The Chicago Bulls have made a lot of changes since former Nuggets’ GM Arturas Karnisovas took over as VP of Basketball Operations in 2020. After suffering through the GarPax era, Bulls fans have had a sigh of relief watching Karnisovas go to work.
Chicago finished 11th in the East a season ago with a record of 31-41 but obviously made many changes since. Headlined by Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls’ offseason definitely make them an interesting team entering the 2021-2022 season.
While there seems to be a lot of excitement from Bulls fans, it doesn’t seem like Chicago is getting much respect elsewhere. The Bulls are 20th in ESPN’s Preseason Power Rankings and 15th on the NBA’s Power Rankings.
Better Defense Than Given Credit
The big hole that most people see in the Bulls is their defense. The narrative that the Bulls need to improve defensively in order to make the playoffs is wrong. Chicago was right in the middle of the pack last year in regards to scoring, giving up 111.6 PPG (14th in the NBA). If they stay in that ‘middle of the pack’ region, they’re more than good enough offensively now to win 45-50 games.
Additionally, Billy Donovan has never had a team ranked outside the top-15 in defensive rating during his six years as a head coach. That includes last years’ Bulls team who finished 12th.
Obviously the Bulls will still look to improve from last year’s defense and I think the they will. Alex Caruso coming off the bench will provide a defensive-minded guard that they’ve been missing. Caruso ranks so high in some metrics, it may shock some people.
According to fivethirtyeight’s overall defensive RAPTOR, Caruso was the top-ranked guard and finished eighth overall a season ago. To prove the RAPTOR’s legitimacey – DPOY Rudy Gobert came in as the top-ranked player along with Joel Embiid and Clint Capela both in the top-five.
Caruso, who will be rotating in for Ball – is another upgrade for the Bulls defensively. At 6’6 Ball is very-lengthy for his position, on top of his athletic ability. Through his first four years in the league, Ball has averaged 1.5 steals a game.
The last major key for the Bulls on defense will be Patrick Williams. Entering his second season, Williams played a big role for Chicago in his rookie season and will play another this year. His physicality and rebounding as an undersized forward will be critical for the Bulls’ success. Williams was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team last year averaging 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals a game.
Importance Of Vucevic
The trade for Nikola Vucevic has seemed to be forgotten about with the other new additions in Chicago. Vucevic has been one of the most underrated players the past few seasons. Being hidden in Orlando doesn’t help but he’s been one of the league’s best big men for a few years now.
Vucevic has averaged a double-double in each of his last three seasons, averaging nearly 20 points and 11 rebounds. A season ago Vucevic had his best year in route to his second All-Star selection.
The 6’11 center averaged 23.4 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 3.6 APG while shooting 47.7% from the field, 40% from three, and 84% from the free throw line. It’s hard to ignore a stat line like that.
Granted, Vucevic won’t be asked to carry the same load he was in Orlando because of the talent level. The big man being a threat from anywhere on the floor opens up guys like Lavine and DeRozan. Don’t be surprised at all to his see his numbers decline because of this. However, that can’t be a reflection of his importance to this team.
Top Five In The East?
The Bulls have a tough rough ahead of them in a competitive Eastern Conference. Outside of Brooklyn and Milwaukee however, I don’t see any teams that are much better than Chicago. Of course Miami, Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia will be right there behind the top two, but I see the Bulls fitting in that same category.
After how aggressive Chicago was in the offseason, there’s no doubting the importance of this season for the Bulls. Zach Lavine has even acknowledged it himself during the preseason.
“This season going forward is going to be extremely crucial not just for me but for everybody,” Lavine said during an interview with ESPN. “Winning would take care of everything.”
Lavine who’s just got better every year, had a career year in 2020-2021. While shooting 50% from the field, Lavine averaged a career-high 27.4 PPG. Now with more help by his side, Lavine and the Bulls could be a sneaky contender in this year’s Eastern Conference.