The Chicago Bulls Have the Talent, But Talent Isn't Everything

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The Chicago Bulls Have the Talent, But Talent Isn’t Everything

Chicago Bulls

Let’s start by making one thing clear: The Miami Heat are really good.

As a team that has won nine of their last 10 games and holds the NBA’s 4th-best net rating since February 1st, no one is going to point and laugh if you end up on the wrong side of their scoreboard. They sit at the top of the Eastern Conference for a reason, and they deserve every ounce of respect as a true Eastern Conference Finals contender.

Now, let’s make another thing clear: The Chicago Bulls want to be really good. The team has flirted with the idea all season, claiming the top spot in the conference for a handful of weeks. No one is arguing this team is worthy of a top-6 playoff seed, but can we truly consider them on the same level as the Heat with 20 regular-season games to go? A third-straight loss to the organization this season would suggest we can’t. The same goes for the Bulls’ 5-16 record against the current top-6 teams in each conference.

But the team isn’t whole! I know, and I do think a fully-healthy Bulls team likely has a better success rate against the league’s best of the best. But how do we know for sure? And how much does that really matter? The Bulls are not getting any of those games back, and the possibility of injury trouble is never going away. Only 4.5 games separate the top-5 seeds in the conference, and it’s up to the Bulls to work with what they have to get the job done.

“Sometimes you need adversity to really see what you’re made of and how hard it really is to win in this league,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s one thing to be good; it’s one thing to really win. We see it when we play against a team like tonight. Well coached, gelled, played together. Two years ago they were in the Finals, so you learn a lot from that.”

All things considered, it’s hard not to look at the Bulls and believe they still have the talent to beat some of the teams that sit near the top of their respective conference. DeMar DeRozan is the NBA’s leading scorer, Zach LaVine is having the most well-rounded season of his career, and Nikola Vucevic is a 2x All-Star averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in 2022. Add in a flurry of better-than-expected role players, and the Bulls have got the talent.

But is talent everything? While I think we can all agree it’s half the battle, the other half might as well be equally important: Experience. A taste of playoff action is typically needed before teams fully understand what it takes to win at the highest level. While the Los Angeles Lakers found a way to win the Finals without a trip to the playoffs the season prior, they also had LeBron freakin’ James. The second most recent team to accomplish this was the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 with a nucleus of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen.

None of this is to say we should already write the Bulls off, but it goes to show how valuable recent playoff experience tends to be. The only players who saw playoff action last season were Alex Caruso, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Jones Jr., and Matt Thomas. The latter two players may not even appear in a fully-healthy playoff rotation for this Bulls team, and the other two sit on the bench. To put it differently, the Bulls starting five lacks recent experience, and they possess none as a collective unit.

“We have to get battle-tested in some of these games,” Donovan told reporters after Monday’s 112-99 loss. “We just don’t have a lot of guys that have gone into this kind of experience, and I think it’s really really good for us. I look at it that way. So when you say it’s concerning, I think it’s not concern as much as it’s shining a light on what really goes into this.”

Donovan is absolutely right. The Bulls have to look at the final stretch of the regular season as an extension of the playoffs. Nothing can replicate a postseason atmosphere, but if they want to make a deep playoff run, they have to try to learn every lesson they can over their final 20 games. That’s why having the second-toughest schedule in the NBA might as well be viewed as a pretty big positive.

Holding onto a top-2 spot might be difficult over the next few weeks, but the Bulls will at least gain valuable experience against the very teams they might see again in April. Not to mention, the last thing this schedule will do is allow for the Bulls to walk into the playoffs with their guard down.

“I think we’re getting a measuring stick to what it takes and what it will take to beat these types of teams,” LaVine told WGN Radio’s Kevin Powell. “Obviously, they’re battle-tested, championship, playoff-contending teams. We haven’t [been that]. So I’m glad we’re going through it now. You can always learn lessons and take your bumps early-on in the season. And then when it comes time to do it, obviously, we’ll see what we have.”

Again, there is no way to replicate what happens when the regular season comes to a close, but there is a way to prepare for it. The next month and a half is the Bulls opportunity to do just that.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.