If you like red jerseys, you will love this season’s Chicago Bulls. Otherwise, there’s not a lot else to look forward to.
Since Jimmy Butler was moved on a couple of seasons ago, the Bulls have been out of contention and will continue to be in 2019-20.
It’s slow and painful for Chicago fans but it’s the right thing to do for a team that had frustrating years throughout Derrick Rose’s prime. Had the team been healthy they could have competed for a championship but, alas, the franchise needed to rebuild from the ground up.
There are a few good young pieces on the team sheet going into preseason, including Lauri Markkanen, the high flying Zach LaVine and incoming rookie, Coby White. And, most of the roster seem like good locker room guys that will probably fall in line under demanding head coach Jim Boylen.
It’ll be ugly, but die-hard fans should find some players they like and will want to support as they grow in the coming years.
General Manager Gar Forman and Vice President of basketball operations John Paxson had another incredible year of employment last season: They fired coach Fred Hoiberg 24 games into the season, hired replacement Jim Boylen (who almost caused his roster to revolt), finished the season 22-60 and they even paid Ömer Aşik $11 million and Carmelo Anthony $2.3m for some reason – neither of them played a game for the team last year.
The less said about the on-court product the better. Injuries damaged any level of consistency. Zach LaVine averaged 23 points in 62 games and was reasonably efficient doing so – showing that he is more than just a springy dunk machine. Lauri Markkanen continued to grow, though he too suffered with injury, averaging 18 and 9 in 52 games. Ryan Arcidiacono had a few fun performances and managed the highest number of games played at 81.
Outside of that, the storylines were mainly non-basketball related: The player revolt that never happened after new coach Boylen made them run suicides; the Leadership Committee that saw players invited on by the coach to help keep the peace; and trading for Otto Porter.
There are a handful of reasons for optimism in Chicago this year. Markkanen will continue to grow, Porter is a solid player that won’t want to take shots or points away from a star – he’ll do the dirty work that helps others shine – but the most interesting piece this season will be Tomáš Satoranský.
The point guard is the only reason the Washington Wizards even resembled an NBA franchise last year. Bradley Beal is a superstar in the making, but without Satoranský, that squad would not have reached 30 wins.
There are also some exciting young prospects in rookie Coby White, second-year big Wendell Carter Jr, and an underrated young center in Luke Kornet. The only players with more than five years of experience are Porter and Thaddeus Young, so it will fall to them to guide the younger crowd and help Zach LaVine become a leader.
If LaVine can raise his game from just being a trigger-happy dunking spectacle, there could be a solid balance to this young unit.
1. Point Guard Battle
The back-up point guard battle will be interesting. Who will support Satoranský each night: White or Arcidiacono? On top of that, there is the perennial project that is Kris Dunn – will he ever figure things out to book a regular starting spot anywhere? And the likes of Denzel Valentine and Shaquille Harrison will be itching to be out on the floor and show what they can do. There are a lot of players looking to take on the point role, but at the moment it is Satoranský’s to lose.
2. Will Zach LaVine become a leader?
Can LaVine mature into an elite player? He is entering his fifth year and has largely been viewed as a bad defending chucker, but many feel like there is more to his game. His career shooting percentages are solid, and he has the tools to be a good defender, but carrying the load as a leader on a team might be too much for the strong wing, and perhaps Boylen is better off trying to make Markkanen the leading light for this squad, with LaVine playing the Robin role.
3. Could this team make the playoffs?
That final playoff spot might just be reachable. With the Wizards likely to miss the postseason again this year as well as the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets all set to definitely miss the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls might put together enough wins for a final spot. Just for clarification, I am refusing to say Chicago will make it, but if enough things go wrong for the likes of the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers (without Victor Oladipo), Brooklyn Nets (without Kevin Durant)… each of these teams might lose a game or two extra on top of last season, which the Bulls could pick up. On the outside looking in will likely be the Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks.
Lauri Markkanen | 18.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.4 apg
The Finnisher needs to begin this season like he is the number one option. As a rookie, he showed the world that an NBA team could be built around him in the future, and last season was frustratingly cut short in March. But now is the time to make the team his own.
Averaging nearly 19 points and 9 rebounds last year, Markkanen proved he can score on decent shooting splits. There is some work to be done in the playmaking department, but he can also defend reasonably well and move laterally for a guy his size.
Otto Porter Jr. | 13.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.1 apg
Refreshed and re-energised from toiling away on the Washington Wizards, Otto Porter isn’t exactly in a better situation right now, but there is hope with this young team and he could be a good leader on it.
His defense will be welcomed, but Porter can also put the ball in the basket, averaging double figures easily every year since his sophomore season. He is also pretty durable, which will be required with the workload Jim Boylen is renowned for. Tom Thibodeau might be an exaggeration, but then again it might not.
Thaddeus Young | 12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
It feels like Thaddeus Young has been a solid veteran and a good presence around young players ever since he entered the league in 2007. He has played in more than 63 games each season, averaged more than 11 and 5 every year since he was a rook – and he has never caused a problem for any team.
He will probably play more power forward for this Chicago Bulls team, as there are a handful of young centers and wings already on the roster, but he is getting up there in age these days so should probably leave chasing around the talented small forwards to the likes of Porter and Lavine.
Tomáš Satoranský | 8.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.0 apg
If you aren’t aware of what Satoranskýachieved with the Washington Wizards last season, you might be more familiar with how he lifted the Czech Republic team at the FIBA World Cup over the summer.
Averaging 15.5 points with 5.6 rebounds and 8.6 assists (the latter being the second-best in China), Satoransky pushed Czechia to a sixth-place finish.
If he can help this team in a similar way, we might see the Bulls crack 35 wins, and in the East, where it only takes 39 to challenge for a spot in the playoffs most years, we could see Chicago cause a few issues for other playoff hopefuls.
Zach LaVine | 23.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg
Since his days in Minnesota, LaVine has excited crowds with dunks but there have always been questions about his teamwork and ability to expand his skill set.
Last season he added 7 points to his scoring average while averaging a career-best 46 percent from the field and a solid 37 percent from three-point land. He also averaged the best rebounds, assists, steals and blocks of his career. So everything is heading in the right direction. He just needs to do it on a winning team.