NBA Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 22-43 (.338%), 11th in Eastern Conference, Missed Playoffs
Head Coach: Jim Boylan 

The last three seasons have not been pretty for the Bulls, who have gone 71-158 (.310%) over that span. The most newsworthy item for the Bulls last year took place after the season shut down due to COVID. On April 13th, the Bulls fired GM Gar Foreman and replaced him with Lithuanian Arturas Karnisovas, previously of the Denver Nuggets. On September 22nd, with the rest of the NBA in the playoff bubble, the Bulls hired Billy Donovan in a surprise move. Donovan inherits a team led by Zach LaVine, who had a solid season with averages of 25.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.5 spg, while shooting 38.1% on 3-point shots. Coby White, 7th overall pick in last year’s draft, came on strong during the last 9 games of the season – averaging 26.1 ppg, which gives the Bulls some hope heading into the upcoming season. 

How will Billy Donovan fit?

Billy Donovan enters his first year as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and at first glance, it seems to be a good fit. Donovan made his name coaching the Florida Gators for 19 years, getting to three National Championship games, and winning back-to-back titles in 2006 & 2007. He successfully made the jump from college to the pros and guided OKC to a winning record each of the last 5 years – going 243-157 (.608%) along the way. His work last year may have been his most impressive, taking the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder to the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Donovan has not only proven that he can work with young players and develop them, but win at the same time (isn't that what every NBA team is looking for?). He also has a track record for being a great people person and someone who truly cares about his players on a personal level. When that type of feedback comes from players like Joakim Noah and Bradley Beal, it means a lot. With a young Bulls team that is looking to break through in the East, Donovan is a great hire. Expect him to get the most out of his players and foster a winning culture in Chicago for years to come.

How Good is the Young Core of the Bulls?

The bulls have dynamic scorer Zach Lavine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. as well as 4th overall draft pick Patrick Williams to build around. Many have been questioning the Bulls pick of Patrick Williams. While he did win the ACC Sixth Man of the Year Award, he didn’t start a game at the collegiate level and wasn’t a double digit scorer while at FSU. Williams see it’s a little differently:

It just taught me to do my part and do it well. In the NBA it's all about roles. Everybody can't be a LeBron James from Day 1 or a Michael Jordan from Day 1. So you've got to kind of embrace your role and do your role well and then you're trusted with more. 

The versatile Williams will come off the bench to start his career in Chicago and spell starters Porter Jr. and Markkanen. White needs to increase his efficiency (39.4% FG/35.4% 3-point shooting) and learn to be a better facilitator on offense. Markkanen regressed in his 3rd year in the league and for the Bulls to be competitive he needs to get back to his 2nd year averages of 18.7 ppg & 9.0 rpg. Carter Jr. (60 games) and Porter Jr. (118 games) have both missed chunks of time in the last two years, and if they both can remain relatively healthy, they make the Bulls a better team. With solid coaching from Donovan and his staff, expect the young core of the Bulls to all play at, or above, their potential. 

Will the Bulls Make the Playoffs?

With a solid core of young players, new head coach and a new culture, the Bulls will push for the 7-10 seed and make it into the NBA’s new mini play-in tournament. With a player like Zach Lavine (who can get hot at anytime) and a well coached team, the Bulls could surprise teams in the one-game shootout. 

Tom’s Take: The Bulls will sneak into the 9th seed, win the 9/10 game and win the 8th seed elimination game.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire