A bevy of prognosticators weren’t high on the Bulls coming into this season, with plenty of predictions out there saying they’d miss the playoffs entirely once again after their questionable offseason. While I was no fan of the offseason, I figured they at least had the talent to grab the No. 8 spot and sneak into the playoffs.
A little over one month into the season, and the Bulls are looking like they could do significantly better. The shooting/spacing problems have presented themselves at times, but the Bulls have still cobbled together a top-10 offense thanks to dominant offensive rebounding (best in the league), a good free throw rate and a low turnover rate. Oh, yeah, and Jimmy Butler has been playing like a damn superstar.
The defense has even been much better than expected, as that’s currently in the top 10 as well. In fact, the Bulls, Warriors and Clippers are the only three teams that rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense. That’s impressive company.
At 10-6, the Bulls are third in the Eastern Conference, and their point differential is second only behind the Cavaliers. There are reasons to be skeptical about both of these things given some of the schedule breaks, but the Bulls have taken care of business against bad teams, and they’ve only been truly blown out of the building once. That’s a good sign.
So, based on what I’ve seen so far and what I think is reasonable to happen, I’d like to put the East into tiers and gauge where the Bulls may fall.
D’uh, the Cavaliers are far and away the best team in the East. There are still some leaks in the defense, but their offense behind the Big Three is better than it’s ever been, and we know they can defend when they need it. For all the talk about Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles, LeBron is pretty close to averaging one himself. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving is shooting the lights out and Kevin Love looks like he’s back in Minnesota. All this being said, the Bulls are totally beating them on Friday, right?
The Faux Contenders
I know we like to clown the Raptors (or Trashtors) around here given what the Bulls have done to them in recent years, but they’re still really good and currently sit at second in the East despite a bitch of an early schedule. DeMar DeRozan has already come back down to earth after his ridiculous start, but I still fully expect them to finish second or third in the East when it’s all said and done.
The Celtics have had their issues to start the season, but they’re still 10-7 despite missing both Al Horford and Jae Crowder for a significant chunk of the first month. Key reserves Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk also missed some time. If they stay healthy, this is a deep team with a great coach that should come together and be really good on both sides of the ball.
On The Cusp
I need to see more to consider the Bulls going any higher than the No. 4 seed, but what I’ve seen so far has convinced me they can get this high if things continue to break right. I do expect Jimmy to fall off a bit, but not to a huge degree. The offensive rebounding looks completely sustainable as long as Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson are available. I still have concerns about the defense and health, but the Bulls are looking pretty darn good at the moment.
The Hornets are a solid team that’s well-coached. A healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist means wonders for their defense, but the ceiling of this group depends on Kemba Walker. He’s been playing at an All-Star level this season, and the Hornets can be a legitimate player for a top-four seed if he keeps it up.
The Hawks started 9-2, but they’ve now lost six of seven and I’m not really sure what to make of them. While they boast the best defense in the league, their offense has been awful during this slump. There’s reason to think it improves, but I don’t trust Dennis Schroder or Dwight Howard, so I don’t trust this team...even though they beat the Bulls’ ass all the time.
The Pistons are only 9-10 and out of the playoff picture at the moment, but don’t forget that Reggie Jackson hasn’t played a game yet this season. The chasm between Jackson and Ish Smith is enormous, so expect the Pistons to make a run once Reggie is back.
I picked the Pacers to finish fourth in the East, and I’m not feeling too good about that. Their defense and Jeff Teague have picked up after a truly awful start, but right now it feels like this is a team that’ll finish similar to where they did last year.
Kristaps Porzingis is a gosh-darn unicorn, Melo is Melo and Derrick Rose has been solid. Too bad their defense is atrocious, and Joakim Noah looking toast really hurts in this regard. The speedy development of KP could make these guys a playoff team, but their poor defense caps the ceiling.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is amazing and the Bucks had an impressive win against the defending champs last night, but this team screams mediocrity. They’re middle of the pack in both offense and defense, and who knows what they’re doing with their center position. The Khris Middleton injury is a killer.
The Wizards can move into the “Just Okay” section thanks to the talent of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but there’s not much else going on here. The bench is arguably the worst in the league, although Ian Mahinmi’s return should at least help it a little.
Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are good players, but the Heat just can’t score. They’re 27th in the league in offensive rating, and there’s simply not enough high-level talent to significantly improve that. The defense will at least make them competitive on most nights, though.
Sure, the Magic won in San Antonio last night, but this roster is an absolute mess, owning the worst offense in the league. Yes, worse than Philly. They have three guys who are best at center trying to make a frontcourt work, all while Aaron Gordon bombs as a small forward. Elfrid Payton doesn’t seem to be any good at point guard. Jeff Green sucks. Some kind of trade is needed here.
The Nets play fast and jack a lot of threes, so they can be fun to watch at times. There’s simply a profound lack of talent.
Joel Embiid is legitimately impressive, but this team needs a stud guard like Markelle Fultz in the worst way. Tank away one more time.