The Chicago Bulls will enter this season a year deep into a rebuild, and are already better for it. Coming off the back of the Jimmy Butler trade, the Bulls were able to develop future core pieces and franchise players in Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. The team felt directionless at times, going on both winning and losing streaks on their way to a record of 27-55. This was good enough to secure them the seventh pick in the draft. However, many argued that this was not a fitting enough reward for such a low achieving season. There remained some bright spots, such as the record-setting rookie campaign of Markkanen. They were effective in laying a base for their rebuilding effort, which they can hopefully continue to build upon. Here’s a look at the 2018-19 Chicago Bulls Season Preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Chicago Bulls Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
One of the most positive parts of last season was finally seeing Fred Hoiberg coach the way he wanted to. Hoiberg came into the coaching position wanting to implement a style coined ‘Hoiball’. Free-flowing with lots of shooters, it would be a read and react offense. The current Bulls squad gave him the ability to implement this system properly, with shooters and shot creators such as Markkanen, Lavine, Dunn, Denzel Valentine, and Justin Holiday to name a few. Rookie Markkanen flourished offensively within the system, with the seven-footer becoming the fastest ever player to 100 made three’s. Hoiberg’s implementation of his ideal offense was able to satisfy some doubters who did not believe he was able to coach the team.
The previous season also saw the development of many young Bulls players. Dunn and Markkanen were inserted immediately into the starting lineup, and both exceeded expectations. Dunn, in his second season, proved to be one of the best defensive guards in the league, as well as having a high offensive ceiling. Markkanen had a spectacular rookie campaign, which led to being voted onto the All-Rookie First Team. He also served to provide some at times much-needed offense for the squad. Other key young developing players include Valentine, Cameron Payne, and Antonio Blakeney. This development should continue this season, with the players having more time on the court together.
What Needs Improvement
The Bulls need to stop the other team from scoring. It’s as simple as that. Last season, the Bulls ranked in very low in almost all significant defensive statistics. They were 24th ranked in defensive rating and 28th in defensive efficiency. Despite having defensive stalwart in Dunn, the Bulls were highly ineffective on defense, especially in the paint. Their two starting bigs, Markkanen and Robin Lopez, proved ineffective in guarding bigs and were nearly useless on switches. Also contributing to the lackluster defense was LaVine, who sported a defensive rating of 114.8. The Bulls looked to improve their defense through the draft, taking defensively minded big Wendell Carter Jr. However, they also signed Jabari Parker, who was quoted saying “They don’t pay players to play defense”. To see any success this season the Bulls will need to improve their defensive effort, anchored by Dunn and Carter.
Last season also saw Chicago deal with issues regarding team leadership. Questions were raised as to who would be the alpha, which player would take the last shot? Hot shooter Markkanen? Walking bucket LaVine? Swiss-army-knife Dunn? The Bulls at times often found themselves looking for a leader, and there was confusion as to who should take up this role. Looking to add more confusion to this, the organization also added Parker to the mix, as another possible number one option. Ultimately, the team feels as if it is LaVine’s to lead or to lose. The Bulls displayed a show of faith in him, to the tune of $78 million, and it is now up to him to justify that. He needs to take the reigns of the team and run with them, becoming Chicago’s true alpha.
For the first part of the off-season, it certainly felt as if the Bulls were continuing with the theme of their rebuild. They entered the draft with two first round picks, which would turn into Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. These were two players with very high ceilings, who slot perfectly into the team. Following that, the Bulls began some housekeeping. A trade with Charlotte saw them relieved of Jerian Grant in exchange for Julyan Stone, whom they waived. Also waived was German forward Paul Zipser, in order to clear cap space.
This is where things got a little crazy. The Bulls chose to match the Sacremento King’s offer to LaVine, retaining him for 4 years, $78 million. This was questionable to many, who did not believe LaVine was worth that type of investment. They then chose to rescind their offer to people’s champion David Nwaba, who later signed with Cleveland. This is a move they will live to regret. Next came the signing of free agent Parker to a two-year contract. While fans were critical of this move, Parker’s contract has a second-year team option, which means that this season is essentially a trial run. The Bulls rounded off the off-season by signing Blakeney and Derrick Walton Jr. They also signed Rawle Alkins to a two-way contract and claimed Antonius Cleveland off waivers.
2018-19 Season Prediction
While the Bulls may not be the most competitive team this season, look to see them vastly improve from their performance last season. Look for Lavine to have a breakout season and fill the star caliber gap left by the departure of Jimmy Butler. Team chemistry could prove to be an issue with the addition of Parker. However, the team should find a way to gel as a unit. Parker will also most likely justify his contract. The Bulls will fall to the tenth seed and miss the playoffs, with a record of 35-47. They will, however, stay on track for their rebuild. Importantly, they will continue to prime themselves for success in the near future.
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