For the first time in quite a while, the Chicago Bulls are not expected to compete for a playoff spot.
Their roster is arguably the worst in the league. Their head coach is on the hot seat. And to top it all off, they’re led by an incompetent front office.
Despite all of that, the Bulls have a lot to be excited about this season.
By trading Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, they acquired three young talents around whom they can center the rebuild. Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are starting at small forward and point guard, respectively. Lauri Markannen likely won’t start a whole lot, but he gives the Bulls two things they need: a shooter and a big man. Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez, Paul Zipser and Bobby Portis are all likely to make an impact this year, as well.
The Bulls don’t have their star player that every rebuilding team eventually acquires in the draft. However, they don’t need that right away. They aren’t in a “win-now” situation like they have been in the past. Although they shouldn’t tank by any means, losing more games is probably best for their future. And that’s what Chicago will probably do a lot of this season: lose. Here are five predictions for their 2017-18 season.
Bobby Portis cements himself as a starter
In the 62 games that he played last season, Bobby Portis only started in 13 of them. The 2015 first-round pick has proven to be a solid spark of energy off the bench for Chicago thus far in his career.
Look for him to bring that energy to the starting lineup more often this year.
Portis averaged 15.7 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game per 36 minutes last season. Despite his overall success on the court, he only finished 11th on the team in minutes per game (15.6). Now that he is on a less talented team, expect his playing time to increase. So much so, in fact, that he will end up finding a long-term spot in the starting lineup.
Kris Dunn bounces back
When the Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn with the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, they expected him to shine and challenge Ricky Rubio for a spot in the starting lineup. However, that was not the case.
Dunn only averaged 3.8 points per game, 2.4 assists per game and 2.1 rebounds per game on just 17.1 minutes per game last year. The latter total finished 10th on the team, and he only started in seven games. His move to the Bulls will see him getting more time on the court.
With his down season, a lot of people tend to forget just how good Dunn can become. At 6’4″ and 210 pounds, he has fantastic size for the point guard position, as well as superb athleticism. He can also handle the ball and run the floor very well. While his shooting was a bit off last season, it will likely improve with time. Don’t expect Dunn to dominate this season, but you best believe that he will bounce back from his poor rookie year.
Nikola Mirotic settles into a bench role
At the beginning of his career with the Bulls, many saw Nikola Mirotic becoming a long-term starter. Fast forward four years, though, and the Spanish-Montenegrin big man has failed to showed much improvement, if any at all.
He fell off in every statistical category except field goal percentage and blocks, the latter of which being an increase by 0.1 per game. He was a defensive liability, and he only managed to finish fourth in three-point percentage on one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA.
The Bulls added Lauri Markannen, who can essentially do everything Mirotic can do and then some. Plus, with Bobby Portis face-smashing his way up the rotation, Mirotic is going to need a career year to maintain his starting spot once he returns from his facial injury. Considering his lack of progression thus far, don’t expect that to happen.
Zach LaVine has a career year
As the third option on Minnesota, Zach LaVine averaged 18.9 points per game before going down with a torn ACL. Once he comes back, he will be the best scoring option on the Bulls by a country mile.
Assuming he returns to his full form, LaVine could be in for a fantastic season. He won’t blow anyone away with his rebounding or assisting totals, but his points per game total has potential to be the best of his career. An average of 20 points per game might not be out of the question for the 22-year-old guard. If he reaches that total, then he could be the only All-Star on the Bulls this year.
Bulls win less than 25 games
Let’s not kid ourselves here: the Bulls probably won’t do all that well this season.
The experts at My Top Sportsbooks have set Chicago’s win total at 20.5 games, citing the team’s glaring lack of star power and unproven youth. Their young players can step up, and their role players can remain steady. In the end, though, this is a team with no true identity yet. They don’t have a whole lot in the way of proven talent, and they don’t have any prospects who are believed to have sky-high ceilings. Until they add a player or two with the “it factor”, it will be hard to envision Chicago doing all that well.