If the Chicago Bulls want to make a deep run in the postseason, they probably need to be completely healthy. But, absent that which is totally out of their control, they have to be able to adapt.
Among all of the complaints from last season, that is one of the least discussed but also, arguably, the most relevant.
Given the ongoing issues with Lonzo Ball’s recovery, making contingencies is key.
The Bulls think that they have done that personnel-wise despite most considering this a quiet offseason even by this front office’s standards. But there is an even more important step they can take to make sure they are better prepared to weather the injury storm and it all starts with head coach Billy Donovan.
Bulls to Feature DeRozan Less
One of the main knocks against Donovan was that, amid injuries to both Ball and backup Alex Caruso, the Bulls became over-reliant on star wing DeMar DeRozan. An MVP candidate at one point, the 32-year-old DeRozan saw his production wane down the stretch of the regular season and was absolutely smothered by the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs.
Heading into his 14th NBA season, and with a healthy Zach LaVine alongside him, it stands to reason that we could see DeRozan take a step back from last season’s production.
According to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, however, the Bulls are already planning on it.
“Chief among the Bulls’ list this offseason, according to team insiders, was crafting a more effective scheme that doesn’t rely so heavily on DeRozan’s scoring ability.”
DeRozan’s usage rate only jumped 2% after Ball went down and LaVine got hurt in the same game against the Golden State Warriors. In fact, his offensive rating jumped by 0.4%, per NBA.com. But his defensive rating skyrocketed (which is bad) by 8%, sinking his overall effectiveness.
Perhaps being less of a focal point – DeRozan initiated a lot of the offense without the point guards on the floor last season – will help him to hold up better defensively with or without Ball.
When he and LaVine were both healthy (with Ball) they were both top-10 scorers. Figuring out how to keep that going in the face of potential injuries falls squarely on the shoulders of his head coach.
This Season a Referendum on Billy Donovan
Donovan has come under the microscope as the offseason has gone on in part due to the Bulls’ inability to adjust to life without Ball despite missing him for most of the season. While Ball’s injury was the most impactful, it was not the only injury or issue the Bulls faced.
Caruso missed half of the season while Patrick Williams missed all but 17 games as the Bulls’ three best defenders all missed at least 41 games season.
Yet, the Bulls still managed to post a plus-0.8 net rating when they had DeRozan and LaVine on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, and one of the lineups ranked in the 96th percentile in offensive and defensive efficiency differential.
“Donovan always has been a believer in playing to his players’ strengths while also incorporating fundamental principles including ball movement, player movement, and a commitment to making the extra pass,” argues Mayberry. “In a perfect world, the Bulls will play closer to that style far more consistently. That’s when they’re most dangerous.”
Donovan did yeoman’s work with a banged-up group last season. But this year he needs to be even better even if faced with similar obstacles.
Finding the Answer at Point Guard
The thing that is working in Donovan’s favor is the Bulls are indeed deeper at backup point guard. Caruso is healthy and has added bulk this summer. White is not a point guard but he too can moonlight as one in a pinch.
Chicago also brought in veteran Goran Dragic to help man the minutes vacated by Ball’s absence.
But the biggest x-factor is Dosunmu whom some consider the Bulls’ most underrated player.
There is also a belief among league circles that they view him as a potential starter long-term. If that is the case, and Dosunmu delivers on the promise he showed starting 40 games as a rookie, the Bulls could be faced with an entirely different question when it comes to Ball’s health and future in Chicago.