Bulls

Inconsistent Season Makes for Important Offseason in Chicago

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With the 2021 NBA playoffs underway, the Chicago Bulls have an early vacation for the fourth-straight season.

Finishing with a 31-41 record, the Bulls’ season did not go the way some had planned. With talented pieces already inside the building, it is time for those to step up and get the Bulls back to contention. The 2021 offseason should be an eventful one, and Artūras Karnišovas should be ready to strike if the opportunity presents itself.

First Season Under Their Belt

Coming into the season, fans were excited to see the new-look Bulls. With a new front office and Billy Donovan at the helm, Bulls’ fans were eager for new change.

Donovan gave the Bulls a new voice– something that players were in dire need of. He brought experience and instructional leadership to Chicago in a spot they were missing.

Though having done successful leadership job in year one, Donovan still showed coaching flaws. Lineups throughout the season were head-scratching at times, and fans often questioned the development of the Bulls’ youngest players. Coby White was thrown into a traditional starting-point-guard role while never actually playing the position before. Zach LaVine was often paired with the younger guys, while having more success with the veterans.

The Bulls chose to throw their guys into the mix right away and to a learn-as-they-go approach. As the season went on, it was clear the young guys were still a step behind the veterans in terms of impact.

Karnišovas made his first big splash at the trade deadline when he acquired Nikola Vučević from the Orlando Magic. Vučević averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists with his new club. Though paying a price that included the Bulls’ protected 2021 first-round pick, Vučević gave the Bulls a No. 2 option to pair with their other all-star.

The trade gave life into a city that was gasping for hope, showing they weren’t afraid to make change when needed.

A Star Is Born

Zach LaVine has had his fair share of doubters in his first few seasons in Chicago. This season, he made it a point to turn the minds of those. After a career year across the board, LaVine certainly has given Chicago the star they hoped for when trading for him.

LaVine averaged 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, while shooting 57.1% from the field, 41.9% from three and 84.9% from the free-throw line. LaVine ranked 24th in the NBA among those playing at least 30 minutes per game in player efficiency rating, with 21.62.

Though LaVine was more engaged defensively this season, he still has his question marks on that end. His defensive rating was the second highest of his career at 113.5. While numbers may not be on his side defensively, consistent effort was the most he has shown. He was more inclined to take on different challenges and gave the Bulls respectable effort.

Rookie Growing Pains

Patrick Williams‘ rookie season showed his potential, but also the growth that he needs to take. Luckily for the Bulls, Williams is 19 years old and growing pains come with inexperience.

Williams averaged 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He also flashed an impressive mid-range and three point game, shooting a respective 41.6% and 39.1% from both. As a result of his strong three-point percentage, he finished sixth among rookies who attempted more than 50 three pointers.

Defensively, Williams was asked to defend the best wing the opponent offered. Guarding guys like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard on most nights was an eye-opener for Williams. With these challenges, he struggled at times, but also gained valuable lessons and experience he can use in the future.

The one shortcoming with Williams, like most rookies, is consistency. At times he was great, but never seemed to put many stretches together in terms of games. Averaging just 7.4 field-goal attempts per game, Williams often went times throughout games where you couldn’t tell he was on the floor.

With more games under his belt and gained confidence, Williams showed the signs of a starter in this league. In the second-to-last game of the season, Williams scored 24 points while bringing in five rebounds. Though his rookie season may not be everything some expected, the potential is there for the Bulls’ 2020 first-round pick.

Bulls’ Struggling Point-Guard Play

Prior to the season, Coby White was put into a role of being a playmaking point guard, something that he hasn’t had to do before. At times, he showed he was capable of the role. Many times, however, White proved his best role was a shot-creating one, the same one that got him drafted 7th overall in 2019.

Averaging 15.1 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds, White took a leap in the statistical department. In his playmaking department, White struggled gaining consistency in his ability to make those around him better. While on the floor, the Bulls’ offensive rating was 111.2, compared to 113.0 when White was off the floor. With a veteran point guard like Tomáš Satoransky taking the reins as the lead guard, the Bulls’ offensive rating was up from 111.5 to 112.5.

With Satoransky being 30 years old next season and having a partially guaranteed contract this offseason, it’s safe to say he is not the long-term answer.

So the question remains, who is?

Could Lonzo Ball be a possibility?

Lonzo Ball is a popular answer among Bulls’ fans, and rightfully so. The 23-year-old is coming off a career year with the Pelicans where he averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Having shot 37.8% from deep, Ball has revamped his jump shot from the unorthodox release we all saw just a few years ago.

Though his numbers are similar to White’s, the Pelicans were 4.2 points better offensively when Ball was on the floor. Ball’s best asset is his playmaking ability, something the Bulls are lacking from the lead guard spot. The addition of Ball would give the Bulls a true point guard who can run the offense, while allowing White to shift to more of an off-the-ball role. With an expected contract in the $20-24 million range, the Bulls would need to do some shifting of the roster to get a chance at Ball hoping on board next season.

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Reunion in Chicago?

Dennis Schröder may be another option for the Bulls, should they look to make a splash this summer. The Laker guard has experience with Billy Donovan from their times in Oklahoma City, so the Bulls would be knowing what they’re getting. Schröder gives the Bulls a shot-creating guard who would also be an upgrade defensively.

Numbers wise, Schröder is pretty much identical to White. He averages 15.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. The price tag for Schröder would be a hefty one, considering he reportedly declined a four-year, $84 million extension with the Lakers. To pay this money for a guy who averages similar numbers to White may be a long-shot, and one Karnišovas is unlikely to take.

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Decisions, Decisions

If anything should be expected right now, it’s that this offseason will be a busy one for the Bulls. Daniel Theis, Garrett Temple, Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felício are all unrestricted free agents, while Lauri Markkanen, Javonte Green, Adam Mokoka and Devon Dotson are restricted free agents. To free up cap space, the Bulls may look to move the partially guaranteed contracts of Thaddeus Young and Tomáš Satoransky.

No matter what is done this offseason, the Bulls’ core pieces need to make strides to compete. Two all-stars are in the locker room, along with multiple top-ten picks. This season was a mixed bag for the Bulls, who flashed signals about their potential together.

Now it’s about adding to the pieces the Bulls already have to assist in their efforts of playing into June.

Follow us on Twitter @BullsLead for the latest Bulls news and insight. 

About Tim Houlihan

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