By: RYAN TAYLOR
The Chicago Bulls’ season this year can perfectly be described as serendipitous. DeMar DeRozan is an MVP candidate, Ayo Dosunmu could result on the All-Rookie team and the Bulls have held the first spot in the Eastern Conference for long stretches.
However, one must contend with the idea that the Bulls may not make a run deep in the playoffs contrary to the belief of most fans. Sorry to bring down the party with 10 games left in the regular season, but the Bulls are not yet ready to make a charge at the NBA Finals.
Consider the table below. It includes the standings from each conference of this writing and the Bulls’ record against those teams this season.
|Eastern Conference||Bulls’ Record||Western Conference||Bulls’ Record|
|Miami Heat||(0-3)||Phoenix Suns||(0-2)|
|Milwaukee Bucks||(0-3)||Memphis Grizzlies||(0-2)|
|Philadelphia 76ers||(0-4)||Golden State Warriors||(0-2)|
|Boston Celtics||(1-1)||Utah Jazz||(1-1)|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||(2-1)||Dallas Mavericks||(1-1)|
|Toronto Raptors||(3-1)||Denver Nuggets||(2-0)|
|Brooklyn Nets||(2-1)||Minnesota Timberwolves||(1-0)|
|N/A (Chicago Bulls)||Los Angeles Clippers||(1-0)|
The Bulls have yet to prove they are worthy of competing with the top teams in the league, which does not bode well for their playoff berth. This season they have zero wins over teams in the top three seeds of each conference. They are exactly 0-16 against the best three teams in each conference.
Despite the best teams in the conference, the East has plenty of depth. If the playoffs started today, the Bulls would play the Boston Celtics in the first round. The tandem of Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown is not a duo to mess with. The Celtics have the second-best defense in the NBA, averaging 103.7 points per game allowed to their opponents this season.
Don’t also underestimate the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose centers make the Bulls’ roster look like a youth travel team. Evan Mobley averages 18 points per game and 60 percent shooting this season against the Bulls.
The point is, the Bulls will have a rough go in the playoffs, no matter who they face. The Eastern Conference is the deepest of the two. Especially since the Nets, who were once on top of the East, are sitting in the eighth position – like a tiger waiting to pounce on its prey.
Although notably, the majority of Bulls players have playoff experience. They outnumber the players that have none. Zach LaVine, Coby White, Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu and Troy Brown Jr. are highlighted as the players who have none.
The bench, including Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green, Tony Bradley, Matt Thomas, Tyler Cook and Tristan Thompson all have playoff experience. But, experience isn’t everything.
Is Tyler Cook going to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo again as he did in the first meeting between the Bulls and the Bucks? Is Caruso going to match up with Joel Embiid as he has before? Who will step up on offense if DeRozan goes cold?
Many question marks arise with the Bulls’ ability to compete in the playoffs. They’re a great team, representing the ninth-best offense in the league and maintaining the second-best team field goal and three-point percentage this season.
Yet, their defense is still a major concern, which will matter against their conference matchups. Yes, the team is still awaiting rhythmic gains from Patrick Williams and even Alex Caruso in some sense.
Even then so, does Williams and Caruso magically solve the Bulls’ defensive issues? Williams not only has missed 65 games this season with a wrist injury, but he missed plenty of preseason with an ankle injury as well.
It looks like Lonzo Ball will not be making a return this season. The Bulls’ training staff shut him down from running for the next 10 days. His chances of returning this season at all appear to be in jeopardy.
Caruso makes a large effect, as he did in his return with four steals and one block versus the Cavaliers, as the Bulls held them to 91 points. Yet, a game later, they gave up 112 points to the Sacramento Kings. What’s the excuse then?
All signs point towards paint protection. Tristan Thompson has made an impact in the paint. But, will it be enough? He took his shots with Antetokounmpo in their first matchup, but he ended up with three early fouls and was forced to sit for most of the game.
The Bulls this season have allowed the seventh-most points in the paint, averaging 49.2 lost to opponents. They also have allowed the second-most total rebounds per game this year, giving up 49.8 per contest.
All of this goes to show the Bulls’ lack of size and length in the paint will be an issue. Look at the Eastern Conference. It’s dominated by big men. Joel Embiid, Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo, the Cavaliers, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, etc.
The Bulls, while one of the most prolific and efficient offensive teams in the NBA have gaping holes in their performances that leave questions unanswered. With their first playoff berth coming since the 2017-18 season, they have to be prepared for the daunting obstacles in the Eastern Conference.
They only have a limited number of games left to correct their inefficiencies before it’s showtime. No matter what seed they obtain, their opponent will make for a difficult first-round series.