o/u 41.5 – UNDER
Last season for the Bulls, everything seemed to come together. DeMar DeRozan was playing the best basketball of his career, led by Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso’s on-ball defense, the defense wasn’t just getting by – it was striving. At the end of it, all they got was 46 wins, a 6 seed and a gentleman’s sweep out of the first round. Last year felt like the best they were gonna get out of this group, but were plagued by untimely injuries. Even with a healthy Zach Lavine entering the ‘22-23 season, there are still glaring concerns to this Bulls team.
On January 20, the Bulls reported Lonzo Ball had a “slight meniscus tear” and would undergo arthroscopic surgery with a 4-6 week timetable. On April 5, Coach Billy Donavon announced Ball would be shut down for the season following setbacks in his rehab. On September 27, Ball announced he was set to have another surgery on the knee because he still was unable to run or jump. On September 28, Shams Charania reported Ball had a successful surgery and, “is expected to miss at least a few months.”
Does Lonzo Ball have two legs? Does he still exist? Is he alive? Without Lonzo, the Bulls fall apart. While Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu are a formidable defensive paring and a healthy Zach Lavine adds another playmaker they were lacking as they lost 15 of their last 22 games last year, Lonzo unlocks a ton for this team. Without his distributing and defense at the point of attack, Chicago has some interesting questions about who their closing five will be.
Patrick Williams, the 4th pick in the 2020 Draft, after only playing in the team’s first five and last 17 games last season due to a wrist injury, looks to make a leap for the Bulls. If Williams can lock down the power forward position defensively – being able to bang inside with the Julius Randle’s and cover the Kawhi Leonard’s – he raises the Bulls floor.
Williams has shown his ability to make the pull-up midrange after attacking a closing out defender. A valuable asset, but he’ll need to sure up his catch & shoot 3’s as seen when Milwaukie dared him to shoot in the playoffs, as they do, and he shot 33% from behind the arc. In just 17 regular season games, Williams shot 52% from 3. He’ll need to sure-up those numbers, while improving on getting deeper into the defense to either get to the free-throw line or create opportunities for the big men.
Speaking of the big men, what are the Bulls going to get from Nikola Vucevic. Proven to not be a positive defender, 31, Vuc will need to get back into his offensive groove. He shot 31% from 3 last season while also getting away from his comfort areas in the low and mid post. He’s shot over 35% from 3. Only two of the last five seasons has he been over 35% from behind the arc. So which Vuc are the Bulls getting? The low-post consistent buck with a nice touch on his outside game or the uncomfortable, lost Vuc we saw a season ago. Either way, he isn’t helping the defense. So there are some uncomfortable conversations potentially on the way.
The question for the Bulls is did they hit their ceiling a season ago, with DeMar playing incredibly, or is there another jump for them to take. A season ago, before losing 15 of their last 22, things were going as good as they could have. The way the team looks without Lonzo Ball and with the front court questions, I don’t think even with two all-star level wings this team has what it takes to win 42 games.