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NBA Daily: Baby Bulls Now Thinking Playoffs

Entering year three of their rebuild, there is reason for optimism with the Chicago Bulls. Chad Smith breaks down the team’s young core and how their front office executed this summer.

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When examining the rosters around the league, it is difficult to imagine a team having a greater improvement on last season than the Chicago Bulls. After a year filled with injuries and a mid-season coaching change, the outlook for this team is extremely positive.

Chicago has some bright young talent, most notably versatile big man Lauri Markkanen. Building around the seven-footer has been the focal point, and for good reason. Markkanen scored 30 points or more eight times last season and posted 20 double-doubles in just 52 games. Wendell Carter Jr. is an exceptional fit next to him, as Lauri spaces the floor quite well. Carter has excellent hands and has shown flashes of his talent over the past two seasons.

Both Markkanen and Carter were 7th overall picks in their respective drafts. This summer, the Bulls selected Coby White with the 7th overall pick. The point guard only spent one season at North Carolina, but he was spectacular. While he may have fallen into Chicago’s lap, he did land at the perfect destination. White will need to work on his three-point shooting, but he should regularly see minutes in the rotation. The addition of White (and the departure of Robin Lopez) will definitely improve Chicago’s pace, which ranked 19th last season.

Chandler Hutchison didn’t have a great rookie campaign, but the Boise State product should have every opportunity to make his presence felt this season. After averaging 20 points per game in college, the thought was he would provide an offensive punch in the NBA. That wasn’t the case last year, as the rookie averaged just 5.2 points in 44 games. Because of his college production and physical tools, Hutchison still has a high ceiling. He will need to step up if he wants to carve out a role in a crowded group of wing players.

These guys are all very young, but don’t forget that Zach LaVine is only 24 years old himself. The ultra-athletic guard still needs to be more efficient, but his game has evolved quite nicely from when he first arrived from Minnesota. In order for LaVine to solidify himself as an All-Star caliber player, team success will be paramount. He and Markkanen have the potential to be a dynamic duo in the Windy City for many years.

Often labeled the Baby Bulls, Chicago boasts one of the youngest rosters in the league. In fact, as currently constructed, only the Phoenix Suns have a younger average age. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are inexperienced or immature, only that they still have some learning to do. Fortunately, the Bulls front office was able to address that this summer.

Within minutes of free agency opening up, Chicago was able to secure the services of veteran Thaddeus Young. The 31-year old forward will make the short trip from Indianapolis to Chicago and play a very similar role for the Bulls this season. His defensive prowess, toughness and effort on both ends of the floor is something the Bulls desperately need. They were 25th in defensive efficiency last year and should vastly improve upon that this season.

The Bulls also did very well in terms of the contract that Young signed. The three-year deal was for $40 million, but it also has a non-guarantee. If for some reason things don’t work out as they should, teams will view this as a positive value contract, and the Bulls could attain an asset for him. While he might not be a starter, Thad will play a major role for this team, especially considering their injury history.

Chicago’s young trio of Lavine, Markkanen and Kris Dunn has only played a total of 12 games together. Last season, Markkanen missed 30 games, Dunn missed 36 and both Carter Jr and Hutchison missed 38 games each. On top of that, Denzel Valentine missed the entire season. In all, Bulls players missed a grand total of 290 games last year.

Otto Porter figures to be the starting small forward this year, and he is still trying to fit in with this group. He only played 15 games in Chicago last year after being traded from Washington. By then, the Bulls were a mixed group of bench players and G-League products. Porter will see a familiar face again this year with the acquisition of Tomas Satoransky. The 27-year old guard is an excellent defender but also adds more size a scoring to a team that was 27th in scoring last season.

The arrival of Satoransky likely signals the end of Dunn’s tenure with the Bulls. With Ryan Arcidiacono already signed, Chicago has already begun fielding trade calls for the inconsistent point guard. Dunn is currently extension eligible, which should help facilitate a deal if another team is interested in bringing him in.

Despite only making the playoffs once in the last four years, the Bulls still have the support of their loyal fan base. Chicago ranked 2nd in attendance last season just behind Philadelphia. The jury is still out on head coach Jim Boylen, but he seems to have won over the players.

They still need a solid backup center, but the Eastern Conference is not exactly loaded. They are in a tough Central Division with the Bucks and Pacers, but the Baby Bulls should be able to contend for a playoff spot.

Chicago will host the NBA All-Star Game this season. If things pan out for the Bulls, they just might have one of their own playing at the United Center that weekend.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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