The Bulls are still rebuilding, though we’re not entirely sure at what point of that rebuild they are supposed to be. If last season was defined as a tanking one - and even that wasn’t executed very well - this one doesn’t have as much definition. But that does make it somewhat interesting, with highlight-producing offensive talent making things a fun watch even if losses pile up again.
Team Name: Chicago Bulls
Last Year’s Record: 27-55
Key Losses: David Nwaba, Jerian Grant
Key Additions: Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Bulls management got to oversee the teardown of their own poorly-built creation, completing the steps at the trade deadline last season in dealing away Nikola Mirotic for a first-round pick that became Chandler Hutchison. Earlier in the 2018 draft they selected Wendell Carter Jr. at #7, what was thought to be a ‘safe’ pick at the time but Carter’s spectacular summer league and young age has it looking like more upside than originally thought.
In free agency, the Bulls stayed out of star-hunting or taking on bad contracts for assets. Instead they went heavy in a ‘second draft’ of busted former lottery picks. This first was matching the restricted free agency offer to Zach LaVine, keeping him in Chicago for 4 years at $19m per season. Then, with the desire to remain eternally financially flexible with another desire to goose interest level in the team, the Bulls took a $20m chance on Jabari Parker, adding a second year as a team option.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
As an organization, it’s job security. GarPax pulled off a great trick in changing the direction of the team to where it gave themselves a clean slate, distracting from the truth that it’s their own direction - one of many over the past 15 years they’ve been in charge - that required change in the first place. On the positive side, this means they do not feel any pressure to make desperation moves, and look to be selecting very solid top-10 draft picks with Carter following Lauri Markkanen.
On the floor, they should have a lot of shot creation, potentially too much at the expense of those two extremely young members of the frontcourt. But with LaVine, Parker, a guy who likes to fire from mid-range in Kris Dunn, and gunnin’ punchin’ Bobby Portis off the bench, they have a lot of players who can put up shots, and from distance. Plus they have a coach in Fred Hoiberg who is very amiable to a fast-pace and fast-shot offensive scheme. Trying to run and get up as many shots as they can may be their only chance to win games.
They also look to be a solid defensive rebounding team anchored by Robin Lopez, who while not putting up big stats for himself has always used his boxing-out ability to allow the team to succeed on that end.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
This may be total train-wreck on defense. Lopez is capable against other ground-bound bigs but struggles in space. Kris Dunn is faultless on this end, if he can stay healthy he would be one of the best defensive point guards in the entire league.
But that’s pretty much it. On the wings (at least until Markkanen’s injury) they were planning on LaVine and Parker to man those spots, both horrible defensive players who don’t physically commit to their own man and have their heads wandering off the ball. Markkanen wasn’t too poor as a rookie but still showed the holes there that were on the ‘negatives’ part of his scouting report. Carter looks like he could be a future defensive ace but he’s only 19 heading into the best league in the world, with Portis - a truly terrible defender despite what the flexing and sneers would suggest - being ahead of him in the rotation.
The Bulls also have a glaring weakness at the backup point guard spot, bizarrely gifting the job to Cameron Payne and having no veteran backup behind the oft-injured Dunn. A lot is on Dunn and the other guards this season to distribute the ball so this doesn’t become a ‘scorers get paid, and the Bulls are proof’ show.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Another great trick GarPax pulled is not setting any expectations for themselves and their team. On media day they explicitly pushed back against ‘labels’ like whether this is a building or still rebuilding-developing team, let alone set a possible victory total.
They are very likely not going to have many victories. It would be a nice result to have a team that played well together and then get talked about as an ‘attractive destination’ for 2019 free agents, but the way it’s constructed makes even that status seem difficult to reach.
So it’s really about a nebulous benchmark of development, and Hoiberg really will see some pressure on that front. The Bulls are taking a lot of chances - though not as many as they probably should - on young talent to break out, we need to see how many actually do.