However, despite an enormous roster overhaul, that saw Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso headline as new recruits, Chicago’s season was derailed by injuries and defensive lapses. Suddenly, a team that promised so much to start the 2021-22 NBA season is already looking like it needs a makeover, and Vucevic’s declining impact is a part of the problem.
According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, who was appearing on a September 9 episode of Brian Windhorst’s Hoops Collective, Chicago made a serious mistake in trading away Wendell Carter Jr, as he is close to surpassing Vucevic in both talent and production.
“Wendell Carter is already better than Nikola Vucevic, so it’s pretty much a disaster across the board…At minimum you want to say they’re the same level player, Vucevic is going this way (down) and Wendell is going this way (up), and Wendell is on a much better contract. Beyond that, at the time of the trade Tim MacMahon was down on it, I was lukewarm on it, but MacMahon hit this one out of the park because this has been a disaster for the Bulls.
Not only did they give up Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr, who together are clearly better than Vucevic at this point. They also gave up another top-four protected pick in 2023, this upcoming draft, which is a loaded class,” Bontemps said.
Unfortunately, when trading away young talent and draft picks for a veteran, you always run the risk of seeing the veteran start to decline while the younger talent improves, but if you contend or win a championship, you can rationalize the means to the end. Yet, Chicago looks miles away from contending for a ring, and so, the development of Wagner and Carter Jr is going to continue to sting moving forward.
Vucevic Can Still Prove Good Value
Whenever you rapidly rebuild a team, there will always be teething issues, as all of the new talents is figuring out where they sit in the pecking order. For Nikola Vucevic, his new role as the Bulls’ third option is somewhat of a poisoned chalice, as he’s no longer a primary focus for the offense, but rather a high-level release valve across all three scoring levels.
It’s no coincidence that with a slight decline in his role, Vucevic’s numbers regressed in terms of points production, but overall, the 31-year-old big man still provided solid value as the team’s starting center.
Over 73 regular-season games, Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists, a steal, and a block per game while shooting 31.4% from deep and 53.7% from two-point range. Of course, that dip in three-point conversion is what led Vucevic to struggle and make an impact, as Chicago envisioned him being the ideal stretch-five to open the floor for their slashers and drive-and-kick guards.
Ayo Dosunmu Provides Hope For The Future
While some Bulls fans are watching the Orlando Magic with jealous eyes, there is still reason to be excited for the future in Chicago, and it all starts with Ayo Dosunmu, who wildly impressed in his rookie season after being selected with the 38th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
As he gears up for his sophomore season, Dosunmu has been putting in some serious hours behind the scenes, looking to improve every facet of his game in a bid to earn a larger role within the rotation. In a September 12 interview with SportsZone Chicago, Dosunmu detailed how he’s been working on his overall basketball IQ in order to be better prepared for the challenges he will face next season.
“Just try to be better in every aspect because I watch a lot of film. I did a lot of studying on my game on how I can prepare myself to be better…try to do what I always do: play the game the right way. Defend, score, facilitate. Just be a better version of myself…It’s all about the mind. You have to put a lot of work in. In the weight room, lot of film sessions. You have to be prepared because the NBA is a whole different game than college,” Dosunmu said.
As a rookie, Dosunmu averaged 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 37.6% from the field and 59.6% inside of the perimeter, and there’s no reason why he can’t improve on that production next season to give Chicago fans another reason to be hopeful about the future of this franchise.