As I mentioned a few times in previous posts, I think the Bulls have a few different options for their starting lineup this season. There’s some pros and cons that come with that. It’s good to have multiple guys capable of starting and it’s nice to be able to adjust your starting lineup to be matchup dependent, especially in the playoffs if the Bulls are able to make it there. It’s also not great that their young guys haven’t been able to separate themselves from some of the veteran role players that the team has brought in. It is also interesting because the Bulls made a switch in their starting lineup at the All-Star break, adding Alex Caruso and newly signed Patrick Beverly and removing Ayo Dosumnu and Patrick Williams, and the team played much better after making that change.
Jevon Carter was brought in during free agency as a clear replacement to Pat Bev and the team also signed veteran Torrey Craig who can also replicate some of what Pat Bev did well and has some more size which the team needs. The Bulls clearly kept Caruso coming off the bench so long in an attempt to keep him healthy and they got to a point where they needed to go all out to try to make the playoffs. So do the Bulls move Caruso back to the bench with a whole season in front of them or do they think the margin for error is so low that they need to roll the dice on Caruso’s health and start him opening night? The other side of that coin is Patrick Williams who played better coming off the bench. He showed really good chemistry with Coby White in bench units and is also kind of a rough fit with the Bulls’ 3 best players (LaVine, DeRozan, and Vooch) because all 4 of those guys like to operate in the mid-range. Williams taking a leap would be a real game changer for the Bulls, should they lean into that and start him or should they play it safe and keep him coming off the bench? It will be up to Billy Donovan to figure out an answer to all of these questions, at least to start the season. I thought it would be a good exercise to try to figure the potential starting lineups running through Donovan’s mind as we get closer to training camp starting.
I will have LaVine, DeRozan, and Vooch in all of these in an attempt to take this exercise seriously. I think the Bulls will start the season off with trying to manage Caruso and keep him healthy and I also think they will see if Patrick Williams can level up and become a better fit with LaVine, DeRozan, and Vooch with his shooting and ability to play as a screener improving. Carter would get the nod at point guard with Caruso coming off the bench. He is the best combination of shooting and defense the Bulls have at the position. The Bulls need to prioritize shooting around their top 3 players and Carter and Williams give them a decent shot at that. They both shot above 40% from 3 last season. Williams’ volume simply wasn’t there for it to matter a ton. The team needs him (and others to be fair) to raise his 3 point volume.
Trying to replicate the end of last season:
The Bulls finished the season 14-9 with Caruso and Beverly in the starting lineup. The team was 3rd in the NBA in net rating and 1st (!!!) in defense over that time. It’s hard to take anything that happens late in the season super seriously with many teams dealing with multiple injuries or blatant tank jobs (or both in some cases). I do think the Bulls were clearly better down the stretch and this lineup with Carter in the Pat Bev role would be a shot at replicating that play to an extent. I don’t think the Bulls are capable of being a top 3 team in the league over the course of an entire season, but I do think the Bulls can be a 5th or 6th seed in the East if things click for them like it did at the end of last season, this lineup might give them the best shot at doing that. I also think it’s pretty clear by the eye test and stats wise that the Bulls tend to play their best when Caruso is on the court creating chaos on defense and making well timed passes and cuts on offense.
Buying the young guys:
Coby White took a big step last season, if he has another step in him, there’s no reason why he can’t be a legit starting guard in this league. He is probably capable of starting for many teams as is, but his game is very similar to LaVine’s so it makes sense to keep Coby coming off the bench on the Bulls. Coby improved his defense and playmaking last season, if he is able to improve on both again, now all of sudden, he could be a much better fit with LaVine in the starting backcourt. I’ve brought this up a couple times but Coby and Patrick Williams played really well together last season, maybe the best way to get the most out of Williams as a starter is by also starting Coby. The Bulls don’t have any young players that look like future All-Stars at the moment. I think Coby and Patrick are their best shots at guys that could develop into “star role players”, by that I mean guys that are clear-cut starters or 6th men that can thrive off playing with stars and can still contribute to winning in a big way despite not making any All-Star teams. Both of those guys taking big steps could be what propels the Bulls past the play-in portion of the standings, maybe the Bulls should put their money where their mouth is with these young guys and start them right away.
Going with the vets
I think Caruso and Carter are interchangeable with this idea as the starting backcourt. This is similar to the idea of trying to replicate the success at the end of last offseason except with Torrey Craig getting the start. One potential reading of the Bulls playing better at the end of last season is that their young guys weren’t ready to contribute in a major way and playing veteran role guys is just better for this team. Craig is a smart passer, a really good defender, and he shot 39.5% from 3 last season. I think he can replicate a lot of what Pat Bev provided for the team. Craig would also add some beef to the Bulls’ starting lineup. It is common for teams to try to start bigger so Craig could be a better matchup for a lot of teams than trying to start 3 guards every game.
Committing to more shooting:
I have brought this up many times. The Bulls were dead last in 3 pointers made last season. This hampered the Bulls with many lineups that had poor floor spacing and a simple math problem of essentially starting most games down by 8-10 points just by the 3 point differential. The front office has stated many times throughout the offseason that the team will try to change its shot profile. Jevon Carter and Coby White are probably the second and third best 3 point shooters on the team behind Zach LaVine. The best way to fix the shot profile might be to play the three best 3 point shooters together early and often. This lineup isn’t super big and only really has one standout defender in Jevon Carter. This lineup would require that leap I was talking about earlier for Coby, but I think this lineup would be really good offensively and the Bulls need to play more lineups with legit upside on offense. The team finished 24th on offense last season.
The “Please no!”:
This was the starting lineup for the majority of last season. A season where a team that is supposedly in “win-now” mode, failed to make the playoffs. I don’t want to be too harsh. If Ayo Dosumnu and Patrick Williams improve their shooting and understanding of team defense concepts, this could be an effective 5 man lineup and even a solid option for the starting lineup. Having said that, this group struggled to be anything more than average last season. This 5 man lineup played by far the most minutes together on the team last season, more than twice as many minutes as the 2nd most minutes for a 5 man lineup. With 591 minutes played this lineup had a net rating of 0.4, almost the definition of average. One might argue the downfall of the season was not moving away from this starting lineup earlier than they did. I am a believer in Ayo and Patrick moving forward and both of them being better next season, but I do not want to see this team make the same mistakes they did last year. Ayo came into the league as an older rookie and didn’t progress in his second season in the league. He might just be who he is, which is a solid contributor off the bench. Nothing wrong with that. Patrick might also be a few years away from being able to shoot 3s at a high volume confidently, which would be fine, he has progressed nicely so far in his career in almost every area. I just don’t think these 5 are an awesome fit together because of the lack of floor spacing. If Ayo and Patrick can both take a leap in shooting, then sure, let’s see if this lineup can be better than it was last season, but I think one or both of them needs to prove their shooting to be legit while primarily playing in bench units first.
I’m a big believer in it’s more important to ask who closes the games rather than who starts the games in general, but I do think the Bulls have a smaller margin for error than they would probably like when it comes to meeting some of their goals. The Bulls need to start the season off well and not waste too much time trying to figure out the right 5 man combinations. The way I see it, it will come down to Coby White, Jevon Carter, Patrick Williams, Torrey Craig, and Alex Caruso on who gets the final two starting spots. Maybe Ayo has an outside shot but I doubt it. Whoever gets the nod needs to be ready for the moment. Whether the team goes with youth or veterans or some combination of both, the team will need those last two starters to play better than what they got from those roles last season.