What to Make of the Bulls
There are about six weeks left in this thrilling NBA season. A season that has seen triple-doubles galore, a pretty crummy All-Star Weekend, and the Sacramento Kings implode on themselves. Considering the general public has a pretty good idea of what the NBA Finals is going to end up, the season has still been captivating, a hard feat to pull off. In the midst of all this excitement sits a team in the midwest: a team rich in history, but lacking a clear plan for the future. A team that can play with the best in the league, but fall to draft lottery dwellers.
The Chicago Bulls are mediocre.
It’s the only conclusion one can come to that can make any sense of the season they’ve had. As has been the case for this Bulls team for what seems like a decade, they continue to play up or down to their competition. They possess wins over the Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers, Celtics, and Raptors, while also owning losses to the Knicks, Suns, and three blowouts to the Bucks. It’s jarring.
After trading Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson at the trade deadline, the team appears to be finding a rhythm. At least that’s what appears at first glance of their recent results. Coupled in between the Cavs and Warriors wins is an embarrassing home drubbing to the Denver Nuggets. Who are the real Bulls?
Against the Cavs (sans LeBron James) on February 25th, the Bulls offense hummed, gathering 34 assists and nailing 15 of 30 from beyond the arc. On March 2nd against the Warriors (sans Kevin Durant), the defense stood supreme by holding the Dubs to just 87 points on 38.6% shooting. While it is enticing to view this as a sign of things to come, the rest of the season brings fans down to earth. The Bulls are 18th in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency as of March 4th.
The Bulls are average.
While they may be a safe bet to make the playoffs (they have the seventh-toughest remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference), anything beyond that is merely found money. The talent of their superstars, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, will get them to the postseason; the lack of creative coaching by Fred Hoiberg and the mediocrity and/or inexperience of the surrounding talent will keep them from making any noise. When the Bulls moved on from Gibson and McDermott, they made a commitment to finding out what they had in their young prospects. Unless one or more of Nikola Mirotic, Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, or Paul Zipser makes a significant leap in the next next month and a half (which is completely unprecedented), the Bulls season will end by early May.
That should not be a surprise to anyone. The roster Gar Forman and John Paxson put together over the summer had many question marks back in training camp. A number of those questions (Where do the threes come from? Which of these players can you trust?) have gone unanswered resulting in a roller coaster ride of a season which included inconsistent point guard rotations and a certain Instagram post. To try and predict what may happen to this particular Chicago Bulls team in the next 21+ games seems should be easy.
We know they’ll falter in the end.
We just don’t know how they’ll get there.