The Chicago Bulls have been defying expectations to begin the season and find themselves sitting first place in the Eastern Conference. That gave one prominent veteran reason to make a bold comparison — to last year’s Western Conference champs.
“There wasn’t great expectations about the Suns last year. Certainly, we knew the Suns would be in playoff contention, but I don’t think anyone envisioned the Suns making the Finals and I don’t think anybody envisioned the Bulls now 35 games into the season being in first place in the East,” Former NBA veteran JJ Reddick said on a recent episode of The Old Man And The Three podcast.
While the Bulls made some significant additions during the off-season, questions were surrounding their depth heading into the basketball year. However, Chicago’s bench has remained competitive and has given their starting five a boost when the game slows down.
Still, no one envisioned the growth of Zach Lavine’s game this year, nor did they expect DeMar DeRozan to rise from the ashes of his time in San Antonio to play the best basketball of his career. And of course, Lonzo Ball’s continued growth as a three-point shooter has ensured the floor is open enough for Chicago’s slashing wings to cause maximum damage.
Reddick Sees Similarities in Roster Construction
Beyond Chicago’s current form and how their season is reminiscent of Phoenix’s rise to prominence last year, Reddick sees similarities in how the Bulls have constructed their roster to how the Suns went about their business a year prior.
“I think there is a decent comparison there between Devin (Booker) and Zach LaVine. Zach LaVine had yet to be in the playoffs, and clearly, the Bulls should be in the playoffs, will be in the playoffs. So there is a comparison there, similar points in their career. The Suns bring in CP (Chris Paul), the Bulls sign DeMar. The Suns sign a hard-nosed, winning-play-type-mentality guy in Crowder, the Bulls do that in Caruso,” Redick said.
It’s a fair comparison and will gain traction if the Bulls can continue to win games throughout the remainder of the season. Of course, regular-season victories go out the window once the post-season begins, and that’s going to be where these comparisons are put to the test.
You could also argue that this current Bulls team is better than the Suns one that went to the finals last year – in player personnel at least. Sure, the Suns have Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton established himself as a high-level big man, but the Bulls can lean on Lavine, DeRozan, Ball, and Nikola Vucevic in what is a genuine big four. And we can’t forget about fan-favorite Alex Caruso providing the grit and firepower from the bench.
There’s a lot to like about this Bulls team, maybe more so than there is to like about the 2020-21 Suns roster.
Chicago Need to Stay the Course
When you’re king of the hill, there are always pitfalls waiting in the distance. The chasing pack gets hungrier and starts to turn the pressure up, and internal expectations begin to grow exponentially.
The Bulls will need to be mindful of those potential pitfalls as they navigate the second half of the season, especially since that’s when specific teams begin to hit their stride. Of course, Chicago was never expected to win the East, nor was that part of their immediate plan. Instead, this year was about creating chemistry and providing fans with a deep post-season run to be proud of.
Winning the conference is always an excellent addition to a season, and understandably it would be the favored outcome. But outside of homecourt advantage, it’s not a necessity this roster should burden itself with. No one would think less of Chicago’s chances if the Brooklyn Nets suddenly figured things out and stormed to the top of the conference.
And perhaps that’s where the final similarity comes to pass, with the Bulls surrendering their first seed and finishing in the top two, just like the Suns did last year – and we all know how that turned out!
The Bulls will look to continue their stellar regular season form on January 11 when they face the Detroit Pistons, who are glued to the bottom of the conference.