Even though the Chicago Bulls season ended with a 116-110 defeat in Game 5 versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the official start of the offseason is right around the corner. That means a ton of speculation over the next few weeks as the postseason gets sorted out.
The Bulls had a strong start to the season but limped into (and out of) the postseason with Zach LaVine missing the decisive Game 5 in health and safety protocols.
With their offseason ready to begin, the process of improvement has become the focus.
In a piece for Bleacher Report, Scott Polacek made mention of a rather intriguing target. One that could go a long way towards shoring up what was a problematic area for them even when they were healthy and at the top of the conference.
Chicago should have some room to make additions considering Spotrac projects it to have the 14th highest salary-cap figure in the league at $169.9 million. That could leave it with enough money to look at some of the mid-tier free agents who can provide important depth inside.
That target is New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson.
A Bite of the Big Apple
Robinson was drafted by the Knicks with the 36th overall pick in 2018 out of Western Kentucky. It did not take him long to establish himself as a premier paint protector averaging 2.2 blocks over the first two seasons of his career. Only 29 players in NBA history have recorded more than the 458 blocks he’s posted over his first 230 NBA games, per Stathead.
He also led the league in both field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage in his second season.
Injuries have delayed his ascension. But he appeared in a career-high 72 games with 62 starts for the 37-45 Knicks this past season. He averaged 8.5 points and 8.6 rebounds with 1.8 blocks per game, up from the 1.5 rejections he averaged in 2021.
The Athletic’s Fred Katz wrote about Robinson’s impending voyage into unrestricted free agency and what it would take to land him.
If he ends up in another place, a sign-and-trade deal is on the table. And that could mean numerous different destinations…Of course, it’s possible teams try to scoop up Robinson for the midlevel exception, too, which projects to be a little more than $10 million 2022-23 and also would trigger a hard cap.
The Bulls are already hard-capped after their roster makeover last season. They will have access to the mid-level exception. But, as Katz points out, they could have to explore a sign-and-trade similar to the deals that brought Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to Chicago.
Bulls Need to Focus on Interior Defense
Polacek starts from a simple enough premise that you don’t have to be a basketball savant to see. The current group is heavy on firepower but light on stopping power at the rim in particular allowing opponents to convert at the fifth-highest rate during the playoffs on the fourth-most shot attempts in the restricted area, per NBA.com.
They saw the second-most shot attempts in the restricted area during the regular season.
Assuming they do keep LaVine, they still need to improve their frontcourt. Nikola Vucevic is a two-time All-Star but is a questionable defender who struggled with inconsistency at times during the 2021-22 season.
Vucevic averaged 17.6 points on 47.3% shooting with 11 rebounds per game during the regular season. Those are his fewest since 2018 on his worst efficiency since 2017.
Vucevic tied his career-worst defensive rating set just last season, per Basketball-Reference, while also seeing his offense regress. His performance this season led one NBA executive to say “they know” they have to move Vucevic this offseason.
That was before the Bulls were bounced from the playoffs in five games.
However, Vucevic averaged 19.4 points on 52% true shooting with 12.4 boards and finished with a better defended field goal percentage differential than DeRozan, rookie Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr, and Patrick Williams.
Those are wing defenders anyway, leaving the Bulls without much-needed protection on the backline. Tristan Thompson posted the third-worst defensive rating on the team in the postseason and Tony Bradley played just eight minutes the entire series.
We have seen the Bulls linked to higher-profile big men in recent weeks. But Robinson presents a more economical solution to a very big problem. Adding him could take some good fortune and additional assets, though.