For those of you who don't remember, choose to forget, or simply weren't watching (a mixture of all three is quite common as well), the Chicago Bulls won 27 games last year while tanking. Between benching starters Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez for extended periods of time because we were winning a little too frequently (got a warning from the league for that), featuring 10-day contract players in our starting lineups, and being hyper-ultra conservative with player injuries (Kris Dunn was out for 25 days after suffering a concussion. An NFL player would be lucky to sit out 25 minutes), the Bulls were playing chicken with the tanking police. Zach LaVine, the Bulls top scoring option moving forward, only played 24 games, despite reportedly being fully healed by January. When we won, we lost, and when we lost, we won, and by the end, I was quite confused how to feel with either outcome. Losing to win a high draft pick in the 2018 NBA draft was obviously the goal, but playing to lose is unnatural, especially when many of our players were playing for a next contract or just to show they belonged in the NBA.
Yet, with all that turmoil and tanking philosophy clearly instilled in the Bulls organization, they still managed 27 wins, good to tie for the 6th worst record in the NBA. The fact that we managed to still win more games than the 1976, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004 Chicago Bulls teams did despite trying our best to lose is astonishing. Were we just bad at tanking or did we have too much talent to lose that much? I think it was a little of both (In the future, I would advise avoiding 7-game winning streaks when attempting to tank. In fact, last year's team was the first in NBA history to own a 7-game win streak yet fail to at least win 28 games and only two teams in NBA history have won under 30 games during a season in which they won under seven straight games. If professional tankist Sam Hinke were dead (he is very alive), he would be rolling in his grave).
So, with the Vegas over/under set at 30.5 wins for the 2018-2019 season, how should you bet? Are the Bulls four wins better than last year? Let's break this down into three digestible layers:
Who did we add?
Jabari Parker was our top free agent acquisition this off-season and I feel like his return to Chicago has been underplayed. Just four years removed from being the #2 pick in the NBA draft, Parker is an offensively talent forward with a big body and provides scoring versatility in the way of a deadly mid-range game. If healthy, Parker could be one of the steals of the off-season. His legitimate 20-points per game potential will add needed firepower to an offense that at times lacked firepower. He is a poor man's Carmelo Anthony (terrible defense and all). Look past his benching and focus more on the 35 point scoring outbursts he will have throughout the season (ignore his 3-18 games, as those will happen as well. Also, if possible, never watch him on the defensive end unless you have a beer nearby).
Our attempt at tanking landed us Wendell Carter Jr. in the draft and as you can read here, I loved the pick. Carter Jr. provides us with the defensive anchor the Bulls desperately needed and is the perfect complement to Lauri Markannen. Chandler Hutchinson, our prize for trading the punching bag of Bobby Portis, looks to have serious glue guy potential and should play meaningful minutes off the bench. He provides us with a long wing who can hopefully develop into a defensive stopper, which this team desperately needs.
Who did we lose?
Jerian Grant, Sean Kilpatrick, David Nwaba, Paul Zipser, and Noah Vonleh are no longer in Chicago. In short, we lost no one (the fact many of these players played significant minutes last season makes the fact we won 27 games even more impressive)
Starting shooting guard and former centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade (Markkanen will forever be the centerpiece of the trade moving forward) Zach LaVine returns at full health after barely breaking a sweat last season. Only 24, LaVine has all the athletic ability in the world and has looked excellent in the pre-season (no one cares, but still). With Lauri out the first two months, LaVine is our top scoring option and even when the Finnish prince returns, LaVine will most likely still lead our team in shot attempts. If LaVine can develop into the all-star his potential has always suggested he could be, this is the year to do it. Earn that contract. Filling out the back-court with him is Dunn, who grew on me as the season went on last year. Already an excellent defender, his offense was improving vastly pre-concussion, but he still needs to show me he can be efficient at distributing the ball to all of our offensive weapons. He has shown flashes of ability to suggest he could be our point guard of the future, but right now, he is nothing more than a defensive specialist who can't shoot. Portis, who already took Parker's spot in the starting lineup (I do want to note that he did not punch his teammate to get the starting spot this year though), looks great on the offense end and really is set take a major step forward this year. He declined his offer from the Bulls this off-season and is betting on himself to earn a much larger contract. Although he is hoping to pull a Jimmy Butler type leap and double his contract in a make or break year, if he even gets 25% better, the Bulls will be in great shape. Finally, we can't forget about Lauri. Lauri stole Chicago's heart last year with his excellent play and then ripped mine out when he decided to get injured before the season even begun. He had bulked up this summer and was ready to build off his successful rookie campaign. Instead, he will have to work his way back from injury this winter and most likely won't be 100% until around the all-star break. As disappointing as it is, Lauri could be special and when he gets back to full strength, will boost our offense firepower even more. I cannot overstate that a boost in firepower will most likely be welcomed with open arms, as we will have to score 120 points per night just to stay competitive; our defense is just that bad.
Take a loan out against your 401(k) and bet it all on the over. We added new blood that should contribute right away, lost six players, but at the same time lost no one, and our young core should build upon the progress they made last year. We can't play defense, but it's 2018; no one cares. If they score 125 on us, we just have to score 130. When Lauri comes back and with LaVine and Parker capable of putting up 25+ on any given night, we can score with the best of them (besides the Golden State Warriors. No one can keep up with them, which is why after you cash out your 401(k) to put money on the Bulls, you should find your neighborhood loan shark, borrow 100k, put your family up as collateral, and put it all on the Warriors to win the championship). I believe anything under 35 wins would be a significant letdown this year. Bet the over.
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