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Chicago Bulls 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Chicago Bulls had a solid off-season, but have they done enough to get into the post-season? Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Chicago Bulls in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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Moving on from the Jimmy Butler era, the Bulls embarked on a new journey with a trio of pieces to build around. The 2017 draft night trade was seen as a steal for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but we found out that might not be the case.

Chicago has something to be excited about when it comes to the future of its franchise. With a healthy roster, one big signing and a couple of first-round draft picks entering the picture, the Bulls are aiming to prove they’re not a bottom dweller.

It may take some time for them to get to the level they desire, but there’s plenty to watch for in the Windy City in the upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

With Zach LaVine signing his brand-new contract and hometown hero Jabari Parker coming to the Windy City for the foreseeable future, the Bulls have more talent than they had all of last year. But Lauri Markkanen was fantastic and Kris Dunn proved that it was way too early to call him a bust. Looking forward, rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. made his presence felt during summer league and will look to continue that momentum into his first NBA season. Fred Hoiberg will have a better team on the floor, but the Central still has too much competition to offer.

5th Place – Central Division

– Spencer Davies

The Chicago Bulls made some bold moves this offseason, including matching the Sacramento Kings’ offer sheet for Zach LaVine and signing Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract (team option on the second year). I think there’s a good chance that in a few years the Bulls will regret matching the offer sheet for LaVine but I understand the thinking behind investing in a talented and athletic guard. I like the deal for Parker considering there’s little risk involved as Chicago holds a team option on the second year of the deal. Parker is better at power forward but he could be an answer at small forward for Chicago, which the team desperately needs. The best move of the offseason, however, was selecting Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. Carter Jr. put on a show at the Las Vegas Summer League and looks to be a foundational player for the Bulls moving forward.

5th Place – Central Division

– Jesse Blancarte

This is looking more and more like the team Fred Hoiberg has wanted since he took over as Head Coach of the Bulls. Their players are better shooters and have more energy than in years past, which fits what Hoiberg has always had in mind. That doesn’t mean the Bulls will be good, necessarily. Rather, they could be one of the young teams that’s more fun to watch. As youthful as they are, the Bulls’ lack of defensive personnel should hold them back from making the playoffs, which is to be expected from a rebuilding team.

5th Place – Central Division

– Matt John

Are the outlines of a true core finally emerging for the Bulls? It certainly seems that way after a mostly productive summer. They’ll bring back Lauri Markkanen after a strong rookie campaign, plus other young pieces in Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. They’ll also be holding onto Zach LaVine after matching a big restricted offer from Sacramento for him. Finally, they drafted Wendell Carter Jr. in the lottery, a player many believe could be a sneaky Rookie of the Year pick, then nabbed Jabari Parker after Milwaukee clearly signaled he wasn’t part of their future plans. Will any of this translate into a significant on-court improvement? Well…maybe, but certainly not enough to challenge for a playoff spot. The Bulls could push for 30 wins if everything breaks right, but the real priority should be seeing how those pieces work together over as large a sample as possible. Enough emphasis there could allow Chicago to make a few moves here or there to plug holes if certain pieces don’t work; too much messing around could see them stuck with guys a couple years down the line once their value has fallen too far to move.

5th Place – Central Division

-Ben Dowsett

The Chicago Bulls could be the sneaky play in the East to make the post-season. With Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine healthy, and the young bigs the Bulls have in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls look to be formidable. The two big questions for the Bulls are, can it all come together under Fred Hoiberg and which version of Kris Dunn will show up to camp? Dunn was a dud in Minnesota as a rookie and a stud in Chicago as a sophomore. If Dunn can pick up where he left off the Bulls might have enough to not only win some games, but sneak into the playoff discussion in an Eastern Conference that flattens out pretty fast in the four through eight seeds.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Steve Kyler

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Lauri Markkanen

When the Bulls needed to score the basketball, they looked for Markkanen to carry the load, and most nights he answered the bell. The Finnish 7-footer started the second-highest number of games on the team (68) and was one of the most durable players on the roster.

He displayed an innate ability to not only shoot the basketball, but also have the versatility to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim with force. Markannen’s accolades from his debut season include joining Dirk Nowitzki as the only other 7-footer to make eight threes in a NBA game, passing Hanno Mottola to become his country’s all-time scoring leader in the association and setting a new record as the fastest rookie to reach 100 made threes in league history.

This offseason, Markkanen has reportedly put on 14 pounds and is looking bulkier. He should be in store for another solid year of work, especially with the better talent surrounding him.

Top Defensive Player: Wendell Carter Jr.

Is it premature to say a rookie is the best defensive player on a professional team? Maybe. But based on what Carter showed off in summer league and at the collegiate level – combined with how awful Chicago was on that end last season – it isn’t far off.

At Duke, Carter averaged over two blocks in about 27 minutes per game and three blocks per 40 minutes. In Las Vegas, he had two games where he recorded at least four swats. The competition isn’t what it is at the true NBA level there, but the timing and defensive principles he had are absolutely an indicator of what he’ll bring.

Seeing how he’ll fit with Markannen will be interesting (who plays what position?), but regardless, it’s not a bad problem for Fred Hoiberg to have.

Top Playmaker: Denzel Valentine

Valentine’s sophomore season saw him make a huge jump in playing time. He went from 17 minutes per game to 27 minutes per game and was depended on for the majority of the year. With the Bulls having lost Jimmy Butler, he had a huge role to fill as a swingman.

