Preview: Chicago Bulls

2017-18 Chicago Bulls


Projected Record: 18-64 (15th in East)

Over/Under: 21.5

2016: 41-41 (8th in East)


Key Additions:

  • G Zach LaVine
  • G Kris Dunn
  • F Lauri Markkanen
  • G/F Quincy Pondexter
  • G Justin Holiday
  • C Diamond Stone

Key Subtractions:

  • G/F Jimmy Butler
  • G Dwyane Wade
  • G Rajon Rondo
  • G Isaiah Caanan
  • F Joffrey Lauvergne
  • G Anthony Morrow

Summary

Strengths:

  • Youth, I guess

Weaknesses:

  • Management
  • Very few currently NBA-caliber players

The Bulls are really bad. I don’t know if there’s a more creative way to put it. They’re awful. Justin Holiday is probably their second- or third-best healthy player right now.

The Bulls got more or less fleeced by Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal, netting only an injured Zach LaVine, an ineffectual Kris Dunn, and a first-round pick swap. A swap! How do you come away without even an extra pick when trading a guy as good as Butler? The pick turned into Lauri Markkanen, who could be an interesting player as a seven-footer with a nice jumper but was also one of my least favorite players ticketed for the lottery this year. They also picked a potentially useful sleeper guy in the second round in Jordan Bell and sold his rights to the Warriors for cash. Just cash, that’s all.

It’s hard to write about these rebuilding teams in a meaningful way, because there really isn’t any point in talking about their value as basketball teams when the teams aren’t meant to win games to begin with. The Bulls want a top pick in this year’s draft and they have by far the worst roster in the league, so… they’re on pace? Even if they get the pick they need, though, it’s hard to have faith in John Paxson and Gar Foreman to do anything in the most reasonable interest of the franchise.

In the short-term, this team will be miserable, but the long-term could be better with some luck (and a new front office wouldn’t hurt). There are a lot of very young players on this roster who have shown flashes of effectiveness already. Jerian Grant has been downright electric at times, though they should get Cameron Payne out of his way and really let him loose. Bobby Portis had a great series against the Celtics, and Denzel Valentine is already an average three-point shooter and could grow into something (and has a great name). Cristiano Felicio is a very large and powerful son, and I think he could be this year’s Skal Labissiere if the Bulls do move Lopez, blossoming into an interesting player when handed the starting job in Lopez’s absence.

The best thing about the Bulls’ current position is that they can turn these kids loose and see what happens. They’re unlikely to all be hits, but it’s also unlikely that they all fail, as well. There will be no expectations place on this team, at all, so anything interesting they can find on the court this season will be a positive.


Most Valuable Player: Robin Lopez

Lopez was a tornado during Chicago’s short postseason stay, the perfect player to exploit the top-seeded Celtics’ biggest weaknesses: size and rebounding. He’s still an underrated player; a quality source of energy and defense, and an endless supplier of second-chance points. He had nearly as many offensive boards as defensive last season. It’s hard to imagine he’ll still be playing for the Bulls at the end of the season, but he could be a contributor to a playoff-bound team this season (perhaps the very Celtics he gave so many problems last year).

X Factor: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn

Here is a player comparison that is sure to put some people (primarily Suns fans) in a bad mood. BPM and VORP, which don’t come through in that comparison, favor LaVine over Booker quite a bit as well. LaVine’s health and defensive issues are significant concerns, but in a vacuum, a hyper-athletic 6’5″ combo guard with a sweet stroke from deep can be an incredibly valuable offensive player.

LaVine won’t be ready to start the season, not that the Bulls are in any rush to have him on the court. His long-term outlook is of paramount importance for Chicago, because although I don’t love the return they got from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler, he’s the guy with the kind of ceiling to make that trade salvageable.

Dunn is an interesting case, because he was miserable as a rookie but also just didn’t have much time to play. It’s hard to make dramatic adjustments when you’re seeing only 17 minutes per game. I feel there’s decent post-hype-sleeper potential with Dunn, and DBPM (defensive box plus-minus) still liked him a decent bit, so there is a niche he can fill. That said, he still doesn’t have the minutes he might need in a backcourt that is crowded with young players even while LaVine is on the shelf. I want to see Dunn succeed, but the minutes have to come from somewhere, and he’ll be competing with guys like Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Justin Holiday, and Denzel Valentine. Can he carve himself out a role?


Conclusion

The Chicago Bulls will be the worst team in the NBA this season, and it’s not hard to envision a reality where they’re one of the worst teams in NBA history. They have some interesting youngsters, but the return for Jimmy Butler was just too light. Robin Lopez might be the only player on this team who would be a quality starter for a number of other teams, and Zach LaVine is coming off is coming off an ACL tear and won’t be ready to begin the year. Of the 18 players currently listed on their roster, 13 of them have two or fewer years of NBA experience. Their long-term outlook is up for debate, but the present is undeniable: they’re going to be awful.

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