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Diehard Mailbag: Putting the puzzle pieces together for the 2023-24 Chicago Bulls

Will Gottlieb Avatar
July 31, 2023
Chicago Bulls Patrick Williams

The dust of the draft and free agency has mostly settled, so it’s time to start thinking ahead to the regular season. That means exploring upside, reviewing contracts and figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

Thanks to those who sent in questions. I’ll have a Part II to this mailbag in the coming days.

@JT__Hoop: Assuming this season doesn’t go well, how do you see AKME moving forward?

Last season at the trade deadline, when the Bulls were 26-28, it felt like it could have been the end of the line. With Nikola Vucevic months away from expiring, DeMar DeRozan only a year behind and no draft pick in the cupboard, it may have been prudent to pivot.

The reason I bring this is up is that we have no reason to believe the Bulls will do anything other than continue forward with this group. They’ve re-signed Vucevic. They can’t really afford to let DeRozan walk for nothing at this point. Even if things aren’t going well at the deadline, we have no indication that a blow up is on the horizon.

We can be very confident that the Bulls will elect not to use the Disabled Player Exception if they are underperforming again, but unless a blockbuster offer comes in, I think they will continue to grind this group into dust.

@LocalBullsFan: Who will out play their contract?

Assuming you’re talking about the free agents the Bulls signed this summer: Coby White, Jevon Carter, Ayo Dosunmu, Nikola Vucevic and Torrey Craig.

I think Carter and Craig are the best bargains the Bulls signed this summer. Both could should be starters and on $6.5 million and $2.5 million deals respectively, they should provide the best return on investment.

I do think White has a chance to outperform his $12.4 million (Mid-Level Exception money) contract if he continues the trend of improved play on both ends to finish out last season.

I struggle to see Dosunmu getting enough playing time in the current roster construction, barring an injury, to blow his number out of the water, but I don’t mind the deal at all.

The Bulls avoided a massive overpay with Vucevic, so he should be worth the money, even if that may not be the case in year three of his deal.

All in all, I think Arturas Karnisovas did a fantastic job bringing in valuable players that help improve the group.

@WindySportsFan: How much do you predict P-Will improving next season?

I know everyone wants to see 20 points per game, but I just don’t see that happening. The offense would have to flow through him in order to achieve that level of production, and that won’t be the case on this team.

I do expect him to continue to improve as a defender, both on and off the ball. He showed strides last year and as he continues to learn the game and add strength, there’s no reason to believe he can’t become a high-level defender. Though on/off splits don’t make him look great, he’s got a high block and steal rate and most of the advanced metrics show him as a (slight) positive.

Offensively, he needs to be more aggressive. A cliche, I know, but he needs to hunt three-point shots more. He took 4.3 threes per 36 minutes last year, that number should be around seven or eight. He took 1.6 free throws per 36 minutes last year, that number should be around four or five.

Those would be indicators of Williams getting up more shots, and successfully attacking closeouts and getting to the rim. If he can do those things, he would be well on his way to becoming a really solid NBA player.

@KMGreen6Do you think the Bulls offensive scheme is holding anyone back? Faster pace for Zach? Better point guard play for P-Will? More spacing for Vuc to work?

Everything about the offense seems to be rowing in opposite directions. Vucevic wants to operate from the post and elbow, but that cramps DeRozan’s space. DeRozan wants to iso at the top of the key, but defenses easily collapse on him because there are so few shooting threats around him. Zach LaVine wants to get his and it just feels like there isn’t a common goal.

As much as the pieces are impossible to fit together, there’s also a criticism of Billy Donovan in there. It’s hard to build a fluid offense with the skillsets he has to work with, but that’s also the job.

Presumably, part of Vucevic coming back was to run more offense through him. LaVine took on a larger share of usage to end the season. DeRozan can’t really be a spot up shooter and no one wants to get into movement and motion the way they probably need to in order to be more deceptive.

All of this to say, I don’t think the offense is helping any individual player improve and I don’t think the individual player’s skillsets are conducive to a more fluid offense.

Hopefully Carter and Craig can add the shooting the Bulls need to at least open up the floor but they need to play with more pace and movement in order to unlock what they were able to do with Lonzo Ball in the starting spot.

@badretrojersey: Best basketball events / places to watch basketball in Chicago besides Bulls games?

The best basketball-watching experience I’ve ever had was at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA watching the Warriors in the Finals. I can only compare that to what I’ve heard about the Bulls playing in the old Chicago Stadium, though I was too young to experience that for myself.

Oracle was pretty dumpy, but the fans there were absolutely nuts every game. Pleading and whining for Steph Curry to launch logo threes, watching their team play some of the highest level basketball of all time and appreciating every moment of the dynasty they were witnessing.

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