Bulls Stars Urged to Make Key Improvement: ‘Step Up’

Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls watches action

A trio of Chicago Bulls players is being challenged to step up to help the team reach its ceiling and a “top four finish” next season. But all three have significant questions that had severe ramifications for the Bulls last season.

Most opinions on the Bulls range from a similar finish (in the 6-to-8 seed range) while others see a Play-In team or, even worse, one that will be out of the playoff picture altogether.

This is a Bulls team that, when even semi-healthy, sat atop the Eastern Conference.

After their slide to end the year, though, they will need to prove they are legit. That starts up top with the stars like Zach LaVine who just signed a max contract this offseason. But he and his co-stars need more from their supporting cast.

Bulls Best Defenders

Starting point guard Lonzo Ball and backup guard Alex Caruso form one of, if not the best defensive backcourt duos in the NBA when healthy. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they only got 26 games worth of that due to a wrist injury Caruso suffered and a bone bruise that Ball is still dealing with to date.

The latter’s return is the biggest lingering question around this team.

Add in third-year forward Patrick Williams – who missed most of the regular season after suffering a wrist injury of his own just five games in – and all three of the Bulls’ best defenders saw just 58 possessions together, per Cleaning the Glass.

Their significance cannot be overstated which is why Bleacher Report’s Mo Dakhil says they “need to raise their games” for the Bulls to be their best versions.

“The trio of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams is the key to Chicago’s success. The Bulls had a great start last season but injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso took out their defensive backbone. Williams missed most of the year, returning to play 17 games—but Ball was already out at that point.”

Bulls’ Injury Bug

Ball’s battle with the bone bruise has outlasted the original meniscus injury that knocked him out and required surgery. But he and Caruso have both crossed the 60-game plateau once apiece in their careers.

The Bulls have remained vague but hopeful that Ball would be back sooner rather than later and ESPN’s Jamal Collier speculated a scenario in which the Bulls slow-played Ball’s return.

“With Ball returning healthy (he might be ready by training camp), Alex Caruso and Williams can form an even stronger defensive lineup for the Bulls. This would allow for coach Billy Donovan to play any mix of the trio if not all at once to cover for the defensive warts of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.”

Both sets of three mentioned by Dakhil complement each other well.

Ball, Caruso, and Williams posted a 107 defensive rating (89th percentile) when on the court together. But their offensive rating was just 100 (3rd percentile).

Compare that to the DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic group that posted a 114.1 offensive rating when together (64th percentile) but also had a 114.6 defensive rating (32nd percentile) and it is clear that the Bulls need both groups healthy.

Bulls Could Be a Top-4 Team

Chicago was able to withstand their injuries for quite some time before succumbing to them, sitting in first place after the All-Star break albeit by a small margin. But much of their encouraging progress was forgotten in the wake of their tailspin.

They will have to go out and prove that they are legit. But Dakhil s they could still pose a threat in the conference if healthy.

“The Bulls had a top 10 offensive and defensive team before the calendar changed. The talent is there, but once injuries hit the Bulls’ defense tumbled down to 23rd by the end of the year. If those three can stay healthy and DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic keep up their offensive output, the Bulls could be in the mix for a top-four finish in the East.”

A top-four finish would be an improvement over last season’s six-seed.

And it would go against the general mood on this team nationally which has projected them to be a six-seed at best. It would also deliver on the vision that Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas had when he spoke on continuity in his exit interview.

While only five players can be on the floor at the same time, having these six available would allow for some different looks in key situations next season.

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