Friend of the program Stephen Noh of The Athletic joined Nate Duncan’s Dunc’d On podcast last weekend to preview the Bulls’ 2018-19 season. The pair discussed key players, rotation questions, strengths, weakness and predictions. Plus, they got in a few Blog a Bull shoutouts, so that was nice.
While there was some optimism sprinkled throughout, the ultimate conclusion was the Bulls are going to be bad again this season. Noh thinks the Bulls will hit 30 wins, while Duncan has them winning the same amount as last year: 27. Even the best-case scenarios aren’t particularly optimistic, with Noh giving them 37 victories and Duncan 33.
I’m a bit higher on the Bulls than these two, especially Duncan, though I am definitely not on the playoff train yet. There are legitimate reasons to question the Bulls. Last year was such a mish-mosh that it was hard to evaluate at times, and the current crop of players is still mostly young and unproven. There are fit questions on offense and the defense may not be salvageable. Fred Hoiberg is going to have his hands full with this crew.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the individual discussions Noh and Duncan had about the Bulls.
(They somehow landed on Cam Payne first, so I’m getting him out of the way first. )
- While Payne shot almost 39 percent from 3 last year and 64 percent at the rim, it’s hard to buy into his stats because of the situation he was in during the tank portion of the season. Still not sure if he’s an NBA player even though he showed improvement, but the Bulls clearly still believe in him.
- Lacks a baseline level of athleticism to really succeed on either end. Had a sub-50 TS% despite good 3-point/rim shooting because he struggles everywhere else and doesn’t shoot free throws.
- Noh said Dunn proved him wrong last year after a horrible rookie season, but that Dunn still has major question marks and is a big factor in how the season goes.
- Dunn is a streaky shooter with questionable shot selection. He shot well from mid-range but was bad from the other areas, especially at the rim. Lack of free throws further tanked his efficiency, which sat at 48.8 TS%.
- With other ball-dominant players on roster, can Dunn play off the ball? His questionable/slow jumper may limit effectiveness. Hope is that with his usage going down, his TS% will go up.
- All-Defensive team potential.
- Labled with the highest upside on the team with Noh suggesting he has potential to be an All-Star level player in his career. Aggressive and more athletic than many people realized. Had a rookie season with over 60 dunks and finished well around the rim in general.
- Did some nice things off the dribble but will have to show more. Will need to punish switches and do more in the post, though being a dominant post player isn’t as necessary with his skill set.
- Teammates need to do a better job getting him the ball. There were a ton of fails on post entries last season. Some worry that his shots per game will go down given other personnel.
- Bulls plan to start him at the 3 but could see a lot of minutes at the 4 with bench units. Fit with Zach LaVine on the wing isn’t great and extremely problematic defensively.
- Struggles to defend quick guards/wings, though Duncan noted moments of defensive competence in series against Celtics. There’s a possibility he’s better than expected on defense, but more likely he’s not. Also a poor rebounder but it won’t matter because Bulls are a good rebounding team.
- Both Noh and Duncan said they wouldn’t have matched the four-year, $78 million offer sheet from Kings, but Duncan understands why the Bulls did it. Still an outside chance LaVine becomes a big-time scorer and maybe a No. 2 option on a contender. Noh doesn’t think LaVine ever matches value of the deal, but he’s obviously not as bad as he showed last year and should be useful offensively.
- LaVine was bad offensively last season, but they give blame to him coming off ACL and hunting tough shots in limited minutes. Straight-line athleticism looked good and did have a career-high FTr. Candidate to improve a lot in terms of 3-point shooting and finishing at the rim now that he’s 100 percent, plus a bit more unselfishness.
- Decent on-ball defender, but absolutely miserable off the ball. From Noh: “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such poor instincts off the ball.” LaVine doesn’t fight through screens, effort is often poor, he loses track of cutters. Dwyane Wade-esque laziness in transition. Hard to fix the off-ball stuff but increased effort would help at least a little. Still hard to see him being average defensively.
- Behind LaVine and Parker, Denzel Valentine will get a lot of minutes. He offers value as a pull-up 3-point shooter and a passer, but flaws in other areas limit him. He’s not athletic, which limits him getting to the rim and getting to the line. Also a poor defender. A decent complementary player who may not be part of the long-term plans.
- Noh thinks Chandler Hutchison will get a good opportunity to play. Didn’t have a good Summer League but fits what the Bulls are looking for in terms of a versatile wing, at least theoretically. His defense could be extremely important given the Bulls’ lack of wing defenders. Loss of David Nwaba will be felt.
- Justin Holiday may be most impactful shooting guard on roster, says Duncan, but he’s a trade candidate or buyout option.
- Bobby Portis had a nice season and is a good energy guy off the bench, but what will his minutes look like if Parker plays some backup 4 and Wendell Carter Jr. is the backup 5? Mention of Portis even playing the 3, which was quickly laughed off because that is insane.
- Portis’ defensive issues will keep him from ever being a legit starter. He has bad defensive instincts, can’t protect the rim and is slow. There was a Mike Scott comparison.
- Not too much talk about Carter, but obviously he’ll be a factor in rotation.
- Transition offense — The Bulls are going to go Full Hoiball and play fast.
- Shot creation — With LaVine healthy again and Parker in the fold, the Bulls will have more guys to create offense. Even Carter can do a little himself. There may even be too much shot creation, and Bulls will need to make sure they share the ball and it doesn’t get stuck. Noh mentioned Hoiberg’s half-second rule about making quick decisions when receiving the ball.
- Defensive rebounding — The Bulls were second in defensive rebound percentage last year, and that shouldn’t change much. Robin Lopez clears space and Bulls will gang rebound.
- Defense — The Bulls were 28th in defense last year, and it’s hard to see them not being in the bottom five again with LaVine/Parker on the wing. Dunn is good but, again, the loss of Nwaba will be felt.
- Getting to the free-throw line — The Bulls were 26th in free-throw attempts per game last year. The point guards are bad at this and Valentine is incredibly inept at drawing fouls. Hopefully Dunn/LaVine/Parker help improve this.
- Finishing at the rim — Dunn and LaVine really struggled with this last year, as did Parker in Milwaukee. With these three being high-usage guys, they need to be better.
- Point guard rotation — Dunn is still a question mark, but behind him is an even bigger one. Payne/Arcidiacono/Blakeney doesn’t inspire much confidence.
If you can believe it, there’s even more in the podcast episode, so make sure to go check it out.