive load, but I also expect one of these three names above will be asked to step up.
Could that someone be Brown? Some might question whether Brown will be an immediate part of the rotation, but I think he makes the cut. Not only did he play strong defense upon his arrival to the Windy City, but he did eat 18.2 minutes per game in his 13 contests before suffering a hamstring injury. Not to mention, the front office seemed to go out of their way to acquire him at the deadline, so I think they are high on his two-way potential (Reminder: He’s also just 23 years old and averaged an encouraging 10.4pts, 5.6reb, 2.6ast, and 1.2 stl in 2019-20).
Caruso is another player who might be able to add a tiny bit more than usual on the offensive end (inconsistent threat but did shoot 40 percent from downtown last season), however, I expect the Bulls to let him use the bulk of his energy on defense. Out of all these bench players, Caruso will likely be the one who sees the most time alongside some staters (possibly in some closing lineups).
The front office also appears to view Tony Bradley very highly. He will be the primary backup big man to Vucevic, and he is the team’s only other player above 6’10” with NBA experience. I expect him to do a fine job in the rotation, but the Bulls might be asking for him to do even more as a rim-protector.
More to come!