The Chicago Bulls’ win over/under in most sportsbooks is listed at either 36.5 or 37.5. Not really a vote of confidence for a team that won 40 games last season and is hoping to improve on that number. It is possible that the sportsbooks are factoring in a potential trade deadline teardown in that line which is weighing it down, but it’s also safe to say that if it comes down to the last few games to see if the Bulls hit their over, then they didn’t reach their goals.
I thought it would be a good exercise to go through the roster and talk about a few different ways each player could help the Bulls fly past that over/under line with plenty of time left in the season. Maybe I’m biased but I think there is a much clearer path to the Bulls winning 45ish games than they’re getting credit for. For one, the Bulls’ under-performed their point differential last season. Their point differential says that last season’s team was closer to the quality of a team that would win 44 games than a 40-win team.
Between frequent appearances on the NBA 2-Minute Report and some crazy buzzer-beaters going against the Bulls, it’s not hard to see where that difference comes from. Teams underperforming their point differential is something that is looked at when trying to determine who can surprise some people the following season. I personally think the biggest reason for the Bulls only winning 40 games was the play of Zach LaVine to start the season.
LaVine struggled the first 30 games of the season while trying to knock some rust off from an offseason knee surgery. LaVine is very much not a “play himself into shape” guy and it was clear that this surgery (which even made him sit out the first 2 games of the season) was a big hindrance to his offseason workload. The Bulls started 12-18 before LaVine started to look better and it wasn’t really until after the All-Star break that LaVine looked as explosive as he has shown in previous seasons.
Zach LaVine’s Progression Through Last Season
|First 30 Games||Middle 30 Games||Last 22 Games|
|Points Per Game||22 PPG||26 PPG||27 PPG|
|Field Goal %||45.2 FG%||48.2 FG%||53.2 FG%|
|3 Point %||37.5 3P%||37.2 3P%||39.4 3P%|
Between hopefully some better fortune in close games, LaVine entering the season fully healthy, and the offseason upgrades of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig, I do think the Bulls have the potential to exceed expectations. Even with all of that, what this will really come down to is each player playing their role at a high level. Whether that role is being a go-to scorer or being a defensive specialist, the Bulls need everyone to live up to what is expected of them. Let’s look at one thing each player can do to help the Bulls.
Zach LaVine – Shoot more 3s
As a joke, I thought about putting this for every player, I by no means put most of the blame for the Bulls being 30th in 3-point makes on LaVine. He attempted 7.1 3s per game last season, which was 30th in the NBA. Over the last 3 seasons, not many players have shot the 3 at the volume LaVine has at the percentage he has. This is a list of guys that have played in at least 100 games the last 3 seasons and have shot 39% or better on 7 or more 3s per game.
I love LaVine, but there’s no excuse for him not to be shooting 10+ 3-pointers in every game he plays, especially on a team that needs to drastically change their shot profile to be shooting more 3s. The team needs him to be among the league leaders in 3-point attempts.
DeMar DeRozan – Show Off His Playmaking More
The Bulls don’t have a true floor general type on their roster and haven’t since Lonzo Ball’s injury. Even the guys that play point guard tend to be better off the ball. This leads to DeRozan essentially being the point forward for the Bulls. The Bulls have missed many things that Lonzo provided, maybe most of all being his passing ability.
While DeRozan played for the Spurs in Coach Pops’ system, he showed some impressive passing skills and he averaged 6.9 assists per game in his final season for the Spurs. Despite his usage going up in Chicago over the last two seasons, he has topped out at 5.1 assists per game playing for the Bulls. Now it’s clear that the Bulls have done a better job maximizing DeRozan than the Spurs did in terms of DeRozan’s play.
He is at his best when he is operating in the midrange trying to get his own shot. I personally think a hybrid of DeRozan using his passing skills (Spurs DeRozan) and hunting his midrange shot out of isos (Bulls DeRozan) could help to fill the playmaking void this team has. Hopefully, the additions of Carter and Craig give him some better shooters to kick it out to when the defense swarms him in the midrange as well.
Nikola Vučević – Be More Consistent From 3
Vooch has been put in a tough spot by the Bulls. He is a capable 3-point shooter, especially for a center, but it’s clear that he doesn’t want to float around the 3-point line the whole time. He is a very solid high post player both as a passer and a midrange shooter.
The problem is, that is the area of the court that DeRozan likes to operate and the Bulls need Vooch out past the 3-point line for spacing. His 3-point shooting tends to be pretty streaky. Last season for the first 50 games, Vooch was shooting a very respectable 37% from 3. It’s nothing special but it’s enough to effectively space the floor for DeRozan to get into the midrange and for LaVine to have a few more lanes to get all the way to the rim.
Vooch then went on to struggle down the stretch with his shot from deep. He only shot 30% from 3 over the last 30 games. Vooch doesn’t need to be a 40% shooter from deep, but it would be a big help if he could hover around 37% for the entire season to help space the floor for a team that desperately needs it. He had a knack for hitting 3s in big moments for the Bulls last season, let’s hope he has a few more in him for this upcoming season.
