With the additions of Jabari Parker in free agency and rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, Fred Hoiberg has a lot to work with when it comes to possible lineup combinations. John Paxson referenced ‘versatility’ a lot on media day, saying there were a few players on this Bulls roster who can play multiple positions and it opens up a lot of options for the coaching staff. However, it’s often hard to truly quantify the impact of a certain lineup just by the eye test. Luckily there are predictive models available to answer these types of questions.
Jacob Goldstein, who does a lot of analytical work most notably over at Nylon Calculus, developed a model that attempts to predict the impact of a given lineup. It allows you to input any 5 players and it will spit out their offensive, defensive, and net rating as a unit. You can access it by clicking here.
So that’s what I did for the Bulls.
I ran this lineup as this will most likely be the opening day starters barring injury or trade. The only new addition will be Parker, though LaVine and Dunn’s starting time together was brief last year.
The Dunn-LaVine backcourt duo will be an interesting fit as both players strengths are the others weakness. A real big concern with this lineup will be the defense with the model predicting Chicago’s defensive rating at 114.3, which by-far would’ve been the worst in the league last season. With the likes of LaVine, Parker, and Markkanen on the floor, the Bulls are going to put up buckets offensively. They will also be giving up a lot of them defensively. As the net rating shows, this will be a rough starting lineup for Chicago to trot out.
Bulls bench units
For the second simulation, I ran out an all-bench lineup with both of the rookies in it. As for who will play alongside Cameron Payne in the shooting guard spot, it remains to be seen but for now I chose Justin Holiday over Denzel Valentine. As you can tell by the numbers, this projects to be another bad lineup. It would be expected of Hoiberg to stagger the minutes with some of his starters to run a starter + bench unit lineup so the bench doesn’t get fully exposed.
Running the lineup with Valentine as the 2 didn’t generate pretty results either. In fact, the projected net rating dropped by -2.5 when swapping out Holiday for Valentine. Both of the offensive ratings for the bench models are below 100 with the lowest being at 96.2. The bench was dreadful last season and Chicago has made some upgrades, mostly thanks to the draft. It doesn’t look like it will be enough though.
Chicago doesn’t have to run out a traditional center all the time. Markkanen has shown some potential to play a small-ball 5 and Parker’s ability to play the 4 comes into the equation here too. Here is what that possible lineup would look like:
Defensively, this lineup an absolute mess with every player but Dunn being a negative defender.
However, offensively this team could be fun. The duo of Markkanen + LaVine should be able to dissect defenses and be a good PnR combo. They will able to stretch the floor with their shooting and cause some matchup problems. There’s a lot of offensive versatility with this lineup.
Late Game Unit?
As the season goes on, it’s safe to assume the more we will see Carter Jr. play with the starters. This is the best of the lineups talked about thus far in terms of net rating at -8.1 and it should be a lineup Hoiberg should try to close games with. We saw flashes of WCJ’s potential as the future starting center for the Bulls. His ability to help on drives and be a presence as a rim protector is crucial. Both Parker and LaVine are going to give up a lot of drives and it will be up to WCJ to rotate over constantly. Markkanen has looked stronger in photos during the offseason but it remains to be seen just how much he improves defensively. When crunch time hits, the Bulls need to play their best players and put them in a position to succeed. Despite the defensive worries, this is likely the best five Hoiberg can put out on the court.
With so many young players, there is a chance for some lineup experimentation. There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding this Bulls team, though we likely already know Chicago won’t be good at all defensively. So if Hoiberg wants to make this team at least interesting, making the lineups more offensive-oriented is the way to go.