While his individual defense can definitely use work, Valentine’s willingness to get everybody involved is purely natural. His decision making is certainly a strength and he doesn’t take too many shots unless Chicago is in a scoring funk.

Year three is usually when players really take the big step in their careers. Keep an eye on Valentine and his potential progression, especially with fresh faces joining him on the floor.

Top Clutch Player: Kris Dunn

In one November win and a memorable early winter stretch, Dunn delivered when it mattered the most. He was a go-to guy for Hoiberg and the Bulls in key moments. Chicago went 10-6 in December and he was a big reason why.

It started against the New York Knicks on Dec. 9, where Dunn won the game with two free throws after drawing a foul on a drive in a tie game late. He did it to them again weeks later with a beautiful upcourt pass to Markannen for a go-ahead bucket on a dunk. The third time was the charm on Jan. 10, when he floated a contested teardrop off the glass for the lead with less than a minute to go in the second overtime.

On Dec. 13, Dunn hit a step back, between-the-legs jumper over Alec Burks to put the Bulls up four and seal a win against the Utah Jazz. Taking on the Sixers five nights later, he hit a game-tying three in transition, another step back over Robert Covington and pulled off a drive-and-kick to a wide open Nikola Mitotic on the right elbow.

It’s a shame we didn’t see more down the stretch, as Dunn missed the last 14 games of the season with a toe injury. He also experienced a scary fall where his teeth were dislocated and he suffered a concussion to boot. If he stays healthy this season, though, we’re in for some big moments from the third-year guard.

The Unheralded Player: Justin Holiday

You can’t talk about Chicago’s 2017-18 season without mentioning the team’s ironman. Holiday receives little attention because he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he is durable, talented and more than serviceable as a key rotational player in the NBA.

Holiday averaged over 30 minutes per game for the first time in his five-year career and took advantage of the chance he was given. His field goal percentage overall was poor, but he knocked down threes and gave the Bulls a sufficient second or third scoring option most nights he played.

He started 72 games and led the team in most appearances. That in itself should be appreciated. Holiday’s role will likely take a small hit this season with the new influx of talent, but don’t forget what he means to this team.

Best New Addition: Jabari Parker

It’s a brand new start for the former second overall pick, and what better way to do it than in his very own hometown? We know the talent Parker has offensively as a strong, attacking forward who can finish with the best of them when healthy. That is the question we all need answered, though: What is still left in the tank and can he stay on the floor?

Parker showed there’s plenty left during the final stretch of the Milwaukee Bucks’ season and short playoff appearance. While he didn’t shoot the ball well from three, he did just fine inside of the arc. Defensively, he will have work to do, but it makes sense that he’s had trouble with considering the injury history. It will also be an adjustment to manning the small forward position

Chicago isn’t really taking a risk signing him to a 2-year, $40 million deal since the second year of the contract is a team option. It may be a hefty salary this season, but if need be, that can be moved and treated as an expiring deal. It feels like a low-risk, high-reward type of situation.

– Spencer Davies

Who We Like

1. Zach LaVine

In the 24 games he played in coming off of a major knee injury, LaVine’s bounce was there. He was unafraid to take it to the basket with conviction and confident in his jump shot. There were signs of rust, of course, but that was to be expected due to the gruesome torn ACL he suffered on February 5, 2017. Expect LaVine to be a crucial piece to the puzzle this season.

2. Chandler Hutchison

The Bulls’ other first-round pick in the 2018 draft should not be overlooked. Hutchison’s primary skill is his ability to play both ends of the court. He is somebody who can open up the floor and is constantly trying to improve his three-point shot with each year, as he did in college at Boise State. His skillet is one that fits today’s game perfectly.

3. Bobby Portis

Chances are this season starts off a little smoother than last for Portis, which means Chicago will be much better off. Who knows how he’ll fit into rotations with the abundance of frontcourt players on the roster, but Hoiberg must find at least 20 minutes per game for the talented power forward, who made a big jump in production. He just might be the perfect sixth man big for this team.

4. Antonio Blakeney

Opportunity is knocking for Blakeney. As one of the beneficiaries of a two-way contract, he earned a regular multi-year NBA contract this summer. He is still being developed at only 21 years old, but he has the potential to break out as a volume scorer off the bench. He is quick and an aggressor, making him a candidate to ascend into a regular role for the Bulls.

– Spencer Davies

Strengths

Chicago is loaded with young talent. There might be difficulty finding minutes for all of these young players, but there is no question that they have plenty of potential. Think about the future of a frontcourt featuring Markkanen and Carter or a dynamic guard combination between Dunn and LaVine moving forward. There’s light at the end of the tunnel in the Windy City.

– Spencer Davies

Weaknesses

The Bulls have to get better on both ends of the floor. It’s as simple as that. While there were times where they found success, they ranked in the bottom four of the league in points per game and points allowed per game for a reason. There is no “one thing” that needs work. It’s a collective improvement that is needed. Oh, and staying healthy and at full strength for the majority of a season would be nice, too.

– Spencer Davies

The Burning Question

Can Fred Hoiberg win and develop players at the same time?

This is the toughest part about being a head coach in professional sports. There is a desire to rack up victories because people want to see progress, but that isn’t easy with a team that is still so young. Players have to make mistakes to learn and gain experience. Sometimes that will happen in key moments of games that prove to be costly and lead to a loss.

There will be times of adversity and times of success throughout the course of an 82-game NBA season. Hoiberg is going to have to figure out a way to fit all of these guys on the floor together with the right rotations. It might take a bit to find it out. The question is: How does the organization handle it as a whole?

– Spencer Davies

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