An offensive explosion against the Charlotte Hornets and back-to-back victories in New York over the Knicks and Nets left many of us asking, “What more proof do you need?”
Those were three victories over three teams currently expected to be in the playoff picture. And one even came against a Finals favorite and top-seed in Brooklyn. Combine a stretch like this with the 8-5 west coast road trip we saw from the Bulls, and the case for calling Zach LaVine and Co. one of the best teams in the NBA is as strong as it’s been in nearly a decade. And the latest Power Rankings reflect just that.
After facing a small drop thanks to a 1-3 end of November, the Bulls have jumped back up among the league elites. ESPN and NBA dot com were so impressed with the team’s most recent undefeated slate that they vaulted Chicago into the league’s top-4. Meanwhile, The Athletic moved the Bulls up two spots from No. 8 to No. 6.
For NBA dot com, this is actually not the highest we have seen the Bulls go. John Schuhmann has ranked the team as high as 2nd already this season, which came after the team took down the Nets, Mavericks, and Clippers over one December week. ESPN has also been kind to the Bulls over the past several weeks, placing them 4th-highest before promptly dropping them back to 7th after their 1-3 week that included losses to the Pacers and Heat. Regardless, none of those previously high marks mean as much as they do this week.
Being labeled the second-best team in the league after 13 games makes for a fun headline, but we can all agree it doesn’t hold a lot of weight. Jump ahead to 24 games into the season – over a quarter of the way – and now we are looking at something far more believable. It all comes down to sample size, and the more games the Bulls have under their belt, the more accurate these power rankings will feel.
In many ways, this is why I’ve appreciated The Athletic’s approach. They have been far more hesitant to shuffle their bored around, gradually increasingly Chicago over this first month-plus of the season. A 6th-place ranking is high as the Bulls have gone on their list, and it is a stark improvement from the 18th-overall spot they gave the team before the season tipped off.
Look, I don’t necessarily blame anyone for not putting the Bulls higher on their preseason rankings. I completely understand taking the “wait-and-see” approach with a new roster stuffed with former No. 1-players. But the 18th-overall ranking from The Athletic and the 20th-overall ranking from ESPN still felt a bit harsh. This ranking practically suggested the team would be dueling for the final play-in spot as opposed to comfortably sitting in the mix, which did not make much sense to me considering the talent the Bulls added.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I thought the Bulls would be a top-5 team in the NBA come December. I 100 percent did not. But I did think far too many people were letting discussion around contracts and fit impact their perceived floor for this team. Talent is talent, and the Bulls added enough of it this offseason to be viewed as a top-8 squad. This is why I found NBA dot com’s preseason ranking of No. 15 to be far more acceptable.
That’s why you play the games.
ESPN Preseason vs. ESPN Now. pic.twitter.com/KBcJEDJJDA
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) December 6, 2021
Anyway, it’s silly to linger in the past, especially when the present is this bright! Whether it’s a Coach of the Month award for Billy Donovan, a Player of the Week award for DeMar DeRozan, or a surge up the most recent power rankings, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bulls are receiving the respect fans have longed for. The more respect they get, however, the higher expectations will become, and that is what makes the rest of this season so damn exciting.