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2015-16 Eastern Conference Bulls-centric predictions

How do we see the East going this year?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It's a tradition unlike any that I sort of try to do this every year, but probably skipped some years, and definitely waited until after the season a couple of times. But I always  like to to do a check of my feels (as in, this is pretty subjective) and how I see the Bulls ranking in the East. Historically, either I underplay them and they surprise, or I  overdo it and Rose gets hurt. I don't think I have the power of hexing, though.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers - If you didn't notice, we didn't bother assigning a 'are they better than the Bulls?' post for the Cavs, because they're clearly better than Chicago, and every other team in this conference. They have both high-end talent and possess  a lot of depth. After the Mozgov/Shumpert acquisition they were playing in a best-in-league territory in terms of their net rating, and keeping that group together plus replacing some of the dead weight near the back end of the roster with competency in the offseason will have them ready to sustain season-long success.

  2. ...uh...
    Man this conference blows. Somehow it keeps getting worse! You'd think the draft picks would even some of it out eventually if this is truly a cyclical phenomenon, I suppose the Sixers getting so many screwed that up. 
    Washington Wizards (East competition preview) - I'm always believing in this team for some reason. Maybe this is the year they make the leap to the second tier of the conference, with Wall at 25 years old, Beal at 22, and Nene being old and lame but in a contract year so maybe less of the latter this time. And yes they lost Paul Pierce, but he was at an average PER and couldn't guard anybody anymore, and his big-game shots should be going to their young stud backcourt anyway. Their frontcourt is a bit thin but they'll use Jared Dudley in some small-ball that worked with Pierce last year. Just thank goodness they didn't draft Bobby Portis.

  3. Atlanta Hawks (East competition preview) - Yes, 60 wins was a bit flukey. But is it 10-12 wins flukey? The Bulls are trying to run this pace-and-space thing on offense that Atlanta already has had a year of success doing. And their bigs and outside shooting are more suited for it without needing to compromise too much on defense. Their wing rotation is real thin though and this could go south, only worsened if they have their typical bout of inactivity in the trade market, but otherwise they should get a lot of wins doing what they did last year.

  4. Chicago Bulls (BaB season preview) - Is this a failure of a season if they finish behind a couple teams besides Cleveland? Part of the rationale for the coaching change is so Hoiberg can groom a more playoff-ready team at the expense of some regular season wins, and this will be the price I guess. The defense was slipping last year and that was with an obsessed someone in their face about it at all times, it'll only get worse. I definitely expect the offense to have more explosive games and we'll see more of a variance in Bulls scoring margins than ever before, but calling it 'better' across-the-board may be difficult to achieve when it's more shots going to the likes of McDermott and Snell (or poorer - if more -  shot selection from Rose and Butler), and we're really counting on Gasol not showing any age for frontcourt scoring. It's all out the window if Mirotic is an All-Star level talent and Rose returns to that level as well, putting their ceiling more at #2. I'm far more encouraged with that best-case scenario after seeing Rose for only a bit in that preseason finale, the drop-off to the other guards is too steep. It could also go horribly wrong early, with injuries and/or discontent with losses, and the front office jump-starts the transition year with their brand of salary-dumping trades. There's reason to get both 2010 and 2007 vibes from this team. Or maybe it's somewhere in the middle, where they have the same holes on the roster as before but no coach who can scheme and motivate through it anymore. Taking that last scenario to be the most likely, this is a 46-win team.

  5. Miami Heat (East competition preview) - I have no confidence in  Dwyane Wade staying healthy, and even when he's in and productive it just seems shallow given how he monopolizes the ball to get his. Even beyond Wade they're just a bit too old, with Bosh coming off an major illness and Deng having an early exit from his prime. That said, if they can get one more year from their vets, this team also has a 2nd-seed ceiling. I heard Bill Simmons' buddy House speculate that this could be a midseason Carmelo destination (it's sensible to where I wish I thought of it: just between Deng+Chalmers+Andersen they can match in expiring money...though their only asset is Winslow) and that's pretty scary too. 

