With training camp set to start around the league next week, the season predictions are coming in hot.
We’ve already gotten a look at some preseason power rankings, but ESPN and CBS Sports have added to the mix by releasing their Top-100 players for the 2022-23 season. And, unlike in years past, the Bulls have no lack of representation.
The first name to appear on ESPN’s list is starting point guard Lonzo Ball at No. 78. Checking in last season at No. 57, the major questions around his health have surely played a role in the site’s decision to downgrade him. Next to show up is center Nikola Vucevic at Ball’s old No. 57. A down year for the big man in the shooting department; we’ve also seen him drop somewhat significant from last year’s No. 39. He is currently sandwiched between Robert Williams of the Celtics (58) and Tobias Harris of the 76ers (56).
Conversely, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine received generous boosts up the NBA leaderboard. DeRozan – who is fresh off an All-NBA Second Team performance – was handed No. 28 after being placed at No. 45 last season, while LaVine is one spot higher at No. 27 after previously sitting at No. 33.
While I think LaVine has the potential to perform like a top-25 player this season easily, we also saw DeRozan do the same last year. With that being the case, I think ESPN’s decision to put the two alongside each other and right outside that top-25 range is reasonable for now. We just have to wait and see how DeRozan responds to last year and how healthy Zach LaVine can stay (and look post-surgery) over the next handful of months. Don’t get me wrong, LaVine’s upside is undoubtedly higher than his veteran teammate’s (which is why he remains one spot higher), but we should take the wait-and-see approach when it comes to who will have the better overall year.
Likewise, let’s not forget the mere fact these two play together is likely to impact some of their individual production. The team might be better as a whole, but I could see how some might be hesitant to rank them a lot higher since they will share much of the workload for Chicago.
Anyway, CBS Sports had a somewhat similar ranking for the Bulls’ two top players. LaVine was awarded the No. 26 slot between Brandon Ingram (27) and Jrue Holiday (25), while DeRozan checked in at No. 33 right behind the Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards.
Ball and Vucevic also made this list, but the 24-year-old received considerably more respect with a No. 61 ranking compared to Vucevic’s No. 90. Honestly, if we’re strictly basing this off last season’s play, I’m very comfortable with Ball landing well-ahead of the All-Star center. We all saw how vital Ball’s two-way impact could be to building a sustainable winning product. None of that is to say that Vucevic isn’t a gifted player worthy of respect, but his margin for error feels a lot smaller. If his shot isn’t falling, the effect he can have goes down quite a bit. As for Ball, even if the scoring isn’t there some nights, he has the defensive acumen and transitional playmaking talent that can elevate a team drastically.
Another area these two charts differ is in their inclusion of on-ball pest Alex Caruso. ESPN chose not to include the team’s defensive anchor, but CBS Sports actually put him ahead of Vucevic at No. 77 overall. This put Caruso over names like the Hornets’ Gordon Hayward and the Hawks’ De’Andre Hunter and just behind the Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro.
Much like Ball, we saw how much Caruso’s individual defensive skills impacted this team’s success. In a league where athletic wings and crafty scoring guards wreak havoc, it’s hard not to value a multi-positional hard-nosed defender like Caruso. I’ve always believed his ability to blow up plays at the point of attack and force turnovers should have him in high regard around the league, so I was pleasantly surprised to see CBS Sports give him these flowers.
With all that said and shared, let’s remember to take these kinds of things with a grain of salt. I believe they offer us a good idea of where players stand in the public eye, which is essential, but we also know how fast things can change in the NBA. All it takes is one season for a player to rise or fall, and the Bulls certainly have several roster members capable of moving drastically up or down the league ranks.
Anyway, you can check out ESPN’s complete list below (1-26 has yet to be released) and CBS Sports’ list here.