From a return to the playoffs to a disastrous start to the following season, 2022 brought many ups and downs for the Chicago Bulls.
As we look toward the future, I thought we might as well reflect on some of the numbers that defined this chaotic year for the franchise.
Zach LaVine made franchise history in 2022.
The 27-year-old scorer became the highest-paid player in Bulls history when he inked a $215.2 million contract this past summer. Not only did the decision further signal the front office’s eagerness to build out a winning product, but it moved LaVine into an upper echelon of NBA talent.
Whether he realizes it or not, everything changed the moment LaVine put pen to paper. The way he was perceived for much of 2022 is no longer how he’ll be seen moving forward. Before, he was the underpaid two-time All-Star with an equally as underappreciated three-level scoring ability. Now, he’s the overpaid one-dimensional player with minimal playoff experience. Is that a particularly fair assessment? No, but expectations rise immensely when the paycheck becomes heavier.
From 2023 and on, LaVine and the Chicago Bulls will have a whole lot to prove.
As of publishing, it’s been 344 days since Lonzo Ball has stepped foot onto an NBA court.
The Chicago Bulls we see today were built with Ball at the core. He was the player who would ensure that the team’s three All-Star-level scorers were fed appropriately. Then, when he wasn’t doing that, he could either knock down his spot-up 3s or cover up glaring defensive deficiencies on the other end of the floor.
His value on this team was always evident, but it only became more so when he went down with a concerning knee injury. The Bulls went 19-23 after it was announced that he would need surgery. They then proceeded to stumble out of the playoffs in just five games. Heading into this season with no clear idea of when Ball could return, it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that they currently sit 16-19.
If Chicago ends up having to shake up this roster in the near future, it will likely be because of what happened to Ball in 2022. His injury exposed the hollow ground that this roster was initially built on, and the Bulls simply must be better equipped to handle wounds like this in the future.
As encouraging as it was to see the organization return to the postseason for the first time since the 2016-17 season, a swift five-game exit reminded us how much further this team has to go.
The Bulls were absolutely no match for the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, who averaged roughly a 15-point margin of victory during the series. Whether it be DeMar DeRozan struggling to hit shots, Zach LaVine disappearing, Nikola Vucevic getting destroyed on the defensive end, or the young role players failing to step up, it was clear that the Bulls weren’t ready to hang with the big dogs.
On one hand, that made sense. Most successful teams first accumulate some playoff scars, and this felt like part of that process for Chicago. The front office at least seemed to operate under that train of thought, committing to continuity during the offseason with expectations that they would return to the postseason one year later.
But what if a gentleman’s sweep didn’t just signify a new team learning the ropes? What if it, instead, signified that the team simply wasn’t good enough? There is a very real possibility this playoff series is the only one we see this core play together. And, if that is the case, it’ll suggest that this front office should have thought far more critically about those poor results.
The Chicago Bulls will head into 2023 with a 4-9 record against below-.500 teams.
Honestly, I think this number pretty much speaks for itself. What pushed the Bulls in the right direction during the 2021-22 campaign was the fact that they took care of business against these subpar teams. This at least gave us some hope that they could stay afloat while they learn how to compete with the conference’s more prestigious clubs.
However, their inability to keep this going is exactly why they are in the uncertain position they are in now.
The Chicago Bulls refuse to join the 3-point era.
As teams continue to chuck up shots from downtown, the Bulls continue to shoot just 29.1 attempts per game, which also happens to be the fewest in the NBA.
Not only did they finish dead-last in 3-point attempts per game last season, but they’re doing it again despite it being a glaring weakness. Why the front office didn’t choose to address this problem in the offseason is a question that haunts me to this day. And it’s also a question that has made me that much more skeptical of the vision they see.
I’ll just get upset if I linger on this one too long, so I’ll keep it brief.
The Bulls came into this season $1,709,740 away from the luxury tax line. Their refusal to cross the threshold – which is something they’ve done just once in franchise history – is likely a big reason why we see some of the frustrating numbers we see above.
Until this ownership group opens up its wallet to let the front office truly spend like a big market team, it’s incredibly unlikely that the Bulls become the true contenders they should be on a consistent basis. Maybe 2023 – the year of the GOAT – will bring some change.