A few weeks ago, I predicted that the Chicago Bulls would make the playoffs this season as the eighth seed in the East. I couldn't have been any wronger. The Bulls are going to have a long season ahead of them, as they're off to a 1-3 start and players are dropping like flies. It seemed as if a few weeks ago things were looking promising and there was genuine excitement around the team again. What happened?
It's really hard for a young team to grow and develop together when nobody can physically play. Right before the preseason started, the Bulls announced that Finnish boy wonder Lauri Markkanen would miss 6-8 weeks with a right elbow sprain. Coming off his All-Rookie First Team selection, Lauri was set to have a big sophomore season, as he put on around 15 pounds of muscle this offseason and showcased dominance with the Finnish national team. When he returns in 2-4 weeks, it will surely help spark some attention for a team that will more than likely struggle in his and others absence.
After missing the first two games of the year due to the birth of his kid, Kris Dunn made his season debut on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks. His presence was missed in the first two games, as the Bulls looked completely lost on defense. Dunn showed last year that he can be a defensive anchor at point guard, averaging two steals a game. After his debut, it was announced that Dunn would miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL, effectively inserting Cam Payne into the starting lineup. Dunn's near-elite skills are going to be missed, as the Bulls are already a mess on defense, which was expected.
As if the Bulls couldn't catch a break already, Bobby Portis went down the next game against the Charlotte Hornets. While the Bulls got their first win of the season, they also lost a spark plug on both sides of the floor. Portis will miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL, the exact same injury as Dunn. This one hurt the most. Portis has become a beast and was my pick for Sixth Man of the Year. He even went the Jimmy Butler route before the extension deadline, choosing not to re-up with the Bulls right now so that he could show out this season and earn more in the offseason. While there's still plenty of time for him to do so, missing that much time is tough for any player, and I hope he comes back even better.
Denzel Valentine is also out until further notice with a sprained ankle. He isn't as important to the Bulls' future as Lauri, Dunn, and Portis, but he's still a nice piece of the bench. The Bulls growth is currently delayed, but it gives them more time to evaluate future plans and figure out what roster moves they want to make. At this point, tanking is clearly the best option in order to add another young prospect to this emerging core.
After the Bulls matched the Sacramento Kings' 4-year/$78 million offer to LaVine this summer, there was a lot of speculation around whether he was worth the money. A lot of questions surround his health after his ACL tear, and his defensive can be atrocious at times. Although his defense is still pretty lackluster, LaVine has come out of the gate on an absolute tear. Through four games, LaVine is averaging 32.3 points a night on 57.1/40.0/86.1 shooting splits. He joined Michael Jordan as the only Bulls to score 30+ in the team's first four games, which is a stellar accomplishment. If LaVine can keep scoring at such an elite level, it will keep the Bulls somewhat competitive while Lauri, Dunn, and Portis make their ways back. If the scoring outbursts continue, LaVine could definitely be an All Star this year in a thinning pool of Eastern Conference stars.
There isn't a whole lot to say about Jabari so far. He's been pretty alright. He's god awful on defense, which shouldn't surprise anyone as he of course doesn't "get paid to play defense." He's yet to start a game, but that should change with Portis being out. In four games, Jabari is averaging 14.8 points on 46/41.7/80 splits. The percentages are encouraging, especially after a lackluster preseason. In a more extended role in the wake of injuries, Jabari's scoring numbers should climb, but until then we won't know if his $20 million salary has been justified.
The Bulls are currently 29th in the league in defensive rating, ahead of only the San Antonio Spurs. Again, this was to be expected. After Jabari was signed, the team projected to have a fun, fast-paced offense that would help make up for the team's severe lack of D. It's going to get worse than it already is. The defense will be certainly worse without Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, and the only offensive weapons left are Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, two guys who can't really be played together because of how bad they are defensively. I feel as if this is just going to be a "wait and see" issue, as we don't truly know how bad things are going to get. Hopefully Wendell Carter Jr. will see an increase in minutes and defensive responsibility to help him develop into the prized defender he was drafted to be.
Tonight will be the first glimpse at this barebones team, as the Bulls go up against the Hornets. (Prediction: Kemba absolutely sodomizes the Bulls.)
It's definitely time to tank. Fuck it. Cam Payne is going to be a starting point guard for over a month. That certainly doesn't signify any championship aspirations, and the towel should be thrown in so that the Bulls can go after one of Duke's three studs in RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cameron Reddish. Personally I'd love to see the Bulls tank hard enough to get Zion, as I think his balls-to-the-wall, high-flying, fuck-your-face playstyle would fit in nicely with the young core.
It's going to be another up-and-down (mostly down) season for the Bulls, but hopefully this early season fiasco works out in the long-run.
(Note: Remember when Pau Gasol was on the Bulls for a few years and got a shit ton of double-doubles? That was kinda weird.)