2017-18 Preview: Chicago Bulls

By Bryan Crawford #26

“Welcome to basketball hell.”

That very well could be Chicago’s tagline as opposed to the official “Run With Us,” which serves as a call to action for fans to embrace and support the team’s decision to do a full rebuild after a run of being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. With Jimmy Butler being traded on draft night, and Dwyane Wade—clearly desiring to play for a competitor—agreeing to a buyout on the eve of training camp, the roster has now been completely overturned, giving head coach Fred Hoiberg a clean slate to work with. Unfortunately, cleaning house also means that the Bulls are guaranteed one of the worst teams in basketball, as well as the entire League.

Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine Paul Zipser Robin Lopez, Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio
Newcomers Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday
Gone Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams, Isaiah Canaan Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Morrow, R.J. Hunter Joffrey Lauvergne
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The Bulls will trot out a starting unit that will feature Nikola Mirotic as the most likely candidate to be the team’s No. 1 option on offense. Mirotic has yet to show why he was the player the organization had coveted for so long coming out of Serbia, but with the removal of strong personalities in Wade and Butler—who often used the media to take subliminal shots at Mirotic last season—Mirotic should thrive in a featured offensive role. Jerian Grant will likely be the Bulls starting point guard and Kris Dunn will back him up, but the hope is that Dunn (part of the package for the Butler deal to Minnesota) could rebound from a disastrous rookie campaign. Chicago’s front office coveted Dunn coming out of last year’s draft (Dunn was the No. 5 pick), and he’ll have ample opportunity to prove he belongs in the League playing on a team with no expectations. Justin Holiday will hold down a starting spot until Zach LaVine returns from his torn ACL, while Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis should round out the frontcourt. Like the starters, the Bulls reserves don’t inspire much confidence either. Denzel Valentine should be the first player off the bench, followed by Paul Zipser. It should be interesting to see how Hoiberg incorporates Finnish rookie Lauri Markkanen, whom the Bulls traded up to draft at No. 7 out of Arizona. All told, don’t expect the Bulls to score a lot of points this season, but you can look forward to a more uptempo style of play, something Hoiberg has been trying to implement since arriving in Chicago.

Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: Once considered the stiffest defense in the NBA, under Hoiberg, Chicago has become less than formidable on that side of the floor. If we’re being honest, this season the Bulls defense has a chance to be one of the most porous in the entire League. Rim protection will be almost nonexistent as Lopez and Cristiano Felicio, Chicago’s lone true centers, don’t exactly give opponents pause when it comes to attacking the basket. Things get even worse on the perimeter. Mirotic hasn’t shown an ability, nor a desire to guard at his position. Neither has Bobby Portis, Grant or Dunn. And when he returns to action, LaVine has never had the reputation of being a strong defender either. With such a young team, there will be many growing pains on defense throughout the season. And with Hoiberg still somewhat inexperienced and not having a reputation for being a defense first coach, it’s not unrealistic to think that opposing squads will relish playing Chicago this season.

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: As with any young and inexperienced squad, the hope is that given minutes and opportunities to play through mistakes, certain players will have an opportunity to blossom and be the best version of themselves as they can. However, with these Bulls, such a scenario could be viewed as unlikely, if recent history is any example. Under Hoiberg, Chicago’s young players haven’t shown any development that should give fans confidence that they will eventually meet or exceed their potential. Portis and Feliciano both have shown signs of regression, while Denzel Valentine, who was player of the year in the Big Ten and NCAA during his senior season at Michigan State, had trouble cracking the rotation as a rookie. It remains to be seen just how good this young group can be going forward, and there is sure to be lots of bumps, bruises and growing pains along the way.

Durability: If there’s one thing you can count on from the Chicago Bulls is that eventually, someone is going to get hurt. This has been an unfortunate truth going back several seasons and there seems to be no end in sight. Many pundits—including this one—suggested that had Rajon Rondo not broken his thumb last year in the playoffs, the Bulls could’ve pulled a shocking upset over the No. 1 seeded Boston Celtics, a feat that has only happened five times in the NBA since 1994, and just three times since the League adopted the seven-game format for all playoff series in 2003. Of course, injuries are never something you want to see, but it seems this is a bug the Bulls haven’t been able to shake.

Synergy: With the roster being completely turned over, it’ll be a while before these young guys learn to play with one another and perform like a well-oiled machine. Until that happens, expect to see a lot of on-court mishaps and general bad basketball from this squad during the 2017-18 campaign. This certainly isn’t to paint a doomsday scenario for diehard Bulls fans, but learning how to play together takes time, and the overwhelming majority of those on Chicago’s roster have barely gotten their feet wet in the League. So expectations of this group should certainly be tempered this season.

Experience: There are only two players on the roster with more than five years of NBA experience, and one of them hasn’t played any meaningful basketball—or any basketball at all—for the last two years (Quincy Pondexter). This leaves Lopez, Holiday and Mirotic as the most experienced players on the Bulls roster. There isn’t a whole lot of veteran leadership on this team and, if you count the head coach, everybody on the squad is kind of just learning as they go, which shouldn’t elicit much confidence or hope this season.

Win Frame: 12-18 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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