Twenty seven games to go.
And no, I don’t think they’re pointless, or meaningless, or useless. Every game is an opportunity for these players to get better and that is sorely needed.
There’s actually plenty of things to look for during this final stretch of games. Plus, when August rolls around and there hasn’t been Bulls basketball for months you are going to miss it.
Otto Porter Jr. has played in just 16 percent of the Bulls games this season. Lauri Markkanen has missed nine games and was probably playing injured before actually sitting out. Wendell Carter Jr. young career continues to be derailed by injuries; he’s missed 18 contests this season.
Zach LaVine, Markkanen, Carter Jr. and Porter Jr. are almost four points per 100 possessions better than opponents this season when they play together; however, that has only happened across 134 minutes this season.
Success in a small dose, but certainly not enough time for 1). four core pieces to develop the synergy together for this team to be successful in the future 2) making the determination on whether these guys have the capability of sharing the floor together effectively.
Worse than this though is some of the Bulls key trios and duos have been ineffective together this season.
LaVine, Markkanen, and Carter Jr. are 0.1 points per 100 possessions worse than opponents in 744 minutes of sharing the court together. LaVine and Markkanen, who at times looked like a lethal pick-and-pop combination in the making in their first two seasons together in Chicago, are about three points worse than opponents per 100 possessions when they share the floor.
It’s time to get all these guys healthy, playing together, and forming some on-court chemistry. The last 27 games can be telling in regards to if there is even any chemistry there to build.
Lauri Markkanen must salvage his season
From the passivity to the shooting percentages to the per 36 rebounding splits, Markkanen has regressed in just about every category this season.
At the end of January, he found himself on the injured reserve list with an early stress reaction of his right pelvis. An oblique injury and a sprained ankle had hampered him earlier on in the season, but he didn’t miss any games.
Which brings up the obvious question: has Markkanen been playing through injuries that were affecting how he played?
For Bulls fans, you kind of hope the answer is yes. Markkanen’s game has looked broken all season and ideally that was because of a non career threatening injury rather than the reality check that he isn’t as good as everybody thought.
Right now, Markkanen is targeting the beginning of March for a return date at which point the Bulls will have about 20 games to play. That is an all right sample size to get a decent idea of how good his game really is in year three of his young career.
The Athletic’s Stephen Noh detailed how Markkanen can get back on track in an article he wrote in January.
was the defense actually real?
The biggest surprise of the season has been how the Bulls have performed defensively.
When the Bulls woke up on New Year’s Day, the team sat fifth in the NBA in defensive rating as head coach Jim Boylen’s much maligned turnover-focused blitzing defense was generating positive returns at least based on this singular analytic.
When February 1 rolled around, they were down to No. 9 in defensive rating. In four February games, they have a 121.5 defensive rating which is the worst in the NBA in this month.
Something has to give over these last 27 games. Interior stalwart Carter Jr. should be returning soon from his ankle injury while Kris Dunn being able to return this season is looking more bleak.
Can the Bulls survive without their best perimiter defender? Was the high defensive ratings throughout the season a ruse all along? Or is defense the one area this season where the Bulls have been able to execute the coaching staff’s vision?
Watching how far the Bulls tumble down, jump, or maintain in the defensive rating standings is something to watch for over these last 27 games.