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The Chicago Bulls season is finally here with the team in Miami for Wednesday night’s opener.
Coming off a season full of ups and downs in the 2021-22 campaign, expectations are all over the place. Will the Bulls be able to replicate their early season success? Or will they continue their downward trend from the second half of last season?
The CHGO Bulls staff gives their takes on the biggest picture questions heading into the 2022-23 NBA Season:
Aside from health/Lonzo Ball, what is the one thing that needs to happen for the Bulls to hit their ceiling?
Will Gottlieb: The Bulls cannot fold in the face of adversity. Last year, they completely collapsed without Ball and Alex Caruso. They simply could not pull themselves together. We talk a lot about how they have a small margin for error — they cannot let that margin get any smaller. In other words, they’ll have to execute at a near-perfect level for entirety of the season to stay competitive throughout.
Mark Karantzoulis: The Bulls go so far as Zach LaVine takes them, not Patrick Williams.
LaVine is an established All-Star and one of the most complete scoring threats in the league. He’s a top-30 player, one who is worth a max deal. But can he be more? Can he develop his on-ball creation for others? Will he make noticeable strides on defense? Can he take the step into real, meaningful stardom? If the answers to those questions are positive and affirmative, and LaVine enters legitimate All-NBA consideration, the Bulls will better for it.
Dave Watson: The “Death by 1000 Cuts” defense must be elite. It’s the one thing they can do better than the non top three teams in the east. Other squads might have more talent, size and three-point shooting, but if the Bulls’ defense is on point, they will be able to separate themselves from the pack.
Matt Peck: LaVine being as good or better than he was last year before his knee became a problem. When the Bulls were off to their incredible start, it was because they had TWO elite shotmakers: DeRozan and LaVine. They need LaVine to continue his elevation toward being a Top-15 player.
Aside from health/Ball, what is your biggest concern heading into the season?
Will: Shooting. As much as the will Bulls try to circumvent their limited volume with randomness, at some point, they’ll need to be able to shoot. Just look to what happened in the playoffs against the Bucks. Milwaukee packed the paint, walled off DeMar DeRozan and forced the shooters to beat them. And of course, they could not. After failing to add shooters in the offseason, this issue will rear its head at some point or another.
Mark: Williams’ development, or lack thereof, has to be the biggest concern right now. How can it not be? This was Williams’ first real and complete offseason since entering the NBA. DeRozan had taken him under his wing, teaching him the tricks of the trade during offseason workouts. The foundations were laid for an inspired third season. Instead, Williams looked like his laconic, uninterested self in the preseason. And in doing so, he allowed Javonte Green every chance to take his starting role.
Williams needed to cement himself as a starter. It was the natural progression. I don’t think he did that, even if Donovan has gifted him the role. As of now, despite Williams being named a starter, the power forward position remains a debate. It’s on Williams to put forth a worthy argument that he is the answer. Until he does, his play is concerning.
Dave: That Williams doesn’t find his place. Whether on or off the bench. I personally don’t care whether he starts or not. I care that he grows in whatever role he has so he can help this team.
Matt: Isn’t it obvious? Three-point shooting. Nothing done to address it in the offseason. It will all depend on the same guys being a) more willing to shoot and b) more efficient when they DO shoot than they were last season.
What five-man lineup are you most looking forward to watching?
Will: Small-ball advocate number one here, give me: Ayo Dosunmu, Caruso, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams. If/when Ball comes back, swap him in for Dosunmu.
Mark: Caruso, LaVine, DeRozan, Dosunmu, Vucevic
Dave: Dosunmu (or Dragic), Coby White, Caruso, Williams, Drummond
Matt: The projected starting 5 of Dosunmu, LaVine, DeRozan, Green and Nikola Vucevic. We saw those 5 play a team-high 252 minutes together last season, with a net rating of -4.8. Assuming we’ll see a lot more of it until Ball gets back, that unit will need to perform better. Additionally, I’m excited to watch the “GOAR” (Get Out And Run) units featuring some combinations of Caruso, White, Goran Dragic, Williams, Dalen Terry and Derrick Jones Jr.
What would be a successful season in your eyes?
Will: Arturas Karnisovas said the Bulls have higher expectations than last year. I’m not sure if that means winning a playoff series or just winning two playoff games, but I think they just need to be competitive throughout the year. No massive backslides. I’m assuming they’ll need to make the playoffs via the play-in, so winning those games and getting two or three wins in a competitive first round seems like a small, but reasonable step forward.
Mark: It’s only reasonable to hold the franchise accountable for what they’ve said themselves. With this in mind, refer back to the standard set by Karnisovas on media day: We have to do better than last year.
Not only is that inferring that the Bulls need to make the playoffs (again), but perform notably better than they did in their crushing loss to the Bucks. A first-round loss is not enough. Management wants to see this team advance to the second round, at minimum. I don’t think that’s a likely outcome, but if that’s the expectation the franchise has, then so should we.
Dave: Making the playoffs and performing well in them. Win or lose.
Matt: Karnisovas said the goal is to do better than they did last season. That would mean a) making the playoffs and b) winning more than one playoff game. There’s your successful season. Given the amount of talent in the East, I’d say avoiding the play-in tournament would itself be a great achievement.
Hottest take for the 2022-23 season
Will: I prefer Williams playing with the bench unit. I’m more optimistic about his potential for growth in those units that seem to cater to his strengths and relieve the pressure of playing alongside DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic. He will have opportunities to play with both groups, but the Bulls are clearly willing to try new things with him in an attempt to develop him. If he becomes a star of the second unit, that absolutely helps the Bulls today and could lead to him taking further strides with the starters down the road.
Mark: Through a combination of Dosunmu progressing in his second season and, unlike last season, Caruso playing in more than 60 games, the absence of Ball won’t be a major issue.
Dave: LaVine will be an All-Star starter.
Matt: Terry will end up averaging 15+ mpg and earning All-Rookie Second Team honors.
Record prediction and standings prediction
Will: 42-40, 8th seed. There is so much talent in the East, it will be difficult to repeat 46 wins, especially without Ball. For me, the Bulls are in the third tier of teams alongside Cleveland, Atlanta and Toronto. They may be towards the back end on paper, but things won’t go perfectly right for every one of those teams and horribly wrong for the Bulls. I think the Bulls stay in the 7-10 range, but 8 is in the optimistic range of their group.
Mark: 44-38, 7th seed
Dave: 44-38, 7th seed
Matt: 42-40, 7th seed
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