NBA Season Preview 2022-23: Chicago Bulls need a next step

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The Chicago Bulls have a complementary mix of talent that could take them far in the Eastern Conference. 

The Chicago Bulls have bamboozled us before. Heading into the 2019-20 season, plenty were bullish on what the Bulls could do with a team led by Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. That team, in a Covid-shortened season, went 22-43 and was 27th in the NBA in points scored. Not great.

Since then, things have changed. The excitement feels merit-based, not prospective.

On the heels of last year’s playoff appearance — a Chicago first since 2017 — there seems to be a genuine reason to be excited about basketball in Chicago.

The Bulls have steadily added talent through trades, (Nikola Vucevic) the draft (Ayo Dosunmo), and free agency (Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso) that gel really nicely together and create reason they should be feared on both ends of the floor in multiple different positions.

Let’s take a look at what has changed with the roster first and how that plays into what expectations of the team should be.

Chicago Bulls offseason overview

Plenty of movement from the Bulls between last season and this.

Players in:

  • Goran Dragic
  • Andre Drummond
  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
  • Carlik Jones
  • Dalen Terry
  • Justin Lewis
  • Javon Freeman-Liberty

Players out:

  • Tristan Thompson
  • Jordan Bell
  • Alfonzo McKinnie
  • Troy Brown Jr.
  • Tyler Cook
  • Matt Thomas
  • Devon Dotson

The Bulls made some decent free agency moves that will shore up the “veteran” aspect of an otherwise young, but talented team. Make no mistake, though, Dragic and Drummond can be legit role players that will contribute to wins.

Dragic, having played six full years with the Miami Heat, can help the organization bring some of the winning “culture” tone needed to keep mindsets and psyches on the right track. Drummond is good for a double-double every night of the week, perhaps even as he transitions to a role off the bench this year.

Chicago Bulls projected rotation

Here’s how the rotation is likely to look on opening night, sans Lonzo Ball who will almost certainly start the season out with a strange injury:

  1. Point Guard: Lonzo Ball; Ayo Dosumno; Goran Dragic; Alex Caruso; Coby White
  2. Shooting Guard: Zach LaVine; Alex Caruso; Ayo Dosunmo; Coby White; Goran Dragic
  3. Small Forward: DeMar DeRozan; Javonte Green; Derrick Jones Jr.; Patrick Williams
  4. Power Forward: Patrick Williams; Javonte Green; DeMar DeRozan; Derrick Jones Jr.
  5. Center: Nikola Vucevic; Andre Drummond; Tony Bradley

When healthy, this is one of the better starting lineups and rotations in the Eastern Conference. In particular, the backcourt defense is extraordinary, spearheaded by Ball and Caruso who both were in the top 10 in balls stolen in the NBA last year.

Best case and worst case scenario for the Chicago Bulls

The best case for the Bulls is they make it to the NBA Finals. With as much talent as they have, that’s entirely in view.

The worst case is the Bulls are a first-round playoff exit for a second consecutive year. The Bulls are far too good, have had too much time to gel, and added too many pieces for that to be an acceptable outcome any longer.

That said, with the right mix of circumstances and a lack of ability to seize the moment in the postseason, it’s a possibility. In the end, it could depend on playoff positioning, too. After all, the (bad) luck of the draw faced them up against the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 playoffs, not an easy first-round opponent.

A big part of the worst-case scenario is whatever the outcome is with Lonzo Ball. Ball, as a Bull, has completely recreated the narrative around his NBA career. He’s a pace-pushing, defense-first guard and outside of the hype of Los Angeles, looks more than capable of a high-quality NBA career.

Ball, though, is experiencing a bizarre injury that’s preventing him from even going up stairs. Doctors are dismayed at the recovery as well, and he underwent another surgery to address the issue. He’ll be out a few months.

Award Watch: DeMar DeRozan could get his MVP

DeMar DeRozan flexed a legit MVP candidacy last season. Though he was eventually left in the dust by eventual winner Nikola Jokic and runner-up Joel Embiid, he could get his this year.

DeRozan figures to be the team’s leading scorer again this season. He can score from all over the floor. Chicago is going to compete in every game, and in close situations, who’s getting the last shot?

It has to be DeRozan.

An MVP award needs not only stats that glisten, but a collection of highlight snippets that help propel the narrative.

And speaking of narrative, you have to appreciate DeRozan’s path through the NBA. Consistent as anyone, he was traded from the Raptors in a painful betrayal of his loyalty to Toronto. He kept his head down in San Antonio and has really come into his own in Chicago. DeRozan has been vocal about his struggles with depression, and his success in Chicago has been a culmination of his mental wellness progress.

Chicago Bulls predicted record and finish

Both the Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers will be able to feast on their games against the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. While the East is deep and talented, expect Chicago to make it into the playoffs as a fifth seed or so.

While I’d tab them at full strength to be a top-4 team in the East, Ball’s uncertain absence may keep them from fully clicking until later in the season.

  • Final record: 43-39
  • Playoff outcome: Loss in Eastern Conference Finals

That said, a late-season click is fortuitous for the playoffs. The Bulls, who haven’t been to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2011 when Derrick Rose won MVP, could get back there this year. It’s hard to see them overcoming the talent on the field at that stage considering it includes the Bucks, Nets, Sixers, and Heat, but a Conference Finals visit should be considered a win for Chicago.

One reason the Chicago Bulls are worth watching this season

The Bulls have it all. Talented youth, in-their-prime stars, and lovable veterans. They’re incredibly complete and while they may not have the most raw talent in the East, it’s hard to argue against just how well-built this team is in terms of complementary strengths.

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