The Chicago Bulls had a fair 2016-17 season, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference and 15th overall with a 41-41 record. Three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler had a breakout year for Chicago, before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Veteran guard Dwyane Wade, who was a new addition for his hometown team, helped out Butler on the wing. With the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers still dominant contenders in the East, the Bulls are going to have to match their competitiveness and step it up a notch. Here is the 2017-18 Chicago Bulls season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Chicago Bulls Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
Butler was monstrous last season, leading his team with averages of 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He provided the team with much of what they needed while everyone else tried to fit into their spots. Butler had plenty of highlights, from put-back dunks to alley-oop finishes. That’s without even mentioning all the times he sunk a shot in somebody’s face.
Wade found himself struggling at times, but he still finished the season averaging 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Nonetheless, he was able to get past his troubles and still balled out as well as he could. He’d pump fake and spin his way to the rack just like young Flash would’ve.
The Bulls were dominant on the glass, ranking second in offensive rebounds and third in total rebounds for the season. While they certainly needed work on the offensive end, the Bulls benefited greatly from second-chance opportunities last season.
What Needs Improvement
Chicago ranked 23rd in points and almost dead last in both the paint and behind the arc last season. The Bulls also ranked 21st in offensive rating, so it’s clear that they need to up their offensive game quite a bit.
Three-year player Nikola Mirotic was solid, but if Chicago wants to get better, he’s going to need to improve his efficiency behind the arc. Mirotic averaged 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists last season. He shot 52.0 percent in the paint – the best mark of his career, so far – but only 34.2 percent from downtown.
More importantly, Mirotic is going to have to make up for the potential that forward Doug McDermott showed for the team. The Bulls traded McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder last February in a puzzling deal that netted Cameron Payne. If Mirotic can get his three-point game to 45 or near 50 percent, Chicago’s spacing would drastically improve.
Robin Lopez is another key to the Bulls’ success. As a seven-footer, he has a huge advantage on the interior in certain matchups. If Lopez can get his shooting percentage back up to 58.8 percent like in the 2009-10 season, he’d help the Bulls a lot more offensively. Last season, Lopez averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. He needs to get more athletic and work on his shooting if Chicago wants to overcome the big dogs like the Cavs and Celtics.
As with many players, shooting guard Denzel Valentine‘s rookie season didn’t do much justice for him. He struggled to score in transition and finish at the rim, which hurt his efficiency and cost him some easy points.
The 23-year-old only averaged 5.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 2016-17. His close and long range percentages sat just above 35 percent. Valentine just needs to finish; too many times last season, he bricked a layup or blew an easy opportunity. He needs to make shots on the first attempt.
Quite a few things went down in the Windy City during the off-season. To start, Jimmy Buckets and the 16th overall pick of the 2017 draft (Justin Patton) were sent off to the Minnesota Timberwolves. In exchange, the Bulls acquired Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick, which turned into Lauri Markkanen.
Markkanen is definitely the most important asset that Chicago received. He averaged 15.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 0.9 assists during his last season at the University of Arizona. He also shot 42.3 percent from long distance, a promising number for a stretch four. LaVine has the potential to help, but unfortunately, he’s still recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected to be ready for the start of the upcoming season. He averaged 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists last season prior to the injury.
The Bulls also signed two-way contracts with free agent Ryan Arcidiacono and undrafted guard Antonio Blakeney. Blakeney put up nice numbers during the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 16.6 points and 5.0 rebounds on a scorching 64.3 percent from behind the arc. Arcidiacono only averaged 5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in the Summer League, but he starred for Villanova in college.
Cristiano Felicio signed a multi-year contract with the Bulls in July after being a free agent for a few days. Chicago also claimed David Nwaba off waivers during that same month. Later in the summer, the Bulls acquired Quincy Pondexter and cash from the New Orleans Pelicans for the draft rights to Ater Majok and a TPE (traded player exception).
If the Bulls can’t find a way to make up for the loss of Butler’s offense, it’s going to be a really tough season.
That will give Chicago’s newest additions the opportunity to contribute to a team in dire need of offensive contributors. Of course, all of these new additions are either rookies, part of a trade, or G-League call-ups. Someone like Wade will need to lead these newcomers and show them the ropes in the NBA. This will be a developmental season for the Bulls, as the main goal will be to give these players a chance to prove themselves in the league.
Because of all these factors, look for Chi-Town to only win 28 to 30 games this upcoming season.
Embed from Getty Images