The Chicago Bulls are entering Year 3 of their rebuilding project. What should be considered an encouraging season in 2019-20?
Looking solely at their record last season, 22-60, it’s easy to dismiss the Chicago Bulls as a team on the outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. After all, weren’t they one of the worst offensive teams in the league? Oh, and didn’t they rank near the bottom defensively?
So, not a great effort last year, right?
The issue with numbers is, while they might not lie, they don’t always tell the whole story.
Observing the numbers as a whole, you might miss the fact that Lauri Markkanen missed the first 23 games of last season with a severe elbow injury or rookie Wendell Carter Jr. missing the final 38 with a damaged thumb.
Not only was point guard Kris Dunn inconsistent, he too missed a large chunk of the season with injuries.
Or, you might miss the impact Otto Porter Jr. had once he came over from the Washington Wizards. Did you know that the Bulls played their best basketball with Porter in the lineup? He played like a man finally free to show the world his talent — and he did just that. In 15 games with Chicago, Porter posted 17.5 points per game – up from 12.6 in 41 games with the Wizards – and shot a blistering 48.8 percent from 3-point range.
The former Georgetown Hoya also had a positive impact on Zach LaVine. It’s no coincidence that the Bulls’ athletically gifted, if not much-maligned guard posted his best statistics with Porter spreading the court on the offensive end.
Oh, and we don’t even need to discuss the nightmare-ish beginning to head coach Jim Boylen’s tenure. The near-mutiny has been discussed enough.
What does all of this mean? Mostly that it’s time to bury the past where it lies and carry on with the present.
The present actually looks very good for the Chicago Bulls. It’s early of course — training camp is just beginning — but they are healthy.
Health is the most important ingredient in this recipe. The Bulls have playoff hopes this season, legitimate I might add, but they won’t sniff the postseason with the same injury woes that plagued them last season.
This team is loaded with talent, of their anticipated starters this season, all but Tomas Satoransky (32nd overall in 2012) were lottery picks. Of those, only LaVine was selected outside of the top-10. Dunn (fifth overall) will likely come off the bench with rookie Coby White, who was the seventh overall pick in June.
They’ll be even better if either Dunn, Satoransky or White can establish themselves with consistent point guard play.
Talent and health will help this team get to their proclaimed promised land, but is that all they need?
Perhaps a touch of reinvention will help Boylen achieve loftier results. The offense was quite unimaginative last season. The introduction of lead assistant Chris Fleming should help.
While with the Brooklyn Nets, Fleming helped the Nets surprise many with their playoff run – specifically aiding D’Angelo Russell and helping him become an All-Star in 2018-19. Fleming should stir up a vanilla Bulls offense, utilizing his offensive weapons in LaVine, Markkanen and Porter.
The Bulls might be echoing all the typical pre-season chatter these days, mostly that it’s playoffs or bust for 2020, but even if they miss the playoffs, they can still show progress in 2019-20.
We have to remember that this is still an extremely young team — remember Carter is still just 20-years-old and Markkanen is 22.
They just drafted their point guard of the future in White, but he hasn’t survived his teen years yet and won’t until February. The development of their core remains the most important next stepping stone for the organization. The Bulls should receive much-needed veteran help from newcomers Thaddeus Young and Satoransky, but the future success of the franchise depends on the maturation of their young core.
The playoffs are an obvious goal for this squad, but it shouldn’t be the only basis for how this season is measured. Wins and losses matter and this group learning how to win games will, of course, be a necessity this season.
Moreso, 2019-20 can be defined as a success if the young guns on this squad can prove that they can grow together, build camaraderie and make this season the first season in a long and fruitful window of Eastern Conference contention.