The Chicago Bulls’ record over the last two seasons is 49-115. Three seasons ago, the Bulls made the playoffs as the eight seed, but were beaten in six games by the Boston Celtics in the first round.
Only three teams won fewer games than the Bulls last season. That alone will make the suggestion of a playoff berth in 2019/20 seem absurd to some. It isn’t that simple with Chicago, though.
Fred Hoiberg’s tenure came to an end at the start of December 2018, leading to his friend and former ‘associate head coach’ Jim Boylen taking over the hot seat. Boylen’s spell started off on rocky ground with an early 56-point loss to the Celtics. Players reportedly discussed a boycott of training.
Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter all missed considerable time last season. Otto Porter only arrived midway through the season. In Porter’s 15 games, the Bulls played their best basketball of the season and that’s what should be the focus ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
LaVine was the focal point for the Bulls last season, posting career highs in points, assists and shots per game. Unfortunately, the former dunk contest winner turned the ball over a lot too. That’s a natural consequence of being the primary ball handler – particularly on a bad team – but it’s an area that reflects wider concern about LaVine. He still needs to prove he can help his team win as well as rack up individual numbers.
The sky is the limit for frontcourt duo Markkanen and Carter. Markkanen, a three-point shooting seven-footer, could be an All-Star if he staves off injury. Carter has struggled with injuries himself, including a couple in preseason already, but his game is NBA ready. If Chicago can keep that pairing on the court, they will be extremely fun to watch.
The other key components come in the form of recent arrivals. Porter, a knockdown three-point shooter, provides spacing after arriving at the trade deadline. Free agent signing Thaddeus Young is an excellent backup for Markkanen and Carter, while Tomas Satoransky is a more than solid backcourt mate for LaVine, assuming he starts ahead of Kris Dunn.
Depth is a slight worry, however. First-round pick Coby White is very raw and an injury to Porter or LaVine leaves them looking pretty bare on the wings.
Wide-open Eastern Conference
It’s bordering on cliché already, but beyond the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, the Eastern Conference playoff spots are open. The Bulls aren’t a team that will be eyeing up the three seed, but this isn’t just a dog fight for the eighth spot, either.
Philly and Milwaukee will take one and two. Then there’s the Celtics, Pacers, Nets and Heat who are going to be playing postseason of basketball of some form, though it’s unclear how long for. The Raptors (depending on the decisions Masai Ujiri makes), Pistons, Magic and Hawks join the Bulls in the next group.
While the first quartet are widely fancied to make the postseason – and it’d be a major shock if any of them missed out – they aren’t locked into the three through six spots. Chicago, as their +440 price suggests, are outsiders in October, but that could change very quickly once the season tips off later this month.
Upside provides value
The range of outcomes are enormous for the Bulls this year. Boylen is unpredictable, and even if everyone remains healthy, it’s very hard to project what we’ll see from Markkanen, LaVine and Carter.
There are the makings of an exciting team in the Windy City. In the frail Eastern Conference, that upside makes the +440 on the Bulls to make the playoffs look like very good value.