As soon as the NBA announced that only 22 teams were invited to the re-start in Orlando, it was a wrap on the 2019-20 Chicago Bulls season. Although it will be a long time before they play again, one positive is this gives the new regime of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley a head start to build for the future.
This includes evaluating and assessing the current core of players: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Coby White. LaVine is only 25, and that the rest of the trio haven’t turned even 24 yet. There is still some time for growth from Chicago’s core.
Using Jacob Goldstein’s Multi-Year Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM) model, we can see how the Bulls four key guys have fared so far in their careers. When it comes to assessing the present as well as projecting the future of young players, looking at analytical models can give us a sense of what to expect. While they certainly don’t set a player’s future in stone, it does offer some insight on what they project to be.
Since coming to the Bulls in 2017, LaVine has gotten better as an offensive player as said by the chart. He started off this season in the negatives but picked it up as he continued to full reigns as Chicago’s go-to player.
That was evident by his monthly splits. LaVine’s true shooting percentage went up each month of the season with him shooting 57.2 and 58.9 percent in January and February respectively. He was getting to the rim and scoring with efficiency (62.3 percent) and he shot a respectable 38 percent from deep. He still has to improve in terms of decision making and playmaking but there were signs of LaVine getting better as an offensive player. What’s next for him to work on are the two things mentioned above. Getting other guys involved and making the pass when needed to along with continuing to take better shots.
However, in terms of defense, the model also shows LaVine has ways to go. He took a dip in production on that side of the ball and his defensive PIPM shows it. There are times he gets caught ball watching or forgets to rotate over. If LaVine wants to be the star for this Chicago team, getting better on the defensive end is a must. There have been times where LaVine has shown defensive prowess. But these moments have been few and far between. With his athleticism and quickness, he can easily stay in front of defenders, making it tough for them to find space to operate.
LaVine’s overall PIPM went up this past year, mostly due to the uptick in his offense. He is still Chicago’s best option in terms of offensive firepower but still has ways to go in terms of his overall game. LaVine has just started to become a plus player offensively but defense is still an area that needs a lot of improvement. Hopefully, moving forward LaVine can continue to improve his decision making in terms of shot selection as well as work on becoming at least an average defender.
Markkanen’s points per game, three-point percentage, and offensive box plus/minus all dropped from the previous two years. His PIPM seems to tell the same story as well with him taking a big dip a the start of last season. He looked to be recovering from it as he was hovering around zero for all three metrics when the season was suspended. Markkanen did get more efficient from the field but it also comes with the caveat of him averaging four fewer field goal attempts per game than the previous season. Once again, it seems to be the same problems with Markkanen.
We have seen flashes of brilliance from him where he has been be a top scoring option for the Bulls. But it’s stuck in between performances where he disappears offensively and doesn’t take enough shots. Markkanen needs to be taking the second-most shots in any given game. Being more aggressive offensively is a way to improve on that end of the court. His shooting mechanics are great and his release is fluid. He still is one of the best young floor stretchers in the league, it’s just about the volume of attempts and executing. If he can find an uptick in his three-point percentage (34.4 percent last season), Markkanen will look like the player we expect him to be.
Markkanen’s defense took an opposite route than his offense did. He got better as the season went on, going from being negative to neutral. Markkanen has shown to be adequate when it comes to staying in front of guards on switches. He certainly isn’t going to hound them but at the same time, he won’t watch them go right by him. Markkanen’s post defense has gotten slightly better. He isn’t getting overpowered as much by bigger opponents.
A concern has been the rebounding. Markkanen went from averaging 7.6 defensive rebounds per game in 2018-19 to just 5.1 this season. His overall rebounding average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career thus far. Based on what we have seen so far, Markkanen can be a slightly above average defender but needs to pick up the rebounding. That along with continuing to improve as a post and help defender could help encourage use of him more at the five in small-ball lineups.
Consistency is key for Markkanen. He needs to be able to put up multiple months of consistent and productive basketball to show he can be a big part of the Bulls future. He will be eligible to sign an extension in the coming months, but more likely next season will be crucial in determining what type of deal he will get.