Alex Caruso – Keep playing at an All-Defense Level
Caruso is an elite role player, one of the best in the league. In my opinion, he is the best perimeter defender in the league. His goal is maybe the most straightforward one I have, to do exactly what he did last season. Barring a solid jump from Coby White or Patrick Williams, I expect Caruso to continue to be the 4th best player on this team.
He is kind of injury prone which usually leads to the Bulls trying to manage his minutes. The Bulls partly brought in Jevon Carter to help lift the burden of carrying the Bulls’ defense on the perimeter off Caruso’s shoulders to an extent that will hopefully help keep Caruso healthy. Whether Caruso is starting or coming off the bench, I expect him to be on the court when it matters most for the Bulls.
Patrick Williams – Be more aggressive on offense
Patrick Williams took a very underrated leap on defense last season, and now the Bulls are hoping he takes a similar leap on offense. Williams has shown some flashes but has had a tough time fitting in with the Bulls’ ball-dominant players.
My hope is that he finds ways to up his 3-point volume and develop as a cutter and roller to the rim which would help him play with the starting group more. I would also love to see him attack the offensive glass more. With a semi-quiet offseason, it’s pretty clear that the Bulls are banking on him taking a leap.
Jevon Carter – Shoot a ton of 3s in transition
Many members of the coaching staff and front office have talked during the offseason about trying to play faster and get up more 3s. Carter was the biggest addition the Bulls brought in over the summer. I think a big reason why the Bulls targeted him was in the hope he could help the team in both of those areas.
Carter did a great job at getting up 3s in transition last year for the Bucks. I expect him to be a strong contender in the starting point guard competition. He’s not Lonzo Ball, but he can shoot from deep at a decent volume and a high percentage and can also guard multiple positions. He should be a great fit with LaVine in the backcourt.
Coby White – Continue to develop on defense
I wrote about Coby and this goal I have for him over the summer. It’s pretty simple, the Bulls had a strong offense when playing Coby with the trio of LaVine, DeRozan, and Vooch. The team finished 24th in offense last season.
There were some defensive concerns with those 4 guys playing together but the Bulls need to rely on it more this upcoming season and they need to rely on Coby to continue to improve on defense to make this possible.
Torrey Craig – Make the small-ball lineups work
Billy Donovan liked going to Derrick Jones Jr. as a backup center for moments last season. This allowed the team to play small ball and play a more switchy lineup and Jones Jr. showed some real skill at the dive man in pick and rolls despite his height. The Bulls let Jones Jr. walk in free agency and elected to pursue Torrey Craig instead.
It makes sense given what Craig showed as a shooter last season. If the Bulls want to get back to those small-ball lineups, they will have to rely on Patrick Williams and Craig to hold down the fort on the glass and make some plays out of the short roll when playing pick-and-roll with LaVine and/or DeRozan.
Ayo Dosumnu – Play with confidence
The last 2 seasons have followed a similar trend for Ayo. He gets off to a good start, hits a cold streak, loses confidence, starts passing up some shots, and then gets moved to the fringes of the Bulls’ rotation.
There’s even a good argument for Ayo’s best game last season being in the season opener vs the Heat. Ayo will probably start the season in a smaller role but the team needs him to shoot with confidence when the ball finds him.
Andre Drummond – Clean up the offensive glass
The Bulls were one of the worst teams in the league last season when it came to offensive rebounding. Some of this was semi-intentional between small ball lineups and a clear focus on transition defense. In my opinion, this should be Drummond’s main focus when he’s out there. He had some big moments in the Bulls’ play-in loss to the Heat by attacking the offensive glass and this is a clear area where Drummond can help and maybe even earn more minutes in doing so.
Dalen Terry – Command minutes with his play
The 18th pick in the 2022 draft hasn’t really given the Bulls a reason to put him in the rotation. Terry fits the model that the front office seems to like, a hustle guy who’s pretty good at defense but can’t shoot. Terry has some passing chops but the team needs him to develop on the offensive side of the court and to do so without getting many minutes. Definitely a difficult task. 2 seasons ago, Ayo Dosumnu entered the season on the fringes of the rotation, and even with limited minutes to start, Ayo made it hard for the coaching staff to not play him. I think the hope for Terry for this upcoming season should be the same.
Record Prediction: 43-39
I have shown optimism throughout the offseason and this season preview, I think LaVine entering the season off a healthy summer, the additions of Carter and Craig, and hopefully getting luckier in some tight games so that the Bulls can win a handful more games. I am predicting the team to go 43-39. There’s a solid chance that still isn’t good enough to get out of the play-in which could make for an interesting offseason even if the Bulls make the playoffs through the play-in, but I do think this team should be better than the 40-42 squad that was 1 win short of making the playoffs last season.