  6. Toronto Raptors (East competition preview) -  DeMarre Carroll will help their defense a bit, but that frontcourt is so, so weak. The Bulls always seem to overpower them easily and I can see that happening to them often (even moreso with no Amir Johnson). They do have an interesting core in the backcourt but as we saw when DeRozan went down last year it was pretty shallow, and they lost both Williams and Vasquez off the bench. The replacements (Joseph and Wright) made them younger but not better. Also, the hot-seat status of Dwane Casey looms. 

  7. Boston Celtics (East competition preview) - Got just enough competent players between the middle of last year (Thomas, Crowder, Jarebko) and in the offseason (Lee, Johnson) to improve a bit, and heck maybe 40 wins can get you to this seed. They have enough draft picks in their cache already, so any midseason deal by tradin' (and leakin') Danny Ainge will likely be to get stronger, not sell off parts. 

  8. Milwaukee Bucks (East competition preview) - I'm starting to get the regression instead of progression talk after being initially quite intrigued by their signing of Greg Monroe. The shooting and frontcourt defense from their starting lineup is an issue, and they punted three vets (Pachulia, Dudley, Ilyasova) who probably weren't going to help as much this year but were good for them last year and will be hard to compensate for. They also got a hell of a year out of Brandon Knight before being traded, and MCW just hasn't proven he can match that yet.

  9. Indiana Pacers (East competition preview) - I may be a bit blinded by their poor preseason showing against the Bulls, but man this team really is not deep at all. As weird as it is to see the Bulls start to have high-scoring games this year, it may be even weirder to see it for the Pacers, but while they likely made the right long-term move in jettisoning West and Hibbert, and I think Monta Ellis gets an unfairly bad rep, it'll be a bad year of transition.

  10. Detroit Pistons (East competition preview) - If there's a team that I see jumping out of this 'class' and up into the playoffs it's this more-SVG-modeled Pistons team. But they're just relying so much on Drummond and I'm not a huge believer that he's actually up to it for a season-long grind.  The commitment to Reggie Jackson will backfire. 

  11. Orlando Magic (East competition preview) - It's strange, because I do wholeheartedly believe in the Skiles effect, but don't see his Magic improving too much. I think it's because while Skiles is good, so are all these coaches I have ahead of the Magic (Stephens, Kidd, Vogel, and SVG). And while he'll improve their defense, the Skilesian fast-pace is more geared towards quick two-pointers, and they have shooting problems as it is without even bringing in further inefficiency.

  12. Charlotte Hornets (East competition preview) - RIP MKG. I may have had them in the playoffs if not for that injury. They have just boffed their picks over an over, and I don't see Kaminsky turning out much better (yes, one failed converted layup against Bulls wings has cemented his fate to me) than than Zeller, or the departed Vonleh or Biyombo (or another pick they dealt for Tyrus Thomas). For a team where you won't be a FA destination that's just death.

  13. New York Knicks - Also not a FA destination. I think they build Melo's value up to where it's all agreed-upon he'd be better elsewhere and the Knicks rebuild for real. And it actually proves that Melo was right in taking the money, since he'll get to have the money and also be on a good team, instead of taking a pay-cut to Chicago that was never feasible.

  14. Brooklyn Nets - So boring. 

  15. Philadelphia 76ers - less boring and more detestable.

Let's hear from the rest of your crew for this upcoming season:

Jay Patt:

I'm cautiously optimistic about the Bulls this season, as Hoiball should be beneficial to this group and I'm hoping the new approach will result in a team that's peaking heading into the playoffs. However, I do have concerns about the defense, and oh yeah, that whole injury thing. They've happened already and more will come. The Bulls have depth in the frontcourt, but if Rose or any more key wing players miss time, it could spell trouble.

Because of some of these factors, the Bulls won't reach the 50-win mark they got to last year in a tumultuous season. But I'll put them at 48 wins and in the top half of the Eastern Conference once again. The Cavaliers are clearly the class of the conference even with their problems, but the Bulls are in that second tier along with the Heat, Wizards, Raptors, and Hawks (not all that sold on the Bucks making the leap).