Wendell Carter Jr.
After missing half of his rookie year, Wendell Carter Jr. had a decent beginning to his sophomore campaign. He was averaging nearly a double-double for the first three months of the season but then the injury bug hit again, playing in a total of nine games since January 1st.
Carter Jr.’s overall PIPM went from initially being in the negatives to finishing just around zero. The story with WCJ has been the same as it has been. He has the potential to be a solid offensive player with his movement and shooting. Carter Jr. can shoot from three and there have been instances where he has hit some jumpers from the corner pocket. He has a nice mid-range game too, punishing defenses when opposing centers don’t come out to guard him beyond the free-throw line.
However, a reoccurring problem has been his lack of attempts. While WCJ does average eight field goal attempts per game, he certainly has ample opportunities to take more. This includes both the three-point line and mid-range. There have been multiple times where defenses will leave him alone at the top of the key, daring him to shoot but the shot never goes up.
He’s a good passer and can find guys for easy baskets. Without the threat of a shot, however, defenses will sag off and clog up those passing lanes. WCJ and the Bulls need to start planning for more actions that result in three-point attempts for him as well. This will help him round out his offensive game and keep defenses on their toes.
With a prospective ability to score near the hoop, shoot a bit, and pass, Carter Jr. coul dbe the jack of all trades with this Chicago offense. The Bulls don’t need him to be a high usage offensive superstar but an uptick in shot attempts can go a long way.
Defensively, Carter Jr. is the best of the Bulls core. He’s an incredibly smart defender, rotating over at the right time to stop drives and help. WCJ can hold his own in the post and is versatile when it comes to switches. He moves his feet well to stay in front of smaller guards, sliding over to beat them to spots on the floor. Carter Jr. can certainly clean up the mistakes made by the Bulls backcourt and whoever is playing alongside him. His defensive awareness is partially why the combination with Markkanen works as WCJ can slide over for aid on opposing fours. He can rebound well too, averaging 9.4 boards per game this season.
Carter Jr. already looks like he can be an impactful defender and the multi-year PIPM chart reflects as such. His defensive PIPM rating has been above since his rookie year and despite a little dip at the start of this season, it picked up again.
Coby White has only had one season under his belt and it’s not even a full one, so his PIPM chart uses career games.
As it shows, White struggled out of the gate. White displayed what he could bring to the offensive table from day one, despite the bad early results: he showed no fear in getting up shots, no matter who was in front of him, with an ability to use a step-back move to create space.
White has shown signs of being a microwave scorer who can come in and catch fire at any moment, including when White single handily won a game against the Knicks.
Obviously he still has a lot to work on. The playmaking needs to become better as there will be times where defenders will cheat over on help defense, leaving teammates open. Making the right pass will need to be a part of his progression as a lead guard. White’s efficiency needs improvement as he had a true shooting percentage of 50.6 this year. He does put up points but takes a lot of shots in the process. As White heads into next year, working on taking better shots in terms of when and where on the court will be important. A jumper isn’t as effective when there is a hand in your face.
As a defender White has displayed flashes of being ok. The PIPM chart shows he was better on defense for most of the season until his offense got more consistent. His short arms aren’t doing him any favors when it comes to deflections. However, he has played good team defense. White knows when and where to rotate over for help, a fantastic sign for a young player. As expected with any rookie, there will be lapses. White will get caught ball watching or not close out quick enough. When it comes to defending one on one, White needs to get a bit stronger and use his height to his advantage. The wingspan isn’t there so he has to adjust and focus on making sure he closes the space quickly when his man is taking a shot attempt. The most realistic outcome for White is becoming an average defender whose real value comes at the other end of the court.
There is still a lot of questions about what type of role White can play with this Bulls team. We still don’t know his ideal position yet either. He has the size to be a two but played a majority of his minutes at point guard. While he does give the Bulls a lot of lineup flexibility, the quicker they figure out how to maximize his skills, the better.