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Everyone thinks the Bulls are going to have a bad season. Finding it hard to disagree.
the Kumbaya training camp did not produce good vibes heading into this season
For a team that’s so predictable, the Bulls are actually pretty difficult to peg. The range of outcomes isn’t too large, as this team is nowhere near either NBA goal pole of contention or tankathon. But prognosticating an actual number of wins looks to be reliant on a lot of variables, to where a general consensus I’ve seen amongst local media and fellow ‘observers’ is that it’ll take a lot to go right…for them to even be over .500.
I don’t know exactly what it says about a national media member that their predictions are more negative, but they look to be in consensus themselves.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN - 36 wins, 12th place in East
Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer - 12th place in East
John Hollinger - The Athletic - 33 wins, 12th place in East
You’ll notice that this result is even below Arturas Karnisovas’s vague goals of, uh, something like “being competitive against good teams and in the playoff mix”.
Unclear on O’Connor (and he’s the least credible of that trio, to be sure), but Pelton’s projection is stated to be based off his subjective-input algorithm and I know Hollinger is using numbers in his too. Hollinger was the most pessimistic of the bunch, using the Bulls as an example of an easy under wager versus the Vegas oddsmakers, who could be seen as another dispassionate assessment putting the Bulls at around 37 or 38 wins (a figure that had all of Bulls team and fan media saying was too low).
Instead of wondering if there’s national BIAS against the Bulls (surely due to lack of interest, not malice), I’m instead thinking maybe they’re on to something.
And here are some common concerns, plus some I haven’t seen much of this preseason, heading into this year. It’s broken up into two parts as I don’t know how 2,500 word emails would reach:
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They weren’t as good as their (Pythagorean) record
Did you know the Bulls went 14-9 after the All-Star break? Nevermind that the last 2 games were against blatant tank jobs, or that they were waxed in games they needed against actually-good teams. 14-9 is 14-9, and you’ll know by how much you heard 14-9.
That final push brought them to 40-42 on the season. And their expected (aka Pathagorean) record, based off of points scored and allowed (+106), was an even more respectable 44-38. AND they had several games go against them on the final call of the game, per the NBA Officiating reports.
So maybe they were actually better than 40-42?
I think it’s possible they were worse, and overrated this summer based on that final leg of the season.
The 14-9 wasn’t over a totally arbitrary period, they did add Patrick Beverley and clearly that was a bit of a different team with him playing so many minutes. But you shouldn’t ever look too much into games during end-of-season-goofiness. Not just those final two contests, but how many Bulls opponents in this time were either tanking or resting?
So, unlike Bulls management, I’m taking less from a 23 game stretch than I am the 59 prior games. Technically, 54 of those prior games, as it’s fair to junk the stretch between the trade deadline and the All-Star break as silly season.
So at the trade deadline, they were 26-28 and a +27. Still better than their record, but a far cry from 14-9. And hilariously this subjective cutoff actually greatly helps the Bulls case since the continuity squad went 0-5 after the do-nothing deadline against the ‘chaotic’ teams.
The defense was a mirage
I’d been saying it, and will say so again: witchcraft.
That is how the Bulls managed a top-5 statistical defense last season with so many below average individual defenders including a defensive anchor in the middle with not much more athleticism than a literal anchor.
Some of it was strategy. The Bulls sold out other aspects of the team to employ their style of defense: played non-shooters at guard positions, never went at the offensive glass, and sold out to help Vuc inside at the expense of giving up three pointers.
And that calculation worked out…though I think it was because of the aforementioned witchcraft. The Bulls defense gave up the 4th most corner threes and 5th most above-the-break threes. The percentages allowed? On the latter it was 36%, pretty average, but the former, the easiest three in the game, was made by opponents at an even lower 35.7%, 2nd lowest opponent make percentage in the league.
Now would a slight downturn in that shooting luck make that much of a difference? Perhaps not, and one constant here is that it’s the same coach: Billy Donovan has usually had his teams perform well on the defensive end. But this team’s offense was so bad it took a top five level on the other end to get them near .500 overall. If that shooting luck goes against them, AND Vuc+DeRozan are a quarter-step slower, AND Caruso (a one-man viral +/- stat tweet whose specialty is throwing his body into people trying to play basketball) misses more time, AND they commit a bit less defensively to try and improve the offense, you can see them dropping in the ranks even with no meaningful difference in personnel than last season.
There’s no big change in the offense
Speaking of “no meaningful difference”…as expected, the training camp and preseason didn’t show us a new Bulls offense with the same old players. They exhibited a bit more commitment to getting into the lane, and preseason Coby White looks to be a more dynamic point guard option than him or any other suitor for the role last year.
But there wasn’t some drastic increase in player movement or faster pace or change in their shot profile. They didn’t offensive rebound much more or draw many more fouls. The three point attempts were near the bottom of the league, as always. They certainly didn’t (snicker) play through Vuc (lol). Patrick Williams isn’t breaking out.
It was pretty much the same offense, not entirely unexpected given the lack of change in the playing rotation. Hopefully spacing is a bit better, but what meager additions they made in that department in the offseason are probably overrated. I think Javon Carter looks good and will be a huge improvement for the offense if he’s taking over a lot of minutes that went to Ayo Dosunmu last year. But the other role player addition, Torrey Craig, is not a good shooter. Everyone gets a career-high year, but his 2022-23 campaign from beyond the arc was more like a statistical outlier, and O’Connor remarked in his preview that Craig “was ignored behind the arc in last year’s playoffs”. He shot 25% from three this preseason.
And speaking of outlier, Vuc shot over 60% in shots from 3-19 feet last year, after his career mark from that area before then was 48%.
Vuc needs to instead shoot more threes. LaVine too, then DeRozan (from 1 to, like, 3?) and Williams and everyone on down. This was sold to us as achievable through coaching and scheme, but that was not shown in the preseason. Granted, even if they did show it in the preseason I still wouldn’t assume it was going to carry over into real games, but that makes the lack of it during practice games even more worrisome.
tomorrow, part 2. More ‘vibes’-y reasons but they’re bad vibes: health, depth, and commitment.
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