Ultimately, the 2015-16 Bulls will meet the same fate as many recent iterations...losing to LeBron James in the playoffs. With some breaks, the Bulls can absolutely beat the Cavaliers in a series, but not even the homer in me can say right now that it'll actually happen.

It's very hard to project the Bulls' seed.

The nerds have them winning somewhere around 45-49 games and finishing as the 3 or 4 seed. I could honestly see them overtaking the Cavs as the 1 seed or going the complete opposite direction and offloading a ton of talent while fighting to make the playoffs. There are way too many questions about this team to even begin to make an educated guess. But that's what's going to make this season so fun to watch!

I do pray that they come out of the gate quickly. The first half of the season is going to be tremendously important - Jerry Reinsdorf doesn't have a strong history as a patient owner (see: White Flag trade of the White Sox). The team is spending a ton of money, even keeping an optional 15th man in Cristiano Felicio which they NEVER do.

If Reinsdorf doesn't believe this team can compete by the All Star break, I wouldn't be surprised if he tells Pax to blow it up to get under the luxury tax. If the Bulls do start out hot though, I'll give the people what they want and say this team finishes as the top seed in the East.

Cleveland: Early season injuries to significant players, along with LeBron's required rest nowadays, in addition to the probability that they'll coast into the playoffs will cost them wins. That being said, they're still the best team by far in the East and I still think they'll win enough to be the one seed.

Chicago's Tier: When it comes down to it, it's Cleveland then everyone else. Washington, the Bulls, and Miami (in that order) to me, appear to be the only three teams with a reasonable chance to compete with Cleveland for East supremacy (or lack thereof).

Riser: It may not be THAT big of a surprise or riser for that matter, but I think with Randy Whittman finally adopting small ball, it will do wonders for Washington, more specifically John Wall. A top three seed in the East, and a trip to the Conference Finals would not be shocking, to me at least. Washington is my sleeper pick to come out of the East (don't judge me). 

Faller: I'm not entirely huge on Atlanta this season, I think the loss of DeMarre Carroll will turn out to be more significant than we realize. While continuity with a majority of the roster certainly helps, the void of Carroll on the wing will leave a huge hole for Atlanta, I'm not sure they can fill.

Often times, the best team in the conference doesn't finish with the best record. Last year, Cleveland was the clear juggernaut, but Atlanta did present a challenge for them after a 60-22 season. This year, even though the Cavs are far and away the projected best team in the East, I expect them to coast through the majority of the season. With injury concerns for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs won't press LeBron to over exert himself before the games really start to matter. They will have enough talent win the East without all their parts, but finishing the regular season as a top-2 or 3 seed will be just fine. 82 games is a grind, but the Cavs have the luxury of being able to treat it more like the preseason, with their 'regular season' beginning in the first round of the playoffs.

That said, the Bulls, given the right breaks,there is a path for the Bulls to win the conference. When I say, "given the right breaks," here's what I mean:

1. Health. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol need to get through the year without any major injuries. Mike Dunleavy will need to return sooner rather than later and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic will need to be around for the majority of games as well. Though we have the front court depth to persist, our wing and point guard depth is thin, so Jimmy and Derrick will have to play big minutes this year.

2. Defense. Well-documented at this point, the Bulls were a one-sided preseason team. They will have to be in the top-10 in defense this year if they want to contend. With Joakim moving to the bench, that may seem daunting, but let's place hope in Hoiberg and Boylen that they can make something happen.

3. Hoiball works. So far, it's looked promising, but Hoiberg has a tall task at hands to manage minutes, egos, rotations and lineup balance. The front office has long believed he was the guy to figure it all out. Moving Noah to the bench showed courage and the flexibility to make tough decisions on Hoiberg's part.

4. The Cavs struggle out of the gate. Without the perimeter defense Shump provides, and the offense from Love and Irving that allow LeBron to take things a little bit more easily, the Cavs could stumble. That happened last year and the Hawks took advantage and despite the late push, the Cavs settled for second.

5. No other team breaks out. The likely candidates being, in order, Washington, Atlanta, Miami, Toronto. As I mentioned earlier, things tend to break right for someone during the regular season. It could be any of these teams. Let's hope it's the Bulls.

Kevin Ferrigan ('s model):