The Chicago Bulls failed to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in the 2020-2021 season. The Bulls began the season with one of the youngest starting lineups in the NBA with an average age of 21.6 years old. Their expectations were low because of their youth. In March, the Bulls made a trade for all-star center Nikola Vucevic. Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks were sent to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Vucevic.
With two All-stars in Zach LaVine and Vucevic, the team had hopes of making a playoff push. Instead, Lavine and Vucevic only played in 15 games together out of a possible 29. The team went 7-8 in those games. The Bulls finished the season as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 31-41 and narrowly missed out on the NBA’s play-in tournament.
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Chicago was one of the most active teams in the offseason. With LaVine in a contract year, it was important for the Bulls to make aggressive moves to improve the roster. They made two big additions via sign-and-trade; Lonzo Ball was acquired in exchange for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a 2024 second-round pick. DeMar DeRozan was acquired in exchange for Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, and multiple draft picks. The team also added quality bench pieces with the signings of Tony Bradley, Alex Caruso, and Alize Johnson.
Lauri Markkanen was a restricted free agent so the Bulls could match any offer made, but he was ready to move on with his career. His wish was granted as he was shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team sign-and-trade deal, in exchange for Derrick Jones Jr., and multiple draft picks. The Bulls had arguably the strongest offseason of any team.
The Starting Five
PG – Lonzo Ball
SG – Zach LaVine
SF – DeMar DeRozan
PF – Patrick Williams
C – Nikola Vucevic
Offensively, the Bulls will be one of the best teams in the NBA. Floor spacing won’t be a problem with LaVine, Ball, Willams, and Vucevic in the lineup. All four players shot 38 percent or better from three last season, and while DeRozan may not be effective from long range, he’s a great mid-range shooter. Ball will run the offense but LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic can also make plays for teammates. This makes the offense even more dynamic.
The defensive end is where the problem lies. There is no rim protection with this lineup. Vucevic is a star on offense but leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end. Lonzo and Williams are both good defenders but DeRozan and LaVine have shown no interest on the defensive end throughout their careers. If the Bulls hope to reach the next level as a team, it starts with their defense. LaVine, Vucevic, and DeRozan must improve their efforts defensively.
The additions of Caruso, Jones Jr., and Bradley will be huge for the second unit. Caruso is a spark plug who plays good defense. He shot 40 percent from three last season with the Los Angeles Lakers so he also gives the Bulls another shooting threat. Bradley, Jones Jr., and Johnson will fill the backup spots in the frontcourt. Bradley is the only other center on the team who currently projects to make the active roster so he will play a pivotal role this season.
Coby White will be in a different role this season. White is out until mid-November with a shoulder injury but once he returns, he will be the backup to Ball. His streakiness as a scorer makes him perfect for the sixth man role. With White’s injury, rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu will have a chance at cracking the rotation early on but don’t expect him to play a big role this season. The unsung hero of the second unit is Troy Brown Jr. Brown Jr. is an elite athlete who was one of the Bulls’ top defenders on the wing last season. He will have an even bigger role this season.
One Potential Move to Make
After spending big in the offseason, Chicago has almost no financial flexibility. But they do have a $5 million trade exception from their trade that sent Daniel Theis to the Houston Rockets. The one glaring hole on the roster is frontcourt depth, specifically the center position. One player the Bulls could inquire about is Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein is a great athlete who would fit perfectly with the roster. He runs the floor, and he would give them the rim protector that they are missing. It may not take much to acquire Cauley-Stein due to him being in a contract year so the Bulls should consider the move.
After the moves Chicago made in the offseason, they should be a lock for a playoff spot. They will have one of the most dynamic teams in the league offensively with multiple playmakers and shot-creators. LaVine is a rising star and is hungry for a playoff berth. Ball will be one of the assist leaders in the NBA now that he’s back in his natural role as a traditional point guard. The Bulls may finish as a top-five offense this season. Their defense needs work but as long as they can be average on that end of the floor, their offense will carry them to wins.
Finishing as the fifth or sixth seed in the Eastern Conference should be feasible for Chicago. LaVine and Vucevic are both All-stars. DeRozan is one of the better isolation scorers in the league. Ball and Williams are both tough defenders and Ball’s IQ is off the charts. Caruso and White give them two high-level bench players so the team has the pieces in place for a playoff push.
Season Prediction: 46-36, Second Place in the Central Division
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