Last Season: 27-55
Notable Additions: Jabari Parker (free agency), Wendell Carter Jr. (draft), Chandler Hutchison (draft)
Notable Subtractions: Jerian Grant (trade), David Nwaba (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 27.5
Because of the Eastern Conference´s utter frailty, this season promises somewhat undeserving rosters and teams still knee-deep in rebuild pose legitimate threats to playoff basketball, albeit wrestling each other for obviously low seeds. Because of this unique scarcity of quality Eastern teams, the Bulls could easily be considered among the list of playoff dark horses for this season. More frankly, playoff basketball returning to Chicago probably will be all but a lock considering the sufficient talent present, Eastern Conference wise.
After plunging into the cold rebuild two seasons ago and completely tearing down the previous regime, the Bulls have attackingly stockpiled prospects and projects. Interestingly enough, these efforts landed five lottery picks all under the age of twenty-four for the Bulls, an enterprising recipe for near-guaranteed future contention. Though the flashes brief last season, solid game from the young pups fosters the potentiality of contention and under the assumption that all the talent pans out, the roster may not be as lifeless as expected.
After swapping out resident All-Star Jimmy Butler during the 2017 draft and gutting the Timberwolves prospect pool, the Bulls’ have created a sort of makeshift big three consisting of First-Team All-Rookie Lauri Markkanen, dunk contest legend Zach LaVine, and defensive stud Kris Dunn. Unfortunately, per Bulls fashion, injuries held the trio back and never allowed for their wings to ever get close to spreading. Missing a combined 102 games and only playing in twelve games alongside each other effectively shut down any hopes of keeping up, even in the Eastern Conference.
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This season should be a different story. LaVine will be fully recovered, Markkan a little more hardened, and Dunn, well, hopefully lucky. Now far more competitive in the paltry East with the infusion of another top pick and a boom-or-bust yet secure free agent pickup, watching the Bulls stars ride the bench for resting purposes will become an extreme anomaly. imagining what this Bulls team could be capable of is quite an intriguing thought.
LaVine, who had still been cautiously recovering from an ACL tear, appeared in only twenty-four games with a strict minutes cap but still handily scored over twenty points in nearly half his games played. He averaged 18.9 points in his final season in Minnesota with over ten more minutes of court time to work with. Dunn improved heavily in every major statistical category, most notably doubling his steals count with not a significant bump in playing time, promising defense ace potential.
Now factor in the seventh overall selection in this past June’s draft Wendell Carter Jr. Arguably the most polished and NBA ready prospect in this class, Carter impressed mightily in the Summer League for his explosive interior defense and consistent rebounding, all positive points for the Bulls ready to grow into bonafide strengths. His time at Duke felt overshadowed by second overall pick Marvin Bagley III but his steady contribution will translate well to the league, starting off as a durable and dependable presence off the bench and hopefully will grow into a key role player on a championship roster down the line.
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Also, the introduction of the highly coveted (well, from the Bulls, at least) Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State will offer some nice offensive pop. A prototypical three-and-D prospect, he can bring solid scoring and surprisingly tight playmaking abilities, with good size combined with good shooting. His pull-up and ball-handling keep him from being a true number one scorer but he can slide into a harmonious scorer off the bench.
The true X-factor of this team will be the free agent signing and hometown kid Jabari Parker. Though some tough injuries have sapped much of his career, his slinky athleticism hopefully could make a full-fledged return. While unlikely after two serious knee injuries, if so, his imaginative moves around the rim and offensive toolbox both on-ball and off-ball would transform and dynamify the Bulls offense, a must for one of the worst scoring teams in the league a season ago. While twenty million dollars a year seems like overpaying, considering his two year deal has a team option in the second year allows the team an out if the experiment fails.
However, all these utopian hypotheticals only become reality if the talent blossoms as projected. The Bulls probably rank as the hardest team in the league to gauge as of right now, with so many what-ifs and x-factors to account for. Obviously, if the critical pieces explode into all-star level players, the Bulls will be in unbelievable shape for a team seemingly still in rebuild mode. The glaring lack of a superstar necessary to combat the elites of the NBA could theoretically be fixed by multiple players on the roster but that could be the most wishful thinking imaginable.
Markkanen probably has some degree of star potential but with the inconsistencies of LaVine in his career and the overall no-show of Dunn does create an uneasy future for the Finnish forward. This current talent core, while raw and undeveloped, has to deliver sooner than later or risk falling apart internally. In the very possible event potential goes unachieved, the Bulls trap themselves in the middle of the pack, not unlike the late Jimmy Butler era.
Rushing a rebuild generally leads to a middling roster and the Bulls’ dubiously quick turnaround could sputter out if the talent doesn’t flower. But it seems as if the front office wholeheartedly believes in this conceptive contender. Matching the Kings 78 million dollar albatross of a contract for an unproven player in LaVine undeniably shows the faith they have. In a way, the Bulls finally accomplish something admirable-proving their conviction. Previous years, the roster would fluctuate and pull the trigger on any big name just to pull down a .500 season. This year feels slightly different.
While the Bulls will probably implode under the immense weight of their what-ifs and unproven, this season offers a couple of intriguing storylines to keep track of. And, due to no doing of their own, will probably accidentally find themselves in a low playoff seed, fodder for a Celtics or a Raptors. But as long as clear improvements can be witnessed and there feels to be an upward trajectory, this season won’t be chalked up as a failure. After all, Markkenen will be under contract until 2022, establishing a clear deadline for contention.
In GarPax we trust.