What started as a season committed to young players and talent development, has turned into the Chicago Bulls relying entirely on their veteran guys to get wins.
Their opening night starting five of Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. had an average age of 22 years old.
Chicago’s current starting five of Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Nikola Vucevic make for an average age of 27 years old.
It seems the Bulls’ once promising young core is no longer the priority.
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First it was Coby White who was benched in favor of 29-year old Tomas Satoransky.
Then it was Wendell Carter Jr., who was sent out in the Nikola Vucevic deal.
Lauri Markkanen is now coming in off the bench and being played out of position.
And Denzel Valentine, Chicago’s longest tenured player, is slowly losing his spot in the rotation to newcomer Troy Brown Jr.
Once heralded as futures of the franchise, young players have become a near-extinct species in the Windy City.
Head coach Billy Donovan was very blunt when speaking with reporters (via NBC Sports) about the new roles being established for White and Markkanen on Tuesday:
They’re probably not going to be featured guys, just calling it like it is. But they’re very important pieces to our team, and we need them to play at a high level.
Neither of the young guys have been pulled from the rotation. But to go from lottery picks, to members of the starting five, to now coming off the bench—it’s unorthodox, and uncommon.
Yet both White and Markkanen have responded well, with the best performances for both since the switch coming in Tuesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.
They combined for 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting, earning praise from the Bulls head coach:
They’re trying to do everything we’re asking them to do to put ourselves in position to win. But those two guys are important pieces for our team. If we can get those two guys to play the way they both did [against the Pacers], that’d be great.
Donovan’s not wrong about either Markkanen or White’s importance, now coming off of the bench.
Since the trade deadline, over the Chicago Bulls last six games, their bench is averaging 30.8 points nightly. That’s good for the 22nd worst mark in the NBA.
Updated Bulls Playoff Odds
After back-to-back wins over Eastern Conference rivals, the Chicago Bulls definitely look like a playoff team.
It’s getting there that’s the problem, and they’ve got a ways to go.
The Bulls are now 21-28, which is good for the 10th seed in the East, with a two-game lead over the 11th-seed Toronto Raptors, who they’re set to play on Thursday night.
Chicago’s most likely route to the postseason is the play-in tournament, which is held between the seven and 10 seeds, to determine the seventh and eight seeds in both conferences.
If that were to take place today, the Bulls would be set for a matchup with the Pacers, who they notably put down on Tuesday night, but were without top contributors Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis.
Five Thirty Eight currently has a Chicago playoff berth at 17 percent likelihood. That’s good for the third worst mark of all teams with greater than one percent odds.
Luckily, the scheduling gods are smiling on the Bulls for once.
With 23 games remaining, they’ve got the 15th toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon.com. And Chicago’s next three games are all winnable: a depleted Raptors team, the Atlanta Hawks, and the league’s worst Minnesota Timberwolves.