by Will Dancer / Staff Reporter
In a perfect universe, the Chicago Bulls would appear to be promising ahead of the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season. A young squad that seems to have found its franchise player in Zach LaVine, as well as a new and healthy slew of wing players to help space the floor, it would not be unreasonable for Chicago fans to expect something substantial from them coming out of a much weaker Eastern Conference. A winning record? Maybe. Playoffs? Possibly. Conference Finals? Doubtful. However, the hype that fans held onto at the beginning of last season, before injuries took away those hopes, can be reinstated, albeit with some serious caveats.
With Kawhi Leonard taking his talents to Los Angeles, the Toronto Raptors are no longer a threat for any deep playoff run. With Kevin Durant probably sidelined for the entire 2019-2020 season with his Achilles, the Brooklyn Nets do not appear truly capable of going anywhere either. The Boston Celtics are not nearly the threat they were before without Kyrie Irving, which leaves the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks as the clear frontrunners to come out of the East. This seems to be the closest to a perfect universe the Bulls are going to get.
With outlier Eastern teams like the Indiania Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat also trying to make their mark on the conference, if the Bulls are looking for immediate playoff success, they won’t have an easy time with it. However, if the Bulls are being realistic and just plan on “getting their feet wet”, I don’t see why this couldn’t be an exciting season of growth and development for them and their fans. And, if things are somehow working out better than expected by the trade deadline, it would behoove the team’s GM to try and add that final missing piece.
That being said, the emphasis for the Bulls should be on improving their already established talent, and their newly acquired draft and free agent players. Barring any injuries, the former seems more than possible.
With the seventh overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls selected point guard Coby White out of North Carolina University. This was an interesting move for the team considering that Kris Dunn appeared to be their point guard for the future after he was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017.
Dunn, along with much of the unit, suffered nagging injuries last season, only playing 46 games. However, he did start 44 of those, so the question remains over what his level of involvement may be at that point guard spot now that White is on the roster. I could see either scenario of him starting or coming off the bench, but the Bulls could be looking to make a bigger splash with their number seven pick.
Additionally, to give them even more options, the Bulls also signed guard Tomas Satoransky, a man who often plays at the point guard position. He posted up 15.5 points, 8.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per 100 possessions last year with the Washington Wizards. If Chicago is truly in win-now mode, Satoransky is the most established player to handle duties at the point guard position.
A solid scoring and distributing point guard is one of the Bulls’ most glaring weaknesses, so it is currently up in the air as to who will contribute the most in order to keep their shooters shooting. But, with four potential point guards on the roster, I can’t help but think someone’s potential is going to be squandered. If that person is Dunn, then his future on the team may be in question. If that person is White, then why did they draft him? I am assuming they will wait and see how he produces once pre-season begins, but he could very well be a great six man off the bench to help facilitate the ball in faster-paced schemes once the regular season begins.
With their 38th overall pick, they selected power forward Daniel Gafford out of Arkansas. Standing at 6’11, he showed signs of becoming a decent shot blocker and rim protector as well as a talented inside scorer. In the upcoming season, head coach Jim Boylen will most likely try to use him as a big body against longer wing scorers.
Another significant addition to the roster was the singing of power forward Thaddeus Young. A solid 3-and-D guy, he is mostly here to give the Bulls some much needed defensive prowess if Gafford isn’t producing or receiving much playing time. His spot-up three-point ability falls in line with the team’s overall identity, and he looks to give the Bulls some more size and experience coming off the bench.
The biggest question mark for the Bulls defense is the development of center Wendell Carter Jr. Drafted in 2018, he only played 44 games his rookie season due to a lingering thumb injury. When he did play, he was decent enough, adding 10.3 points and seven rebounds with 1.3 blocks per game. Now, things are different as Chicago is expecting instant production from the sophomore big. Carter Jr. definitely has the size and strength to become a threat down low, but the team’s acquisition of some other defense-oriented players suggests that they want to keep their options open should he sustain another injury or fails to produce on the court.
The biggest question mark for the Bulls offensively will be reintegrating Otto Porter Jr into the lineup. Playing only 15 games last season while making more than $26 million, he must stay healthy, and should also take a back seat to LaVine. While there is concern about both over them over-dribbling, Porter Jr works so much better as a spot-up shooter, which would allow LaVine to attack the basket, giving him the option to kick the ball out to either Porter Jr or Markkanen. I can imagine a worst-case-scenario where Porter Jr.’s increased minutes leads him to start stepping on LaVine’s toes, so to speak. I think it will take a month or so for them to really start understanding each other.
On paper, this team should be good. On paper, they should have been better last year. However, last year could be nothing more than just a fluke. This is a team where everyone’s roles seem to be clearly defined. Besides the point guard situation, the team’s core seem to be an offensive nightmare for opposing teams. Yet, there still remains too many question marks. This team is still very much new to one another, and in terms of playing on an actual NBA court, things will need time to click. Either way, the young talent here will eventually prove whether or not last year’s success was just a fluke.
Projected starting lineup: Satoransky/LaVine/Porter Jr/Markkanen/Carter Jr
Projected win-loss: 37-45