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This Week in the Bulls: Building a contender out of thin air

The Bulls are back and so is this column.

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

This Week in the Bulls was a column that ran on Blog-a-Bull dot com from the end of the Tom Thibodeau era to the start of the Fred Hoiberg era. Then the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler, lost the most games in the NBA over the next four years, and forced anyone who cares a little too much about this franchise to reshuffle their priorities. For me, that meant becoming the greatest video game college basketball coach of all-time, and starting a podcast. You know, normal stuff.

Well, guess what: the Bulls are back and so is this column.

Not like I need to tell you, but: shit got dark there for a while. As I toyed with the idea of writing this again, I went back and read my last few Blog-a-Bull posts. The apathy was palpable.

Remember this???

I wasn’t wrong.

Really feel like this headline aged well.

Ahem.

In one of the great upsets ever, John Paxson actually took our advice. He really did fire himself. As I wrote at the start of the season, this new era of Bulls basketball doesn’t happen without every single one of us constantly reminding Pax of how bad he was at his job.

I literally tweeted this on Thanksgiving two years ago.

No days off, baby.

At this point, I really think it’s within our right to claim “Fire GarPax” as one of the most successful fan-led upheavals of its time. If we went even slightly less hard, there’s a good chance Zach LaVine was traded for draft picks like Jimmy, and Lauri Markkanen was panic signed to a new long-term deal. Tell me I’m wrong.

Instead, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley did exactly what they needed to do: they got rid of almost every player GarPax acquired by the start of their second season in charge. It had to be done. Ryan Arcidiacono can guard Giannis in heaven one day, but it couldn’t last another second on this mortal coil.

And so we bring back this column at the perfect time because everything is going great right now. Right?

Ahhhh, well. It’s probably more fitting this way.

At time of publish, the Bulls are currently 17-9. After listening to so many people doubt the Bulls’ early success and chalk it up to small sample size, we can now say this team has looked great through 32 percent of the season. That’s not nothing. I expected this team to be good — at least enough to legally place $50 of my hard earned blog money on the over for the season win total — but even the biggest preseason optimist has to be thrilled right now.

The Bulls are an incredibly fun team to watch, but even that might be selling them a bit short. This team, when not ravaged by Covid, is extremely good. Dare I say, I think they just might be at contender level.

Before they were whacked by the Cavs on Wednesday using 50 percent of a G League roster, the Bulls were No. 6 in offensive efficiency, No. 5 in defensive efficiency, and No. 4 in net-rating. Those are contender metrics, my friends.

We can look at specific areas and see how improved this team has become. They stopped being one of the most turnover prone teams in the league, they aren’t dead last in getting to the foul line anymore, and the transition attack has been souped-up to the max. They finally stopped tripping over themselves in crunch-time, too.

More anecdotally, the Bulls move with a purpose we haven’t seen from this franchise since the golden days of the Thibs era. They have a way of balancing going hard as fuck while still being meticulous when it’s called for. That’s mostly because this roster truly feels like it fits perfectly together when everyone is playing their best ball.

DeMar DeRozan and LaVine give the Bulls two halfcourt assassins who can get off a clean look in almost any scenario (the Bulls are currently No. 8 in halfcourt offense, per Cleaning the Glass). Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have been going Gremlin Mode defensively all year. There’s two absolutely sick athletes in the rotation in Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green who provide some supplemental rim protection as the low man, get out in transition, and finish above the rim with ease. Ayo Dosunmu has aced his transition from college star to NBA energy guy. Nikola Vucevic is giving me some Good Rex/Bad Rex vibes to this point, but shit: having a center who can stretch the floor, act as the hub of the offense as a passer, and get a bucket in the post in a pinch all while doing a pretty good job clogging the lane defensively is pretty dope.

The Bulls are legit good. I really believe it. Of course, a deep playoff run is going to require a lot of luck, both with injuries and with matchups. If the rotation we’ve seen all season can get healthy and stay healthy, if Brooklyn and Milwaukee end up on the same side of the playoff bracket, if Vooch can finally start hitting 12-foot jumpers .... I’m just saying. No one pegged the Hawks to go to the conference finals last year. Everyone thought the Suns should just be happy to make the playoffs.

The league has been fully unpredictable since Kevin Durant left California. Why stop now?

Ultimately, this Bulls team feels like one that can lose in the first round with the wrong matchup and bad luck, or make a deep playoff run if the chips are falling their way. When you think about the objective pile of garbage AKME inherited, that’s pretty amazing.

I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of this season, but I do know the Bulls have made every game appointment TV. Given the way the front office has aggressively turned over the roster to this point, there’s no reason to think they’re going to stop adding talent in the future.

When you factor in the sea-level bar set by GarPax, the way this team has already surpassed everyone’s expectations, and the fact that they finish ridiculously awesome plays constantly, this really feels like one of the more enjoyable seasons as a sports fan I’ve ever experienced.

And also? I really think there’s a case to be made that we haven’t seen the Bulls hit their highest level yet. Blame the outbreak; blame Vooch. But I’m telling you, there’s a chance this team can be even better than we’ve seen so far.

I just know I’m going to enjoy every second of it.

A new billboard for a new era

Since the last billboard worked so well, maybe it’s time we pay for a new one.

The Bulls love New York

Before the outbreak really broke out and did its best to kill the vibes, the Bulls went into New York City and gave a Jim Boylen-style “double loss” to the Knicks and the Nets. Bing-bong, motherfuckers.

There’s no need to recap both of those games because Jason already did it, but I do want to appreciate some of the absolutely filthy plays the Bulls gave us on that little road trip.

Like, what?

This one, too.

I’ve gotten to the point where there’s nothing more aesthetically-pleasing in this world than a DeRozan mid-range jumper.

I’ll save my unrelenting love of Ayo for another column, but for now just appreciate this.

Crying.

Screaming.

It was only last year we were watching Denzel Valentine air-ball heat checks in crunch-time. It’s unreal how much better our lives have gotten.

Javonte is our meme king

There are some people who like to complain about Javonte Green a lot. To a certain extent, I get it: he’s averaging 5.4 points per game in a starting spot, his hands can be suspect offensively, and he’s not exactly scaring anyone as a floor spacer.

On the flip side: no one thought Green was going to get meaningful minutes coming into the season, and he’s been pretty damn good for someone on a minimum deal. He’s also great at memes.

I swear I’m going to be using that the whole season. The full Lonzo Nerf commercial just makes me so happy.

Also.

I really feel like all of his tweets are an A+.

I’d expect nothing less from someone who goes by ‘2 Xtreme Bounce.’ I’m sorry to the haters, but I love Javonte. Start Caruso, tho.

Recruiting one head shot at a time

Tired: “I’m rolling with Keith”

Wired: “We play Counter-Strike a lot together”

Yes, we would have spent years mocking the Bulls for thinking they can land Jokic in 2023 (#2023Plan) in the old days. But what if ...

Did someone say something about recruiting?

Could be cool. Just saying.

Evan Mobley is insane

Uh, super not looking forward to my top-two prospects in the 2021 draft each facing the Bulls four times per year in the same division. Mobley could not be more impressive, man.

How the hell did he fall to No. 3. I’d be sick if I was a Rockets fan.

“Secure championships”

Finally .....

Imagine showing yourself this tweet when DeRozan was minted as the worst signing of the offseason.

The Booz News

We all got old. This has been The Booz News.