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Monday Mailbag: How do the Bulls improve this season?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
August 22, 2022

There are 43 days until the first preseason game.

Yes, I am counting.

The schedule is out and thought it’s still the dead zone, I’m ready to start looking ahead to the season.

By the questions I got in my latest solicitation, so are you guys. So let’s get into it

In other words, what happens if the Bulls hit their 90th percentile outcome in terms of health and performance. I’ll generously say they win about 50 games.

I think the Bulls ended up about where they should have last year. They overperformed at their best and underperformed at their worst. I do think they have some more unaddressed foundational issues, and I’m pretty skeptical about this whole continuity thing, but if all goes right, they can beat their record from last year by a few games.

Here’s what “all goes right” means:

  1. Shoot more. They were last in threes by a mile. It’s not really a part of their DNA, but at the very least they need more spacing and added variance. Patrick Williams, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones, Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso need to be lighting it up when they have the opportunity.
  2. Shoot more efficiently. It starts with Vucevic, but Lonzo Ball needs to keep up his 42+ percent streak. Alex Caruso quietly dropped 7 percent on his three-point average. Zach LaVine dropped three percent on his previous season average. Coby White shot a career high 38.5 percent on threes…no reason he can’t be above 40. Williams needs to prove he can shoot high percentage on much higher volume.
  3. Build a better defensive infrastructure. The Bulls defense was awesome when Ball and Caruso were healthy, but could not withstand their absence.
  4. More motion and activity. It’s understandable that the Bulls would be such a high isolation and pick-and-roll volume team given their roster construction. But they were 24th in cutting, 24th on off-screen actions, 24th in transition, 28th in offensive rebounding, and 17th in free throw attempt rates. Even with Ball fully healthy, they’ll need to prioritize these things to give themselves easier scoring chances and relieve DeRozan and LaVine.

If all these things happen and the Bulls can stay healthy, I don’t see why they can’t win 50 games.

Addressing the second question here because it’s been on my mind too. What happens if continuity doesn’t pan out? I do think they’ll have to make some deadline decisions, at the very least, to protect their assets.

If things aren’t working out, is it better to trade Vucevic, extend him or let him walk for nothing? Can they afford to keep Coby White on payroll until he breaks out or will they let him play on his qualifying offer? The Bulls are heading towards luxury tax-ville and if they’re worse than they were last year, it would not at all surprise me if they made some tough decisions.

There’s also the chance that they are buyers. They’ve shown no interest in losing basketball games. Two future picks are already out the door. Zach LaVine is now locked in for four years (and a player option) and DeMar DeRozan will be finishing up the second year of his three year deal. They can’t afford to be bad … but will they triple-down on trying to be good?

This is an awesome question. Courtney Vandersloot is my favorite Sky player, but the Bulls don’t really have a shortage of small guards. Candace Parker is the easy answer. Just an incredible all-around player with size, rim protection, passing and who has developed a relatively reliable three-point shot.

But I think I’m going to take 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper. She really fits the ethos of what the Bulls want to do. An incredible athlete who can defend passing lanes and get out in transition. She’s refined her scoring and is up to 35.6 percent on threes. She’d help the Bulls wing depth, allow them to play smaller and faster and add another dynamic two-way weapon.

And she’s got that dog in her.

Best small-ball unit from a real team? I’m going 2017 Warriors pretty easily. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green. They were unstoppable.

If I could pick my own of current players, I’d say Curry, Durant, Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the five. Great shooting with Curry and Durant, elite passing and decision making all over the floor, defensive size and switchability and five guys who can get you a bucket whenever you need.

DeRozan was second in the NBA in clutch points (final five minutes of games within five points) scoring 137 points 53.5 percent shooting. He scored a league-leading 35 points (54.5 percent) in the final minute of games within five points. Two of those were game-winning shots at the buzzer. He improved his scoring 6.5 points per game (to a career-high) over his previous season while also improving his field goal percentage. All in his age-32 season, his 13th year in the league.

I’m not saying DeRozan isn’t capable of repeating this but one can only be so hot. He shot 45.2 percent on those same clutch shots in the 2020-21 season, 50 percent in 2019-20 and 44.0 percent in 2018-19.

Even if he’s back down to a sweltering 50 percent on clutch shots, his previous three-year high, what happens to the Bulls record? He single-handedly won them at least two games, probably a handful more.

Maybe DeRozan is just as good as he was last year. Maybe he’s even better. Just playing the probabilities.

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