The other day while watching the Bulls lose to the Bucks I thought, “why, god WHY do I care about this?” But right after that, I thought how about doing a Bulls player power rankings that we can track throughout the season. Proud of myself, I googled it and found it was not at all an original idea. But ever forward!
These rankings are not weighted by player expectation. Rather, If aliens landed and watched a Bulls game - undoubtedly tractor beam-ed in by the spaceship masquerading as the United Center’s new jumbotron - what players would they say are best and worst? Which means in a small sample size, Ryan Arcidiacono might be ranked eyebrow raising-ly high and also be deemed the only player who enjoys the act of trying hard. Likewise, if a certain well-regarded player is totally out of sorts, making a series of blind contested drives, malignant shot choices and indefensibly poor defense, you might rank them much lower. You might even affix a number of stamps to their forehead and address them to Vlade Divac, Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA. If a certain player - that hypothetically were to wear the number 8 - were to be maddeningly out of sorts.
We’ll be back every month to chart the growth and lament the shrinkage. Starting with the top of Mount Bullympus:
1. Wendell Carter Jr.
Far and away the best player on the team and on many nights the only adult in the room other than Fatherly Thad Young. It’s worth mentioning that Wendell isn’t old enough to buy beer yet. WCJ has asserted himself physically - ranking top 10 in the NBA in FG% and rebounds while averaging a double-double, but it’s his mental toughness that vaults him to the top of this list. The Bulls feel light on fortitude across the roster but not from Carter, who fears no one. Between his calming influence on the court and precocious voice in the locker room, the emotional leader Chicago has desperately needed these past few years may have arrived. If we’re to ding him it would be for a far too low 16.7 usage rate (obligatory coaching staff indictment), and his 4.13 fouls per game, good for 2nd-highest in the league. Parts of him are still being held together with tape, a visual reminder of the precipice upon which we reside. But Carter is already a winning player on both ends in less than a season’s worth of NBA games and his second year statistical leaps portend all kinds of goodness. I could do with one less bad foul/bemused smirk per game, but otherwise this is a more athletic Bill Cartwright with a jumpshot. He is also desperately in need of a nickname. While we’re still workshopping, our first submission is Carju.
2. Thaddeus Young
Solid as a rock. Winning player. Instant team dad. Motion to bestow him with the nickname “Pops”, effective immediately. While his shooting percentages are down from career numbers, we’d chalk that up to finding his way in a misfiring new offense with misfiring new teammates. He and WCJ need to be the Bulls’ closing frontcourt every night until Lauri Markkanen gets his act together. We realize that steady competence might feel like a low bar for a 13m-a-year player but on this team it’s manna from heaven. Just don’t you dare mess around on Pops’ freshly mowed lawn...
Boylen and Thad NOT happy with how that game ended... pic.twitter.com/bJCVRI28QU— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 15, 2019
3. Coby White
Some may scoff at this ranking given that he is shooting 36% from the floor and has already earned “Inveterate Chucker” status from ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Coby’s this high because he has already shown the ability to take over games, including his insane fourth quarter explosion against the Knicks with Roy Williams in the house. He’s also had some outright stinkers but that’s the up-and-down nature of finding one’s way in the league. His teammates appear to love him, he’s a hard worker, and is a game-shifting joy to watch run up and down the floor. The ceiling here is a better Ben Gordon.
4. Kris Dunn
A career-saving beginning to the season. After being miscast as a quarterback for three years, he has been re-born as a roving free safety. His 31 steals comfortably lead the league while ranking 174th (!!!) in minutes played. Holy shit! Also, the role acceptance he’s displayed after an offseason of trade rumors and Pax aspersions is the kind of thing that makes you want to keep a guy around. He’d be an instant plus on any NBA roster even though we have never seen a brick-ier long range jumper in our lives - somehow his 15% from deep feels high. He’ll never be a star but what he’s doing now is a valuable player on a good team, logging a career high 15.4 PER thus far. Good vibes here.
5. Zach LaVine
We are officially all the way out on the Zach LaVine experience. To be fair we’ve been cynical non-believers nearly from the outset but this season has hammered a few hundred nails in the coffin. The cold calculus is he’s among the very worst in the league in net rating. He has a worse defensive rating then Luke Kornet, who you’ll see at the very bottom of this piece if you squint hard enough. He has also totally regressed from whatever small whiffs of offensive growth we saw during last year’s annual spring mirage aka tanking season. LaVine has inspired the creation of a new advanced statistic, the couchpunch. And let us tell you, after a month of drives into triple teams while yell-begging for bailout calls, jacking up off-the-dribble 3’s with 20 on the shot clock, and displaying the passing acumen of an armless Mitch Trubisky, Zach leads the league in CPs by a comfortable margin. He is the 2019 Corey Maggette. The Bulls need to get him to a different NBA roster asap while there’s still a chance of recouping assets.
