2018-19 Preview: Chicago Bulls

After hovering right around the .500 mark through his first two years as the head coach (83-81), Fred Hoiberg’s Chicago Bulls found themselves in the lottery during this past June’s draft following a 27-55 season in 2017-18 that actually had moments of promise along the way. Lauri Markkanen, reportedly out 6-8 weeks due to a sprained right elbow, earned a spot on the 2017-18 All-Rookie First Team and was definitely one of the team’s bright spots.

PG Kris Dunn was also very impressive in a second year that was essentially a total reversal from his rookie campaign. Dunn looked like a completely different player in Hoiberg’s system as he turned in significant improvements in just about every statistical category.

Dunn remains a terror on the defensive end, but the progress he made on the offensive end was definitely noticeable. Another step forward in that department and Chicago could be in business. Adding Jabari Parker’s scoring capabilities in his return to his hometown, a seemingly fully healthy Zach LaVine after two injury-riddled seasons and the potential of this year’s seventh overall pick in Wendell Carter Jr. and the Bulls may find themselves on the rise once again.

Whether they wind up back in the playoff mix they last enjoyed in 2016-17, they (at the very least) appear to have a great deal of potential.

2018-19 Bulls Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Justin Holiday Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, Cristiano Felicio
Newcomers Derrick Walton, Rawle Atkins Jabari Parker, Antonius Cleveland, Chandler Hutchison, Kaiser Gates Wendell Carter Jr.
Gone Jerian Grant Sean Kilpatrick, David Nwaba, Quincy Pondexter, Paul Zipser  Noah Vonleh
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The Bulls were just 28th in offensive efficiency (number of points a team scores per 100 possessions) and 29th in Effective field goal percentage (measures field goal percentage factoring in three-point shots being worth 50 percent more than two-point field goals) in 2017-18.

LaVine led last year’s squad in scoring (16.7 PPG), and will likely form a nice tandem alongside Parker this season. Both players are on similar paths; Parker and LaVine were products of the 2014 NBA Draft with sky-high potential, whose career trajectory changed with ACL injuries (in Parker’s case, two of them). Both players appear to be fully healthy and either of them could produce 20-25 points on a given night.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Once Markkanen returns into the fold, the Bulls could have a drastically improved offensive attack. Markkanen made 145 three-point shots as a rookie and shot 36.2 percent on 5.9 attempts per contest. After reportedly putting on as much as 20 pounds of muscle following a productive offseason, Markkanen seems poised to validate and improve upon a rookie year some were surprised to see.

After those three Bulls, points will be scare. Justin Holiday is a high-volume, but average shooter from deep. Dunn’s value is primarily on defense. The rotation of bigs—Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Bobby Portis—are more mop-up guys on offense. First round pick Carter does have the ability to grow his game, but not much is expected offensively from the young big.

Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: The defensive end remains a challenge for a Bulls team that ranked 28th in Defensive Efficiency last year. Losing guys like Nwaba certainly won’t help that cause, but Chicago cannot get much worse than allowing opponents to shoot 54.2 percent (Effective Shooting Percentage) like they did last season. The coaching staff’s greatest challenge may ultimately be in changing the team’s mindset or approach on this end.

While there may be a prevailing thought amongst some of the players that defense isn’t as important as the offensive side, this staff is simply going to have to figure out methods to inspire an equal amount of attention and focus dedicated to that end of the court.

Dunn is the bright spot on the perimeter. His length and desire puts him at the top of the Bulls’ first line of defense. The Bulls big men are all active defenders, but none are what you would classify as rim protectors. Once again, an eye should be kept on Carter. The incoming rook has shown good spring and anticipation as a shotblocker.

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: Dunn’s continued progress remains something to keep an eye upon, but this is a team with a ton of players that have shown promise or offered reasons to at least be cautiously optimistic. The aforementioned LaVine/Parker duo was marred by injury, but both players are still young and could recover to reach the heights that many had envisioned for them.

Carter Jr. was a dynamic player in his sole year at Duke, but arrives with all types of intrigue regarding his eventual fit and role at this level. He has a well-rounded skill set, but there are questions about which positions he will ultimately defend the most effectively since he played a lot of zone in college. Although there is promise with this team, the circumstances should still provide plenty of opportunities to work himself into the rotation, even as a rookie.

Durability: With Parker and LaVine playing just 82 and 71 games (respectively) over the last two seasons, those are the two obvious candidates to focus upon when it comes to durability; but they are far from the only ones with health concerns. Coach Hoiberg does seem to have some interchangeable parts to work with, so the desire would be to find a way to balance the workload and playing time in order to ensure or at least encourage and aid overall health. Even once Markkanen returns, it will be fun to see whether the staff decides to play rookie Carter alongside their sophomore phenom or in a secondary role.

Synergy: After turning over more than 40 percent of the roster in the offseason and adding guys that will likely be players of high consequence, these Bulls may take some time to develop any semblance of true synergy. Especially, when you consider the fact that Markkanen could be out until Christmas and they’ll still have to work him back into the mix. With that said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get such a relatively young and equally skilled roster to remain on the same page for this coaching staff. Organizations tend to have less patience with coaching regimes these days, so it will be one of the more engrossing storylines of the season to see how they handle the roster.

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Experience: Even with the summer additions, the Bulls still have the second-youngest roster with an average age of just 24.7 years old (per realgm.com). Being so young, they simply don’t have much to draw from. Greybeards like Lopez or even Asik may be able to provide some guidance along the way, but neither is expected to play big minutes and the reality is this team is in transition. Whether you call it a rebuild or youth movement, this is going to be a roster that is heavily reliant upon production from young players, which puts Hoiberg as the central figure this season in their development.

Win Frame: 35 to 40 wins