With the Baby Bulls Era in the rear-view mirror, the Chicago Bulls are in a new place; one where they have a group of young and talented basketball players and a mission to rebuild (depending on who you ask).
And this new stage for the team is certainly a train wreck to watch but an interesting one nonetheless.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
On a positive note, the bright sparks in the Bulls season so far are the baby-faced Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr.
LaVine signed a four-year $78 million contract that had many Bulls fans (including myself) shaking their heads considering that the 23-year-old sat out 60 games last year due to a torn ACL.
However, he has started this 2018-19 campaign proving that he deserves every single penny. In the first 12 games of the season, the tweener guard is averaging a cool 27.4 points per game; the fifth best mark in the NBA, above LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden. He is also posting five rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.
On Tuesday night, he scored a career 41 points in the 116-115 victory over the New York Knicks. He also posted four boards, four dimes, three steals and two blocks for a near perfect game in front of a capacity crowd in Madison Square Garden.
His stellar performance was one out of five games this season where he has notched over 30 points. He joins Michael Jordan as the only Bulls player to open the season with four consecutive 30-point outings.
What is very clear is that LaVine has been working hard in the offseason to correct the things he has been heavily criticized about.
Last season, some questioned his ability to drive and this year, he is twisting his way through defenders to explode at the rim. Last campaign, there was concern over his free throw attempts (he averaged 4.5 per game) and this year he’s doubled his trips to the foul line. Last year, LaVine was roasted by a seafood restaurant on twitter about his defense, this year he is transforming into a decent on-ball defender.
And while LaVine is rewriting the narrative about him, Wendell Carter Jr. is creating one for himself. As the seventh pick from the 2018 NBA Draft, the 20-year-old has become an immediate impact player for Chicago.
As the only solid two-way player on the team (more on that later), the big man has been an anchor for Chicago on the defensive end. He is astute at clogging the lane, defending the rim and can alter the shots of his opponents. He currently posts two blocks per game, ranking eighth in the entire league – above top centers like Clint Capela, DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. That is impressive.
The Duke product is also a valuable offensive player who provides some much needed scoring for Hoiberg’s pace and space system. He averages 11.6 points per game on 26 minutes playing time. Against the Denver Nuggets, the Atlanta native had a solid performance, registering 25 points, eight rebounds, three steals, three blocks and only one turnover.
While his efficiency is a sore point – he posts a true shooting percentage of 51.6 percent – there is a clear willingness on his part to improve.
If injuries were an iceberg, the Bulls would be the Titanic. Four starters are currently not in the line-up because of injuries. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Denzel Valentine - out for two weeks with a left knee injury
Bobby Portis - out with a MCL right knee injury
Lauri Markkanen – out for 6-8 weeks with a high grade lateral elbow injury
Kris Dunn – out for 4-6 weeks with a moderate MCL sprain
Two of these injuries are in the point guard position which forces Hoiberg to rely on a back up to orchestrate his offense.
The presence of Jabari Parker should help alleviate this problem but it’s turning out to be a curse. The Chicago native’s homecoming was thanks to a two-year $40 million contract that was signed in the offseason after he left the Milwaukee Bucks. And despite him posting decent numbers – he averages a team second best 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds – the 23-year-old is clearly struggling with fitting into Chicago’s style of play.
Granted, it needs to be mentioned that he has changed from playing his traditional role of power forward to small forward to power forward again while having to play in changing line-ups. However, many analysts and reporters have questioned his motivation and his sluggish demeanour on the court. It’s become a common sight to see Hoiberg chastise him for not exerting effort on defense or for making careless turnovers.
To put it simply, Chicago’s defense is atrocious. And that’s being too kind. In the last 12 outings, they have had ten games where opponents go over 100 points including the disastrous home contest against the Golden State Warriors where they were handed a 149-124 thrashing in four quarters. They allowed Golden State to score 92 points within the opening half and Klay Thompson notched 52 points and set the NBA record for most three-pointers in a game with 14. Bear in mind that Thompson had been going through a slump prior to the game, shooting a laughable 4-of-30 from the perimeter in seven games.
Chicago currently ranks 25th in defensive rating and allows opponents to score 114.3 points.
It’s about to be a long and gruesome trek till the end of the regular season and in that time, the Bulls will hope that the injured players can return and continue to develop so that they can garner enough wins to qualify for the playoffs. Their form right now is not encouraging however; they are in a weak Eastern conference.
All statistics were sourced on November 8th and were provided by Baksetball-Reference.com, NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise stated
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