2018-2019 Chicago Bulls: They’ll Be Fun, Yet Still a Year Away
27.5. That’s the projected win total Vegas has the 2018-2019 Chicago Bulls. Despite winning 27 games last year, Sin City is not convinced the Bulls will make any type of gains in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference. While there is a lot to be said about this incarnation of the Gar/Pax Bulls squad, like Vegas, I have my doubts.
To a fan, the Bulls’ offseason moves don’t make its direction clear. Striving for success after a few false prophet risings from post MJ teams, the Bulls are no closer to answering any questions than fans are from asking them. The re-signing of Zach LaVine for $78 million dollars over four years along with the signing of Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two year, $40 million-dollar contract (second year team option) gives the impression the Bulls are going for a playoff spot in the East.
The Bulls are going to be fun to watch on a nightly basis this season. It just won’t be enough in a more competitive Eastern Conference. The Bulls seem to have found a cornerstone in second year player Lauri Markkanen. While he is out at least another six weeks to begin the season with an elbow sprain, the outcome of the games he misses will dictate the urgency of the budding star’s return. If the Bulls find lightning in a bottle and start the season hot, there can be more pressure from the front office to get Markkanen back on the court. If the Bulls do the opposite and start slow, there will be no reason to rush him back from injury.
Markkanen, who added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer, surprised many with his immediate impact on the Bulls during his rookie campaign, finishing with a stat line of 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, while shooting 37 percent from the three-point line. Despite the logjam of players in the front court, Markkanen should grow this season into a potential all-star candidate. His name is being added to the growing list of unicorns who are popping up all over the league.
This year, the Bulls will get grit from players like Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn as they continue their development while anchoring the defense. I expect Portis to have a breakout season in a contract year after his rookie extension talks ended. Even with the addition of 7th overall pick, center Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls are projected to be a bottom five defensive team in the league. Teams will seem to never have left the layup line if the analysts are correct. Yet there is optimism that a Portis/Carter Jr. front court could exceed expectations.
Parker, who looks to have been moved to the bench for now, has the potential to have a huge role in the second unit. If he can temper his ego as a player making starter money coming off the bench, he has a chance to be in the Sixth Man of Year talks when it’s all said and done. A player making $20 million dollars a year should have the green light off the bench to shoot the rock at will. With his size and length, he can cause huge headaches for opposing power forwards as he has the ability to stretch them away from the rim.
The biggest question is LaVine, who is in year two of his ACL recovery and has shown signs of his pre-injury explosion in the preseason. If LaVine only gets 80 percent of his freakish jump out of the gym abilities back, the team friendly contract can look like a huge steal. The Bulls will have found another young controllable contract to add to their young core.
This season we will finally see what fourth year head coach Fred Hoiberg has to offer, as he now has the pieces to run the offensive scheme for which he was hired. There will be ups and downs this year, with nights where fans will be excited with what the future holds for the Bulls. But this season fans should temper expectations. I predict the Bulls to go 29-53, just missing the playoffs. With an incoming star-studded free agent class next summer, a deep draft class and a chance at a top lottery pick if the ping pong balls bounce the right way, the Bulls have a chance to make noise, just not this year.
Chicago opens its season in Philadelphia against the 0-1 Sixers on October 18th at 7:00 PM on TNT.