Although their season is on temporary hiatus due to having such a plethora of players in heath and safety protocols, the Chicago Bulls still have eyes on their immediate future. Currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 17-10 record, the Bulls figure to be heading back to the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Two months through the season, the trade deadline is only a few weeks away, representing the best opportunity for teams who feel they may be competitive at season’s end to make a push in the market. And with this in mind, amid a wider run-down of trade rumors around the league, Matt Moore of Action Network reports that the Bulls may be among the deadline’s buyers, especially on the wings.
The Bulls are thought of as buyers in the market, predictably, given their hot start. The loss of Patrick Williams has been real, and Chicago has been looking for a wing defender to bring off the bench, multiple sources confirmed.
The Bulls already have plenty of talent on the wings, headlined by the starting duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Both have been dominant scorers so far this year, each averaging over 26 points per game and doing so with true shooting percentages above .590%, yet while neither has ever been known as a top-tier individual defender, this has not held back the team as a whole defensive unit as was once feared.
Defense Better Than Expected So Far
On the season to date, the Bulls rank 8th in defensive rating, a number that actually outstrips their 12th-placed offensive rating. Heading up the team on that front has been backup guard Alex Caruso, a ball-hawk averaging 2.2 steals per game, the NBA’s leader in that category so far this year; he and fellow new acquisition Lonzo Ball have been very active on that end, doubling opponents, helping, blowing up pick-and-rolls, deflecting the ball and being generally bothersome.
Caruso and Ball are guards, rather than wings, yet the backcourt/wing rotation of those two plus LaVine and DeRozan has been at the core of the Bulls’ success thus far. Behind them, rookie Ayo Dosunmu has been solid in his first few NBA weeks, Javonte Green has been using his athleticism all over the court (including at the de facto power forward spot despite standing only 6’4), and although he has yet to contribute much, third-year guard Coby White will need and get rotation minutes.
Even beyond them, there is fourth-year wing Troy Brown Jr, whom the Bulls received in exchange for Daniel Gafford (now a starter for the Washington Wizards) at last year’s deadline. If anything, the Bulls have an excess at the wing positions rather than a dearth, raising questions about what Moore might be alluding to, and what the Bulls might be after.
Shortage At The Four?
What they may well require is a defender at the power forward spot. Patrick Williams is out indefinitely, and although Green has been feisty filling in for him, he is at a tremendous size disadvantage, one which certain opposing match-ups could feast on in a postseason run.
Fellow reserve Derrick Jones Jr has been playing more in the absence of Williams, and, with his length and tremendous athleticism, has made an impact with his finishing and defensive presence. Jones is however also the Bulls’ best chip in any significant trade, a $9,720,900 expiring contract who would be near the bottom of the team’s rotation when healthy.
Additionally, while being bigger and potentially more adept at defending the four spot full time than Green, Jones too is a small forward by trade serving as makeshift cover. If the word “wing” in the report is to be interpreted as “combo forward” or “big forward”, it makes more sense, as their needs at this position are both immediate and long-term. And if this means deals for candidates such as Larry Nance, Robert Covington, Harrison Barnes or Christian Wood will be sought, then Jones’s salary will be a vital crux of any deal.
Of course, a premier wing defender can have a chilling effect on the opposition, no matter how good that team’s individual offensive talents are. The Bulls know this first-hand from whenever they play the Philadelphia 76ers, where 76ers swingman Matisse Thybulle pesters LaVine all night. Brown Jr. is not that player, and not yet is Dosunmu.
Solid as their overall defensive construction has proven to be thus far, the Bulls do not have one such player on their team, unless they are small enough for the Ball/Caruso treatment. Adding a defensive wing via trade could therefore still help. It seems more logical, though, for the upgrade to instead come in the frontcourt.
Considering their position in the standings, the timelines of their best players and their striking positional hole, it makes sense that the Bulls will be looking to make deals at the deadline. Just not necessarily in the way reported here.