• They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but why do us Bulls fans keep getting the basketball gods’ greatest challenges? Following 2022-23’s disappointing season, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley decided to… double down. Much to the chagrin of many-a-Bulls fan, this team kept the status quo and simply added some peripheral pieces around the very edges, attempting to replace Derrick Jones Jr. (who is now in the WCF as of the writing of this article, and likely in the NBA Finals soon along with fellow former Bull Daniel Gafford) and Javonte Green (who they brought back anyways.) Anyone who has any semblance of a basketball brain could have told you how this would go.

    How’d It Go?

    It sucked, unsurprisingly.

    The biggest storylines of the season began early as Zach LaVine essentially sandbagged out of the gate and the Bulls opened with a 5-14 record. At that point, LaVine became sidelined with a mysterious injury and the trade rumors began to fly. Most notably, there were serious discussions with the Pistons that ultimately fell through when LaVine, in tandem with Klutch Sports, announced he would undergo season-ending surgery on his right foot. He’s expected to make a full recovery in time for next season, but his role in Chicago can certainly be viewed as tenuous at this point. His contract is viewed as an albatross, and interest around the league is non-existent besides posting a 62% mark on true shooting with 29% usage over the past three years. He’ll likely have to rehab his value if he wants out of Chicago, which means suiting up for about half a season at the very least and helping this team win.

    With LaVine on the sideline, the Bulls actually played basketball that was on par with their preseason expectations, ending up with a 39-43 record and solidly in the Play-In before unceremoniously getting bounced in convincing fashion. This mini “revival” was powered by strong play from two of Chicago’s young guards, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White.

    White finished second in the Most Improved Player voting, though he was arguably the most improved on both ends of the court this season compared to last season. More on Coby a bit later, but to speak to Ayo Dosunmu’s development, he seems to have found his niche in the NBA. He was always the guy getting out in transition for the Bulls, and he was more selfish with his offense, which is a good thing in this particular situation. I don’t think he’ll be a star or anything like that, but he should be a very solid role player for years to come. He plays some hard-nosed on-ball defense, generates deflections, and utilizes a high motor to beat defenders down the floor for easy baskets. His three-point shooting also took a giant leap with an increase in volume to go along with a 40.3% clip. We’ll talk about him more below, but I wanted to highlight these two guys as a big reason the Bulls didn’t wind up with an absolutely disastrous season from a wins standpoint.

    White and Dosunmu can likely credit much of their defensive improvement to Alex Caruso, who remains on one of the best contracts in the entire NBA while playing winning basketball on both sides. The Bulls went from one of the bottom five defenses with sandbagging Zach LaVine through the first 20 games of the season or so, to above average thanks to mainly these three guys. More on AC in a bit.

    Patrick Williams has become a forgotten man on this team, but he also had yet another lengthy absence with season-ending surgery on his left foot back in February. He had been out of the lineup for about a month at that point with few updates. He still has a chance to be a very good role player, but the returns so far have certainly been less than promising. He had some decent spurts this season, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together.

    The front office has said they’ll be looking to “make some changes” but that’s a difficult buy from a front office that hasn’t made a splash since signing Lonzo Ball three years ago, especially given how hamstrung they are by their cap situation after extending Nikola Vucevic this past offseason to “run it back.” This upcoming offseason is all about DeMar DeRozan who is due for his own extension and would lock the Bulls into mediocrity yet again.

    Nothing has worked out since AKME decided to trade for Vucevic in March of 2021, and it’s not all their fault. Don’t forget that the Bulls sat in first place through a rather significant part of that 2021-22 NBA season until Lonzo Ball was injured. Ball is set to make his return in this upcoming season, though I have some doubts that I’ll lay out below.

    It was yet another mediocre season from a mediocre team, and hope is dwindling. As long as Jerry Reinsdorf owns the team, it seems clear they’ll look to make the playoffs every single season even if that means they aren’t title contenders. Can they work miracles to avoid a lengthy rebuild?

    Coaching

    Billy Donovan signed a secret extension prior to the 2022-23 season which shocked pretty much everyone as he had a few years still left on his deal. There’s not much that excites me about Donovan, but I would struggle to call him a bad coach. He’s great with the media, which the Reinsdorfs clearly value first and foremost, and he’s gotten players to mostly get along and keep their private matters private. In Chicago, that’s really all you need for a decent tenure and I’d be shocked if we don’t see him return next season as the head coach.

    To Donovan’s credit, he got the Bulls to stop playing as much “hero ball” and he gave Vucevic a more solid role in the offense. I’m not saying that Vucevic is amazing, but his offensive ability is his skill and if you aren’t using that then there’s no reason to even have him on the floor. The Bulls were a respectable 19th in offensive rating while being 28th in pace. They generated offense with their defense and played a lot in the half-court.

    One popular talking point was the fact that they went to DeMar DeRozan in the clutch 100% of the time. This often resulted in a poor, contested look and some losses that angered fans, but in looking at DeRozan’s ball security in these situations compared to other options, it’s not a bad strategy. The Bulls went to a league-leading 11 overtimes on the season, three more than second place and over twice as many times as 73% of the rest of the league. They went 7-4 in these games, squashing this criticism in my eyes.

    The biggest thing that Donovan can hang his hat on is the overall defensive improvements of this Bulls squad. Even without Lonzo Ball, they were elite at times. They wound up seventh in the league in deflections, sixth in loose balls recovered on defense, and in the top third of teams in charges drawn. It was clear that people were bought in and there was far less arguing once LaVine was out of the lineup about blown assignments.

    The Players

    DeMar DeRozan
    SF, Chicago Bulls
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 CHI 79 79 37.8 8.2 17.2 48.0 6.6 7.7 85.3 0.9 2.8 33.3 24.0 4.3 5.3 1.1 0.6 1.7
    22-23 CHI 74 74 36.2 8.9 17.6 50.4 6.2 7.1 87.2 0.6 1.9 32.4 24.5 4.6 5.1 1.1 0.5 2.1
    21-22 CHI 76 76 36.1 10.2 20.2 50.4 6.8 7.8 87.7 0.7 1.9 35.2 27.9 5.1 4.9 0.9 0.3 2.4

    ADP: 46.7/26.5 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 28/20 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 37/31 (8/9-cat)

    The Iron Man star kept up his ways with 81 games played this season. He has a game that ages well, so he should have a few more seasons of top production left as he relies on getting to his jumper in the midrange or drawing touch fouls to get his points at the line. That didn’t prove as effective this season as last season as he posted his worst FG% since 2017-18, but the points per game didn’t fall off dramatically thanks to an increased frequency in three-point shots. He shot a respectable 33.3% from distance and those things shouldn’t change on the three-hungry Bulls until they get back a fully healthy Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine. And if that happens, the efficiency should return.

    After LaVine exited the lineup, DeRozan enjoyed some increased usage and that translated mostly to assists. At this point in his career, we mostly know what we’re getting with DeRozan. The only question that remains is what jersey he’ll be wearing next season. Fantasy managers in dynasty settings should be rooting for the Bulls to work out a new contract with him due to the aforementioned three-point increase and exclusive touches in the clutch on an offensively needy team. The Bulls also have lengthy wings in place to cover for DeRozan’s sometimes lazy defense.

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