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The Chicago Bulls season is finally here with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town on Wednesday.
With plenty at stake for the Bulls this season, our team at CHGO has you covered with everything from daily podcasts and writing to pre-and -post game shows for every game. Starting things off, here is our season preview, predictions and hot takes heading into the 2023-24 NBA Season:
What is something you’re most looking forward to this season?
Matt Peck: Doing 82 Postgame shows with my CHGO Bulls crew, and interacting with our fellow Bulls fans every game night. Cop out answer? Maybe. But it’s genuinely how I feel. This job is insanely fun, and I never let myself forget how lucky I am to do it. I may not feel great about the team’s outlook this upcoming season, but I’ll never not feel great about getting to be a part of the Bulls fan community. It rocks so hard, and I’m awed and humbled by the passion of Bulls fans every day.
Big Dave: Looking forward to watching Coby White as the starting PG. I’ve been championing him and his play on both sides of the ball for years and I’m excited to see him get the opportunity he has wanted for just that long.
Mark Karantzoulis: To no one’s surprise, this one took me some time to come up with a real answer. After spending too long trying to convince myself that something inconsequential could actually be interesting, the obvious answer emerged: I want some resolution and clarity. Nikola Vucevic has alluded to it, but in some respects, this is a make-or-break season. It should be. And I’m looking forward to finding out if this team can get it together. If they rediscover their 2022 selves, there’s real scope for this to be a good and fun season. The reverse is true, too. This could get bad, quickly. Get the popcorn ready, bunker down, and let’s see what unfolds.
Will Gottlieb: On the court, the improvement curve and maturation of Patrick Williams and White. Those two are the key to any present or future success of the team and would completely change the outlook of the year.
How would you define a successful season for the Chicago Bulls?
Peck: This is a tough one. Do I prefer the immediate gratification of a surprisingly overachieving season? By that, I mean something like getting back to a Top 6 seed in the East, and making some noise in the playoffs. Or, do I prefer a season that results in taking steps in a different direction I feel would set the organization on a better path to future success? Because I think those are two different things. And I think the latter requires making serious changes to the current roster, and punting on competing for a playoff spot this year. My Bulls fan heart wants the playoffs. But my Bulls fan brain wants a fresh start (in a lot of ways, wink). In case it wasn’t obvious, my Bulls fan heart and brain often disagree, and they define success differently.
Big Dave: Seeded Playoff team.
Mark K: At minimum, this team needs to be a bonafide playoff team. Not some ‘hey, we won a play-in game’ nonsense. A real playoff team, one which is firmly entrenched in the top-6 in the Eastern Conference. But don’t stop there. You need to give me an actual playoff showing. None of this stuff from 2022, where you make the first round, but were absolutely embarrassed. At minimum, we need a competitive, 7-game series, preferably one that ends with a series win. For a team toting #continuity in the manner the Bulls do, anything less should be considered a failure.
Gottlieb: I’m less concerned with the number of wins and losses and more concerned with the Bulls making an appearance as a real playoff team. Making the play-in, or even getting gentlemen’s swept in the playoffs is not an accomplishment for an aging team in its ‘Last Dance’.
If this group is worth continuing on with, they have to make the second round of the playoffs.
The second round isn’t my expectation, but it should be the goal. That may sound like a lot, but I don’t view losing in the first round as a success. It’s the bare minimum and probably not something I’ll be excited about.
What is your biggest concern heading into the season?
Peck: I’ve been shouting about it for over a year. Shot profile. Three-point shooting. I’m sick of the Bulls losing game after game because of basketball math and a refusal to adapt. Can the Bulls actually change their offense to put a greater emphasis on generating good looks from deep? After their five preseason games — only one of which featured 30+ 3pt attempts in regulation — I’m not convinced. Simultaneously, can they implement this new focus on offensive rebounding without it severely affecting their Top 5 defense from last season? Huge question.
Big Dave: Free throw shooting. They have not been able to get to the line as a team and when they get there they don’t shoot a high percentage. Not getting a bigger opportunity to get free points in the league is a concern.
Mark K: Navigating the toils that come with trying to fundamentally change who you are on offense, and doing so during a brutal stretch of games. The first 25 games of the new season are rough. This is the first hurdle. How the Bulls emerge from this stretch will tell us a lot about who this team will be this season. If they hang tough, get through it all with a .500 record, then this will set everything up nicely. If they lose, and do so by stylistically reverting back to who they’ve always been, then buddy…
Gottlieb: The plan doesn’t work.
The Bulls have said all the right things: revamp the offense, commit to one another, go to Nashville and bond. All of it. We saw the fruits of that for one quarter in the first game of preseason and the rest was slightly better (?) but mostly the same.
The preseason does have some predictive power and though the sample is small and the results don’t matter, the process was discouraging. After a difficult opening to the season, if the players start to realize things aren’t working and resort back to their old ways, things might begin to spiral.
What is your hottest take for the Chicago Bulls?
Peck: No offense to the Andre Drummond Experience — which we all know can be fun — but I think the Bulls should put an emphasis on small ball in their second unit. Why? Give me ALL the Julian Phillips minutes. I’m already looking down the road, fully aware of this current roster ceiling. And I think one of the best things Billy Donovan and the Bulls development staff can do this season is teach Phillips as much as possible, while playing him as much as possible. He looks like a real potential building block. I know the Bulls front office is in “compete now” mode, as misguided as that might be. I say to hell with that. Play the youngster, and play him a lot.
Big Dave: Zach Lavine 3rd Team All NBA.
Mark K: LaVine and/or DeRozan are wearing a Lakers uniform post the trade deadline.
Gottlieb: LaVine will be an All-Star.
Also, the Bulls end up with a top 5 pick in next year’s draft.
Maybe they make the play-in, maybe not, but if they miss the playoffs, it’s about time they finally get some lotto luck.
What needs to happen for the Bulls to hit their ceiling?
Peck: LOL soooooo many things. Everyone needs to buy into a new offensive system that relies a bit less on DeMar DeRozan’s isolation scoring and LaVine catching fire, while DeRozan and LaVine still play like stars. I liked a lot of the ball movement we saw in the preseason. Can they stick to that? Can they create more good looks from 3 and actually take a modern NBA number of them most nights? Can they maintain a Top 10 defense? Can a team whose most important players stayed VERY healthy last season have the same luck again this season? Can Williams and White and Ayo Dosunmu all take significant steps in their development, and shine in their respective roles? Can Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig prove to be perfect fits for what this team was missing? If ALL of that happens, and the Bulls get a little luck with other East teams falling short of their own expectations, we might have a playoff team.
Big Dave: Williams being consistently good. Everything starts and ends with his play. If he’s playing consistently well, the Bulls are a problem.
Mark K: It’s the same thing as last season, and the season prior: Williams taking a real, meaningful leap. It’s nice that White has made strides, and that will definitely help. But there’s no other 6-foot-8 behemoth on this roster who has the potential to be a true, impactful two-way threat. Williams has the ability to shift the Bulls’ trajectory. It’s unfair that, in so many ways, so much rests on his shoulders, but such are the burdens of high lottery picks and the expectations that come with it.
Gottlieb: What is their ceiling? Everyone played well last year and yet the offense was 24th. Everyone was healthy and yet they won 40 games. Their offense-first stars were each top 11 in total minutes last year and they were 5th on defense. At a certain point, your record reflects who you are and though the Bulls should be better offensively, I’m not sure they have the ability to overhaul their offense given the personnel didn’t change.
Whatever that ceiling is, those same things need to repeat, while also revamping the shot profile and how they get those shots. Williams and White need to grow and they have to power through adversity, commit to the way they need to play and stay bought into the cause.
Preview and predictions: record and standings
Peck: 40-42, 10th in East
I have to be honest with y’all. This is what I see. I see a mid team that didn’t do much to improve this offseason, while other teams in the East got better. Maybe they win a few more of the close games they lost last season. But maybe the wins regress somewhere else. Maybe they’re not as lucky health-wise. I don’t see a team that will get back to 46 wins and a Top 6 seed. And I don’t see ownership and the front office deciding to blow it up midseason and steer toward the bottom if things aren’t going well. Because, well … they’ve had the opportunity to do so in several transaction windows over the past 1.5 years and have stuck to their #CONTINUITY principles. I see them riding this team out for a full season. After all, they went 14-9 after the All Star break last season! They could do it again!
I wish I felt differently, I really do. But I just don’t. I hope they prove me wrong. In either direction.
Big Dave: 46-36 (I now believe it’s 45 -37 but I’ve been saying 46 for months so I’m standing on it).
Mark K: 35-47, 12th in the East
This was an unconvincing preseason showing. Small sample, I know. Still, I haven’t seen enough to think the Bulls will dramatically change their offensive profile. Though I think he can, I don’t think Williams will make the leap. The Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic are coming. Pressure will be amplified. Predicting that Arturas Karnisovas makes a sweeping move at the deadline is kind of wild given his recent history, but I’m going to do it.
[bold prediction alert]
The Bulls (sort of) blow this thing up, hand the team over to White, Williams and Dosunmu, and look to maximizing the value of 2024 draft pick — an initiative that makes some sense when you consider the Bulls are potentially on the hook to surrender their 2025 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs.
Before the preseason I had the Bulls as the ninth seed at 41-41. They are an exceedingly average team on paper, so an average record felt fitting. I wanted to talk myself into an improvement, but after the preseason, I have no problem knocking them down.
The Bulls are not a *bad* team, and there is parity in the East. Anything can happen, but that means missing the Play-In is on the table.
The Bucks and Celtics are the class of the conference. Cavs, 76ers, Knicks, Heat, in some order, are next and a tier above the Bulls. Then it’s the Hawks, Nets and Raptors who I still think are better. The Pacers, Magic and even Hornets (if they can get out of their own way) and Pistons are coming.
I don’t see them as a home Play-In team, so they max out at nine in my eyes. But if things go poorly, they could drop down, or out, of the play-in all together.
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