At the beginning of the year, many NBA fans had the realistic expectation that the Chicago Bulls would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. That expectation has yet to come to fruition. The Bulls are currently 13-18 and sit at 11th in the conference, an abysmal start. How did this happen?
The Bulls are a team that, on paper, should be top eight in the East at the very least. They have the talent in Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević, and more. Those three players have at least one All-Star appearance under their belt, and are respectively some of the better, if not some of the best players in the NBA.
Not to mention, the team has a good balance of what teams need to win. While those three are great pure scorers, Patrick Williams, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmo are all above-average defenders. Plus, veteran Andre Drummond was brought in over the summer to help with rebounding. Last year, the Bulls were in the top six, so how is it that they get worse after bringing in respectable players like Drummond and Goran Dragić?
The Bulls can certainly hold their own against teams, but it’s not enough to be elite. They’re currently 14th in defensive rating (112.3) and turnover percentage (14.4%), and 13th in effective field goal percentage (54.4%), middle-of-the-pack.
A glaring issue is the lack of offense. Chicago is 21st in offensive rating (110.9) and 18th in assist percentage (59.5%). The problem with the Bulls simply a lack of distribution. You can bring in great isolation scorers like LaVine and DeRozan, but how do you get those players to excel and win at the same time?
When watching a Bulls game, a noticeable issue towards the end of a game is the shot selection, and the inability to close. The Bulls recently won on a game-winning layup against the Atlanta Hawks, but if you watch the possession, the Ayo Dosunmo’s layup came off of an airball-fadeaway jumpshot.
In an earlier mathup against the New York Knicks, DeMar DeRozan drove to the basket multiple times in the final two minutes of the game, and turned the ball over driving into traffic.
Don’t get me wrong, these players can nail some tough shots on isolation possessions, but the final five minutes have to be better. The Bulls have lost eight games by six points or less so far, proving that late-game stretches matter the most. Just a four-game swing would put them into the top seven.
Now, there’s good news and bad news to tell Bulls fans. The good news is, there is a solution and these offensive struggles can be fixed. The bad news is, nobody knows when the solution is going to come back.
That’s right, the Bulls DESPERATELY need Lonzo Ball to come back. Ball was injured to start the season, and still has no timetable for his return. A player who has always struggled with injuries, Ball is extremely effective when healthy. Hailed for his playmaking, he averaged 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.8 steals last season. Ball has yet to see the floor because of a surgery he received over the summer, but has been noted to say he’s been seeing improvements during rehab. When he comes back, the Bulls offense can only get better.
With no timetable for his return, the Bulls will need to look for a true playmaker in the trade market. Kyle Lowry is the first name that comes to mind, and then other names follow such as Mike Conley and Fred VanVleet. The question is, does GM Marc Eversley want to give up assets for aging players on large contracts?
If Ball does return to Chicago soon enough, distributing to LaVine, DeRozan, and Vučević will be entertaining to watch. Those four plus Williams and his defense provide an elite starting lineup in the NBA. We actually saw a glimpse of this last season, however Ball played just 35 games. Expect the Bulls’ offensive statistics to shoot into the top twelve, maybe even top ten when Ball returns, and definitely expect them in the East’s top six once again.