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Bulls’ young core gets little respect from 538’s CARMELO projections

No. 14 in the NBA

Chicago Bulls v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Bulls have garnered some optimism thanks to their stellar offseason moves, Otto Porter Jr. and a young core that seems to have a fair amount of potential. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen have shown legitimate flashes of excellence, especially this past February, and Wendell Carter Jr. has the makings of a terrific two-way center. The Bulls also just added a potential point guard of the future in Coby White.

However, we’re still dealing with a lot of unknowns here, and just how much potential this core has depends on who you ask or where you look. For example, The Ringer just posted a ranking of the young cores in the NBA (under-25 players) using FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projections over five years, and the Bulls come in at No. 14 with 33.1 combined WAR. The specific process is explained here:

Using FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projections, which develop a multiseason future forecast based on a player’s history, we determined the number of wins above replacement over the next five seasons for every player on each team’s roster. Then we filtered out players so that only the under-25 players remained (specifically, the players who won’t turn 25 until halfway through the 2019-20 season or later) and ordered the teams by the resulting WAR totals. (WAR compares a player’s output to a baseline level that estimates what a minimum contract or two-way player would produce in the same situation.)

This is admittedly a flawed process given only these WAR projections are used, and these projections are nowhere close to perfect. Still, it’s interesting to see how the Bulls stack up, and these analytics just don’t love their young core in terms of potential star power.

Here’s the Bulls’ blurb:

Like a few teams in this range, the Bulls have a voluminous group of talented young players but no definite leader among the bunch. Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Wendell Carter Jr. could all make a leap; at the very least, the Bulls roster features a reasonably complementary set of young players around which to build.

Markkanen is the leader of the core with a projected five-year WAR of 10.8, which is solid but nothing special and well below the expectations many people have for him. For reference, the Spurs are the No. 15 team on this list, and their top guy is Jakob Poeltl, who has a projected five-year WAR of 10.9. If Jakob Poeltl winds up with more WAR than Lauri Markkanen over the next five years, that’s probably a big problem. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons is No. 1 among all these young players with a projected five-year WAR of 42.4.

Looking at the comparable players for Markkanen based on CARMELO, you get a wide range. No. 1 is Tobias Harris, but then it goes to Charlie Villanueva to Dirk Nowitzki to Andrea Bargnani to Kristaps Porzingis. So that’s fun.

While Markkanen’s projections aren’t all that exciting, another big reason the Bulls are in the middle of the pack is because this stat isn’t all that high on LaVine, which is similar to a lot of the other catch-all metrics out there.

LaVine had a 1.9 WAR this past season, but CARMELO somehow doesn’t see him ever improving on that, with just one other 1.9 WAR season (2020-21) and a five-year projected WAR of 8.3. Whatever you think of LaVine’s ceiling, I’d be really surprised if he doesn’t improve at least a little bit over the next few years. I admit I’m on the more optimistic side with him, but even with his flaws, he showed legitimate improvement this past season and looks poised to build on it.

Looking at other key Bulls youngsters, Carter’s projected five-year WAR is 5.6 (seems pretty darn low), while White’s is at 5.7.

Interestingly enough, newcomer Luke Kornet (just turned 24) has a similar projection at 5.6 (1.1 in 2019-20). Thaddeus Young shares this 5.6 WAR projection (2.4 in 2019-20). Tomas Satoransky is up at 7.7 (2.1 in 2019-20).

The highest five-year WAR projection on the Bulls? The 26-year-old Porter at 16.3, including a team-high 4.3 for the 2019-20 season. This isn’t particularly surprising given Porter’s track record, and he was terrific in his short time with the Bulls last season.

Put it all together, and the Bulls’ projected 2019-20 record based on CARMELO is 37-45, which is ninth in the East and a game out of the playoffs behind the Nets (surprising). That win total is a reasonable expectation for next season (though their current over/under is 30.5 wins), but the Bulls have to hope their young core drastically outplays these projections in the future. Otherwise, they might find themselves stuck in the mud again.