After placing 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 31-41 record, the Chicago Bulls had another another poor season. What made the Bulls’ chances of making the playoffs even worse in 2020-21 was the addition of the play-in tournament, which allowed teams seeded 7-10 to compete for the East’s final two postseason slots. Despite this, Chicago was unable to overcome a critical injury to franchise player Zach LaVine near the end of the season.
There are four reasons why the rebuilt Bulls can make a big splash in the East this season
The Bulls, on the other hand, spent the whole offseason making moves to improve their chances of making the playoffs and to ensure that if LaVine were to miss time, the season wouldn’t be entirely derailed. Signing point player Lonzo Ball, dealing for four-time All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, and bringing defensive veteran Alex Caruso into the fold were all bold moves. Chicago also added to its depth by trading Lauri Markkanen in a three-way deal that netted it athletic winger Derrick Jones Jr. When you combine those moves with the Bulls already obtaining All-Star forwards Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline last season, it’s evident that they want to build around LaVine in the hopes of him re-signing a new contract this summer. These acquisitions also indicate that Chicago is focused on winning now, and with its current squad, expectations for the 2021-22 season will be high. Here’s a look at Chicago’s roster, as well as four reasons why they could be a threat in the East playoff battle this season, as they try to live up to those playoff expectations with new players in tow.
When the Bulls begin the 2021-22 season, LaVine will have the chance to follow in the footsteps of other players who have been labelled “excellent stats, lousy team.” Last season, we watched Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker demolish that narrative, particularly in the playoffs. Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks was on a similar path, but he led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals in his first postseason appearance. Both players were given tremendous talent with which to work in order to remove that moniker, and LaVine will have his shot this season. Last season, LaVine took the biggest step towards being regarded as a true star by averaging a career-high 27.4 points per game, along with career highs in rebounds per game (5.0) and assists per game (2.0). (4.9). His numbers won him his first All-Star selection, but they didn’t translate into Bulls success. That says more about the Bulls’ dearth of great talent on the roster than it does about LaVine. After all, he was the reason they won the majority of their games last season, and his defensive development demonstrated that he’s dedicated to improving every facet of his game.
His time with Team USA and being surrounded by world-class talent gave him a taste of what it’s like to triumph on the grandest stage. LaVine wasn’t the star of the show on offence like he was with the Bulls, so he had to make an impression in other ways. According to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, LaVine’s work ethic and commitment to defence “blew the coaching staff away” during the Olympics. If you’re the Bulls, that’s exactly what you want to hear, because the new additions to the roster could signal a shift in LaVine’s role, with him not getting as much time with the ball. He did a good job adjusting to a new role during the Olympics, averaging 9.7 points on 60 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent from three, which should be a good sign that he’ll be able to adjust to not having the ball in his hands as much in Chicago.
Ball is one of the reasons LaVine won’t be holding the ball as much. Ball is the finest point guard the Bulls have had since Derrick Rose, with the exception of one season with Rajon Rondo, because there hasn’t been much competition for that distinction. Take a look at the point guards who have played the position before Ball: That’s not to suggest these aren’t good players; Payne is still a valuable contributor off the bench for the Phoenix Suns — but they’re all better suited as backups than starters. But just because the threshold for a good point guard in Chicago is low based on their former players doesn’t mean Ball isn’t worth paying attention to. The Bulls have signed the former No. 2 overall selection, who is coming off a great year with the New Orleans Pelicans, when he averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game. Even more eye-opening: he hit 37.8 percent from 3-point range, a far cry from his rookie season’s 30 percent average. His better shooting technique have allowed him to become more efficient from all areas of the court (he shot a career-high 41.4 percent from the field last season), which will be critical in Chicago’s ability to spread the floor.
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