Most Exciting Team: Chicago Bulls
Am I biased? Sure. Am I still correct? Absolutely, in my opinion. This offseason there were a lot of discussions centered around the Bulls team. Some people were visibly upset at how quickly the Bulls’ trade with the Pelicans went through for Lonzo Ball. I’ll admit, the circumstances were suspicious, but let’s not pretend that this was the first time in NBA history where some early contact was made. Otherwise, I’d have to say that some high-powered agents and players are pretty loose with reading multi-million dollar contracts in less than 1 minute on the night of the free agency period opening. Why did the NBA decide to crack down this time around? I’m not entirely sure, but I can assure you that every Bulls fan would gladly pay that price again and chances are that your favorite team would too. The most controversial topic of the Bulls’ offseason however was the signing of DeMar DeRozan for 3 years/$82 million. Most marked it down as a failed reach for a team unable to bring in new free agents, while others saw the value he brings in as a consistent 20 ppg scorer and a significantly improved playmaker over his 3 seasons with the Spurs. Regardless of what your thoughts are on his salary, you cannot deny that he was going to bring versatility to the roster that was necessary alongside Zach Lavine.
DeMar DeRozan is up to a near career-best 27 PPG this season, and more importantly, has been hitting big shots in big moments. There was certainly concern that he and Zach would have difficulty sharing the ball, but if you have watched the team this season, that has been a complete non-issue. On multiple occasions this season, this duo has been mentioned with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, ever heard of them? They posted one of the longest streaks in franchise history of duos both scoring 20+ points in a game. Just this past week, Lavine and DeRozan both scored 30+ points with 9+ assists each for the first time since Michael and Scottie. Needless to say, these guys have bought in and are executing at an extremely high level on a nightly basis. Lonzo Ball has fit in seamlessly as well. He was known to be an incredible passer from his time at UCLA but his jump shot required a lot of work to get to where it is today. All that work has paid off as Lonzo Ball is shooting a career-high 41.9%, on an aggressive 7.4 attempts per game. Nikola Vucevic has been the slowest to adjust but there can’t be too much of a surprise over this. The new style the Bulls play is significantly more fast-paced and perimeter-centric. He is a highly skilled big, and given his ability to shoot from the perimeter he has been able to acclimate as the season progresses. This latest stretch for him has been quietly productive on the offensive end and he seems to be rounding into form at just the right time. All of these new adjustments have led to 112 points per 100 possessions, good for 4th in the league. With a core of Lonzo Ball, Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic the offensive output was expected, but fourth in the league, this early into their tenure is a welcome surprise.
One of the biggest concerns coming into the year was on the defensive end. Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic have been considered below-average defenders throughout much of their careers. Were the additions of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso truly going to be enough to bolster up that unit? While it did not seem that way, last season the Chicago Bulls actually were tied for 11th in defensive rating (DRtg) at 111.5, a fairly underrated statistic that can largely, in my opinion, be attributed to the coaching of Billy Donovan. Unfortunately for my Twitter credibility, the Bulls defense has not made the leap into Top 10 defense on the season, let alone Top 8. On the bright side, though they remain at 11th in the league, the DRtg has improved to 108, which would have been 5th in the league last season. Where exactly did this leap come from? The answer is quite simple, the active hands of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso go a long way in a commitment to defense. They say the ball has “kinetic energy” on the offensive side to express the importance of ball movement leading to an increased commitment on that end. On that same note, on the defensive end of the court, when you have players with this much commitment, others will follow. Active hands lead to tipped passes, lead to steals, which ultimately leads to the easy fast-break buckets pushing you to victory. The ability to go stretches of many minutes without allowing a score has been suffocating for opponents, completely shifting the momentum of a game. While both Lonzo and Caruso deserve much of the credit for the defensive success, bear in mind that the Bulls are missing one of their key young defensive players in Patrick Williams, and (somehow) second-round draft-pick Ayo Dosunmu will continue to bolster up the defense, eventually leading to that Top 8 defense I envisioned at the outset of the year.
At the outset of the year, I pegged them as a 5-seed while being cautiously optimistic for the team to be 47–35 and gain some experience. Sitting at 22–10 as I write this, the Bulls are already 12 games over 0.500 and look poised to keep building on this momentum as they get healthier and come out of the COVID-19 protocols with time. The newly minted Slash Bros, Zach Lavine & DeMar DeRozan, are setting the table for a successful season moving forward. Whether they end up as a true title contender this season or gain some much-needed playoff experience, this will be a season cherished by Bulls’ fans. It is a signal of the times to come and what things could possibly look like in the future now that we have a more-than-competent front office. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, we are forever grateful to you. I cannot wait to see what, if any, moves the team makes at the trade deadline. As we always say, “In AKME We Trust”.
A very quick addendum to this section. I finished writing it a couple of days ago, and the biggest change of all is that the Chicago Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference standings to start 2022. You read that right! All thanks to the Philadelphia 76ers for beating the Nets and to this wonderful heave from DeMar DeRozan to win at the buzzer. I love it when I write something only to be proven extremely correct within 48 hours, so thank you DeMar for hitting this big shot in a timely fashion. Happy New Year folks, 2022 is going to be one for the books.