The season has ended early for some of our beloved NBA franchises. Here at The Playgrounder we decided to do a postmortem of sorts. Specifically, we wanted to focus on five categories: what the team did well, where they struggled, free agency needs, 2020-21 expectations and a final prediction.
What Did The Bulls Do Well?
Nothing. Okay, that was a joke. None of the team stats are very friendly to the Bulls, so to answer this question we have to look at their player development. Zach LaVine took a career high of shot attempts per game (20) and ended up maintaining great efficiency at that volume. What’s more, his style changed a bit too. According to Cleaning the Glass, Lavine took 8 percent less midrange shots per game and his 3-point attempts went up 12 percent.
His defense comes and goes, sure. Does he need to get better at scoring at the rim? Yes. But LaVine has proven himself a strong scoring option at only 24-years-old. Defensively, Chicago managed to draw the best out of Kris Dunn. Although his offensive game is still a struggle, Dunn has developed into one of the best perimeter defenders in the game with a steal percentage in the 100th percentile. The Bulls may look to keep this possible restricted free agent around.
Younger players made strides as well, most notably Coby White. He may be best suited for a bench scoring role but White ended the year on a ten game run that saw him average 24.7 points per game while hitting 40.7 percent of his triples. Chicago needs to figure out how best to use his skill set but there is something here, folks.
What Did The Bulls Struggle With?
Winning. Alright, that was a joke too. Although a handful of Chicago players took leaps in their respective games, other ones actually took a step back. Both Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine stumbled this year and voiced their opinions as to why it happened, aiming their displeasure at coaching and management.
Wendell Carter – a promising rim protector/floor spacing big – has yet to see his offensive repertoire be taken advantage of. In Jim Boylen’s analytically supported layups-or-threes-only scheme, Carter found himself largely left out of the offense. Markkanen’s lack of growth is the most staggering, however.
Lauri has been reduced to what seems to be merely a floor stretcher. This was an egregious error, considering that Markkanen has a versatile bag of tricks. Watch how his shot chart has changed over the years and you will the limitations placed on his game.
Outside of player development and utilization, the Bulls finished near the bottom of the league in offensive rating. Their assist ratio was below league average and was a reason why their team efficiency numbers were subpar. New management must find a way to spark this potentially high scoring offense back to life.
Free Agency Needs
I’m going to consider coaching a free agency need. Chicago needs to both right the ship regarding prospect growth and inject a cultural facelift. Kenny Atkinson must be targeted. Becky Hammon is a name, too.
Interestingly enough, Chicago has an intriguing amount of talent across the board. Markkanen is still loaded with potential. Carter is as well. If LaVine is the best player on your team then you probably have a capped ceiling but, he is still a young, capable scorer. Plus, White also has some star power.
Chicago may be best served by bringing in a traditional point guard who can run an offense and hit open shots. This all depends on whether or not Otto Porter Jr opts out of his contract option. If he does, the Bulls may have the space to offer a nice contract to Fred VanVleet. Coming off of a strong year, Goran Dragic could be stolen from Miami if a long term deal is offered. Former NBAer Shane Larkin had an awesome year overseas and would be a sneaky, underrated signing.
Regardless of OPJ’s contract situation, the Bulls must also add wing depth. Some names to consider range from Kent Bazemore to Jae Crowder and all of the Justin Holidays of the world who fall in between.
Well, there is only one way for all of Chicago’s young prospects to trend, right? Next season, I expect Bulls management to bring in “their guys” which translates directly to the removal of the “old guys.” This means that Boylen will likely get axed.
If so, trust the Bulls to bring in a coach who can rebuild trust and chemistry with this youthful core. Additionally, this coach will change schemes and weaponize the offensive diversity Chicago’s personnel has. Will the Bulls make the playoffs? Unlikely. Yet, they could improve their winning percentage and remain in the hunt for the 8th seed as the season comes down to the wire.
I’ll save my actual win column prediction for a time after free agency has taken place. Plus, we do not know how many games will be played next season. So, how about I go with a winning percentage?
The Bulls could be somewhere around 40 percent. Winning four out of every ten games seems reasonable. In fact, I would not be shocked to see them go somewhat above that. It would be a marked improvement from their current 33.8 percentage and place them in striking distance of that 8th seed.
I also foresee a revival of both Carter and Markkanen. Simply put, they are too talented to not break out. NBA insider for Forbes SportsMoney, Morten Stig Jensen, thinks Chicago has long term plans for Lauri.
One more prediction: we will hear some debate over White’s role. Does he fit next to LaVine? Is he better used off of the bench? If a big name becomes available, could he be shopped? It should be an interesting year in Chicago.