I truly have no idea what Zach Lavine is doing on defense here. The good and bad of him all in 16 seconds. pic.twitter.com/Eq7WWLS2GP— Ryan Nichols (@RyanPNichols) October 10, 2019
6. Lauri Markkanen
Let’s get both of our family disappointments out of the way, shall we? We don’t like this ranking any more than you do, but have you watched these games? Prior to a relative bounce back against Detroit on Wednesday (his first game scoring 20 points since the opener, gah), he has been a David Hasselhof mess out there. Where to begin? How about a .571 FG% on dunks. DUNKS! He’s missed almost half his dunks. We’d say we’re not even mad that’s amazing but no, we’re mad. After making us wonder if the latest fashion rage is to wrap one’s shoulder in K-Tape and then shoot a basketball poorly, Boylen finally protected his young star by saying he’s been fighting through an oblique injury. That might explain some of the shooting issues - to say nothing of the impact of poor performance on confidence - but thus far he’s been bullied on both ends, fallen asleep regularly on defense and often looks like a lost child at the state fair on offense.
7. Otto Porter
Otto had been trending as high as 3rd on this list until his foot went kerblam nine games into the season and now even 7th feels too high. His steady statistics belie an up-and-down early campaign but the real issue was, is and will be availability. Even a carefully metered 25.1 MPG couldn’t keep him off the shelf for what may be the balance of 2019, especially now that a second MRI looks worse than the first one. Always a good sign. More and more Porter feels like a very expensive camera we bought used on Craigslist to save money and now we know why it was listed for sale in the first place.
8. Ryan Arcidiacono
This ranking feels too low. The canny try-hard floor general - and likely future Bulls head coach or GM if we’re being honest with ourselves - has been the Bulls best player during short stretches. Unfortunately, his size and talent disparity mean he can’t create a shot (93% of his 3PA are assisted!) and ranks in the bottom 20 in the league in offensive rating. He reminds me of Steve Richards before they gave him the Captain America super serum. Arch’s ranking here is buoyed by an unsustainable 50% shooting from deep, but mostly because he knows what to do and he cares, which stands out so much on a team frequently lacking in both categories.
9. Tomas Satoransky
This may be too low for Sato but for the love of god DO SOMETHING. You are the basketball manifestation of a nervous group of boys looking across the school dance floor at the girls. Make one assertive move, we double dog dare you. To be fair, we love the generous approach and viable passing - something the Bulls need in spades - and he’s clearly a fine teammate. But anybody who can dunk like this while shooting 46% from deep deserves to be punched in the neck for having the 9th-highest usage rate on this team.
10. Daniel Gafford
Was ensconced in 14th place on our rankings until his six-dunk, 21-point explosion against the Bucks sent him skyrocketing up the board. He came back to earth a bit a few nights later against Detroit but his effort and above-the-rim play on both ends was manna from heaven. That the coaching staff stuck with Luke Kornet for two weeks of yikes and made Gafford sit until the 14th game is not a great look, rookie or not.
11. Chandler Hutchison
Welcome back, Threehead! The best hairline in the league is back from a preseason hamstring injury and was being tapered back into the lineup until he got... shin splints. SIGH. Perhaps it’s a pessimistic outlook but while he clearly has the framework of an NBA player we’re having to squint harder and harder to see a future rotation piece. A lot of his minutes slide by without realizing he was on the floor. Anyways, he’s this high because he can rebound well at his position and the bulls need rebounding like high school me needed to get
laid good grades.
12. Shaq Harrison
Previously unranked, Harrison had a wonderful game against the Pistons in relief of the Bulls’ M.A.S.H unit of a wing rotation and deserved a bump. Just an awesome defender. If his catapult jumpshot or button-mashing drives decide to keep falling he may just be worth a little more burn. Yet another player whose absence in the early season and subsequent success in small samples arches an eyebrow towards the coaching staff.
13. Denzel Valentine
We get it. Your on/off rating in the preseason was negative one billion. But you’re a proven shooter in the league and can pass teammates open. We’d sure like to see you get little run during this spate of wing injuries. We also understand you may have Kornetitis and might not be able to keep the opposing team from walking the ball to the rim, but can we at least give it a try?
14. Cristiano Felicio
15. Adam Mokoka
We don’t know even know what he looks like let alone how he plays but also totally fine with him over Kornet.
16. Luke Kornet
If you told me that Luke Kornet was actually a 13 year-old boy who’d wished to be tall on the Zoltar from the movie “Big” (perfect sequel title btw: Tall), I would quietly nod my head and wonder why I hadn’t realized it sooner. For one, this is the haircut of a child:
He also just had sinus surgery to improve his sleep, which somehow feels like the most 13 year-old boy surgery known to mankind. And finally, there’s the fact that grown men have sonned the ever-living bejeezus out of him virtually every time down the floor to the tune of an abominable 110.6 defensive rating. Boylen took seven more games than the rest of humanity to figure out he belonged stapled to the end of the bench, presumably to study for an upcoming social studies exam. If he comes back from Christmas break with braces the jig. Is. Up.