Bulls

New Bulls Won’t Take Your Bullsh*t

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The Chicago Bulls have flipped things around this season and sit atop the Eastern Conference at our first checkpoint.

Their first 4-0 start to a season since 1996-97, the Bulls have their first four-game win streak since winning seven straight in December 2017.

They are really looking like formidable contenders– finally putting the missing pieces into the puzzle.

Roster Changes

Since Zach LaVine was traded to Chicago from Minnesota in 2017, he’s been tasked with being the team’s main option. With how the Bulls were performing, the lack of assistance was primed to drive him out of Chicago. Since the trade deadline last season, however, the Bulls have made significant roster changes — most notably adding Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — to provide the necessary assistance.

And my-my-my, have they gelled together.

 

DeRozan Brings Much-Needed Offensive Punch

DeRozan is one of the best offensive players in the game and one of the best mid-range shooters ever. He helps diversify the offense with his Kobe Bryant back-to-the-basket style, step-back jumper or his Jordan-esque finishes at the rim. He’s known for his scoring, but is a very unselfish teammate as well.

His three-season stint in San Antonio showed how great a passer he is, too, where he posted the best assist averages of his career (6.2, 5.6, 6.9).

Hell, he’s even shooting a career-high from three (37.5%) through four games.

Lonzo Adds Versatility

Ball has received an abundance of criticism over his career because people made him out to be the next Magic Johnson without letting the man carve out his own name.

He would be a great addition to any offense, orchestrating with his distribution (5.0 assists), spreading the floor (career-high 43.3% from three), and defending (2.0 steals & 1.8 blocks, both career highs). He’s an extremely willing passer that will ensure everyone gets touches and that the ball keeps moving to make the opposition work for stops.

Lonzo is the perfect point guard to slot alongside two scoring wings like LaVine and DeRozan.

Caruso Supplies the Grit

Alex Caruso was pivotal to the Lakers’ success in the playoffs leading to a championship in 2020. Having a chip on his shoulder as an undrafted player, he’s worked extremely hard and proved his value defensively, hence his 3.3 steals per game. He doesn’t take plays off and has learned to contribute offensively as well (8.0 points).

He’s the perfect bench guard where you know what and who you are getting each night out.

Furthermore, these guys are having fun together. There’s no selfish play with an abundance of ball movement and trust amongst the fellas.

Statistically Different

Offense

First, let’s take a deep dive into the statistics so far this season for the ‘Big 5’:

  • LaVine : 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists (FG 50.0%, 3PT 44.4%, FT 95.2%)
  • DeRozan: 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists (FG 41.9%, 3PT 37.5% [career high], FT 83.3%)
  • Ball: 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.8 blocks (FG 45.7%, 3PT 43.3%, FT 100%)
  • Vucevic: 14.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.3 blocks (FG 39.7%, 3PT 21.4%, FT 67%)
  • Caruso: 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.3 steals (FG 50.0%, 3PT 66.7%, FT 88.9%).

Chicago ranks extremely well amongst the league offensively. It’s very much due to these new acquisitions to the roster.

  • PPG (20th)107.5, 112 in last three, which is 10th; Last season (21st) 110.7; expect to increase
  • FG% (10th)46.5%, 47.6% in last three, which is 5th; Last season (9th) 47.6%; expect to increase
  • 3PT% (3rd)42.3%, 45.7% in last three, which is 1st; Last season (12th) 37%
  • FT% (3rd) — 86.4%; Last season (11th) 79.1%

PPG is due to increase as the team gels and the season progresses. Not only has the offense improved– the Bulls are showing to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Defense

One would think with the pieces added that the offense would solely be improved. Ball and Caruso, however, have reputations of getting it done on the other end, too.

Here’s the Bulls’ broadcast team breaking down the team’s impressive aggressive defense so far this season.

As you can see, they are not just trying to stop their man. They are jumping in passing lanes using active hands to get steals and helping over for weak-side blocks. When guarding their man, they impose a presence by lunging in the driving lane to attack the ball.

Here’s a short clip of Ball’s defensive plays in one game.

His defensive IQ is off the charts.

LaVine’s experience in the Tokyo Olympics helped him realize how great he can be on the defensive end, too.

Chicago’s all-around defensive statistics have improved significantly to start this year.

  • Opponent PPG (4th) — 97.5; Last season (12th) — 111.6
  • Opponent FG% (10th) — 43.7%; Last season (23rd) — 47.3%
  • Two-point % (7th) — 48.9%; Last season (23rd) — 54.1%
  • Three-point % (8th) — 33.0%; Last season (7th) — 35.6%
  • SPG (4th) — 10.2; Last season (28th) — 6.7
  • BPG (6th) — 6.5; Last season (27th) — 4.2

We’re only four games in, but MAN. I-M-P-A-C-T.

Needed Improvements/Adjustments

Vucevic’ Shooting Woes

With LaVine, DeRozan, Ball and Caruso getting all the attention, Vucevic is the odd man out. They need his dominance to beat the elite teams. As stated above, he’s only shooting 39.7% from the field, but disturbingly only 21.4% from three. He shot a career-high 40% from three last year and is a solid floor-spacer, shooting 35.6% for his career. He will need to be a dual threat from inside-out to open up the for the rest of the team, especially Patrick Williams.

Williams Needs an Offensive Role

Williams was drafted primarily for his defensive prowess. Still, he seems to have regressed offensively so far with his field-goal attempts per game dropping from 7.4 to 4.5 and his points from 9.2 to 6.8.

YES, before you interrupt, I know what y’all will say: “they’ve added DeRozan and Ball who are taking some of those shots away.”

And that may be true. He doesn’t need to average 20 PPG, but low double digits would suffice so it doesn’t feel like it’s four-on-five offensively. Williams can hit the long ball, shooting  39.1% last season (1.9 attempts/game). Coach Billy Donovan could consider slotting him as a slasher off flex-screens and hard diving to the paint for easy baskets.

No need to be shy Pat– be a bit more involved and aggressive.

Obtaining a Backup Big Man

To contend in the NBA, you need all-around depth. When Vucevic is off the floor, who’s a serviceable center the Bulls can rely on? The only other center they have is Tony Bradley. Expect Chicago to dip their toes in the trade or buyout market as the season progresses.

White Still Hasn’t Played

Coby White has been a big part of the rotation the last two seasons. Last season, he averaged 15.1 points (35.9% 3PT), 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s rehabbing from an injury and his future with the team remains up in the air. The still-young guard will fortify the backcourt bench unit alongside Caruso with spreading the floor and putting up points, but he could be used as an asset to obtain a piece– like another big man.

Plenty Of Optimism

Chicago should have no problem making the playoffs as they finally have the talent to compete with the rest of the league. It would mark Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball’s first postseason appearances and an exciting one with this fun team.

Now it’s only four games, but the team is as GOOD as advertised– past seasons may see a .500-or-below start. We’ll see if they can back up their strong start with their upcoming stretch of the Knicks, Jazz, Celtics, 76ers (twice) and Nets. Four of six will be at home but will be a nice challenge to test their legitimacy.

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

About Corey Randall

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