The Bulls begin the 2020-21 season against the Hawks on Wednesday. A new season always brings some level of excitement, but this is especially true (at least for me) since the Bulls haven’t played a game that counts since March and there’s a competent coach in place instead of the worst coach in the NBA.
Of course, the Bulls are bringing back essentially the same roster as last season plus Patrick Williams (who seems set to start!) and Garrett Temple as the lone notable (if you could call it that) acquisition in free agency. Just how much will the upgrade from Jimbo to Billy Donovan and the corresponding player development be worth in the win column?
Based on the expert projections out there and the Vegas win totals (have seen a range from 28.5 to 30.5 in this 72-game season), the expectation is marginal improvement but nothing too drastic for this Bulls team. The general consensus is they’ll be fighting for one of the spots in the play-in tournament, which is where I stand (around 30 wins). Let’s take a look at some of these predictions.
K.C. Johnson (27), Jason Goff (29), Rob Schaefer (28) and Tony Gill (28) all predict under 30 wins, and none of them think the Bulls are getting through the play-in tournament to get one of the eight playoff spots, if they even make it in at all.
Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton, ESPN
Lowe separates the NBA into eight tiers, and the Bulls fit in his seventh tier, aka “Chasing No. 10.” He sums up the race for the No. 10 seed in the East like so:
Is it weird that I might peg the Bulls as the most likely among Chicago, Orlando, and Charlotte to bust the East play-in party? They are starting Coby White at point guard! That’s a real thing!
Lowe goes on to talk about the Magic and Hornets before briefly returning to the Bulls:
That points back to Chicago, with Otto Porter Jr. healthy (and in a contract year); a rookie in Patrick Williams who looks ready to help at both forward positions (Chicago needs wing depth); other young guys who should be on the upswing; and a coach in Billy Donovan with a history of maximizing his roster.
The Bulls will sacrifice some turnovers by moving away from Jim Boylen’s ultra-aggressive blitzing defense, but they won’t foul the bejesus out of everyone and again allow the most opponent shots at the rim.
As for Pelton, his RPM projections place the Bulls at No. 12 in the East, with Otto Porter Jr.’s health noted as a big factor.
Hollinger thinks the likely outcome for the Bulls is going from “cartoonishly bad to just blandly bad.” However, he has some optimism that the offense could improve enough thanks to internal development to make a run at the play-in tournament.
Ultimately, though, Hollinger sees the defense taking a step back and the Bulls finishing with a 26-46 record, which would be 11th in the East for him.
O’Connor also did a tiers system, placing the Bulls at No. 27 and into his “East Play-In Contenders” tier along with the Magic, Pistons and Hornets. While that’s not pretty, he does say nice things about Coby White:
Coby White is slowing down for the better. As a college freshman at North Carolina and as a rookie with the Bulls, White often played at one speed and didn’t know how to change gears. Such a fast-paced style led to some exhilarating moments, but many face-palm-inducing ones as well. This preseason, White has used more change of pace and hesitations to generate baskets ... The Bulls have lots of young talent. Some of it will stick long term, and some of it will inevitably be dealt. But if White’s development is for real, he’ll firmly fit into the former category as a centerpiece of Chicago’s rebuild.
Indeed, how White performs as the Bulls’ starting point guard could go a long way in determining just how good this team is this season.
FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR and Elo ratings are both low on the Bulls, projecting them for just 25 wins and an 11-12% chance of making the playoffs. Both of these projections have some real wonky outcomes across the league, but this obviously isn’t too far off from the consensus.
Moore is hammering an over of 28.5, and he even thinks the Bulls could be a .500 team:
The Bulls won 34% of their games last season. Their Pythagorean mark was 40%. That was the fourth-biggest differential.
They could have replaced Boylen with a ham sandwich and I would be taking the over.
New head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is shrewd. He’ll make tough decisions and be aggressive in improving the team.
There’s talent all over this roster. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen (due for a bounce-back season), Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White, rookie Patrick Williams, Tomas Satoransky and Temple (once he returns).
I think this is a .500 team.
That’s a bit aggressive for me, but at least somebody is feeling pretty good about the Bulls!