Bad teams must someday become good unless they’re the Knicks. The Chicago Bulls were good when some guy from North Carolina played shooting guard for them in the 1990s, then they were bad, then Derrick Rose was briefly healthy and amazing and they were good again, and now they are terrible.
They will be good again. Nobody knows when, or what catalyst will spark that leap from garbage to quality.
It’s hard to believe in the core of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen when the Bulls only won 22 games last year. Vegas has them for 30.5, but your guess is as good as mine where they’re getting nine wins. Less Paul Zipser? Is that the answer? Is it seventh overall pick Coby White?
Let’s unpack and see if they can get to 31 wins in any plausible manner.
2018-19 record: 22-60
2019-20 over/under: 30.5
The New Guys
Thad the Impaler left the Pacers after posting a career-high 3.1 VORP. Kornet was an 0.5 VORP guy on an absolutely putrid Knicks team. And Satoransky posted plus-0.8 on a lousy Wizards team.
Well OK, that’s 4.4 VORP at about 2.07 wins each, for a total of…nine wins. Well I’ll be.
Speaking of Wizards players in Chicago, Otto Porter came over last season and improved his WS/48 from .085 in 41 games in Washington to .112 in 15 games in Chicago, impressive considering how bad the Bulls were even compared to the Wizards.
Satoransky also cracked the Starter’s Mendoza Line at .102 WS/48 on a 32-win team, a sign he was better than the sum of the parts on the team he was on.
All three of these guys won’t set the world on fire, but what they will do is give the Bulls a lot more legitimate NBA talent on the floor even when the so-called stars sit.
The Old Guard
After three years in the league, it’s fair to call Dunn a garbage fire. He’s never cracked .027 WS/48, but unlike other guys who live in that particular win-share territory (like a certain colossal waste of money in Minnesota), Dunn at least posts a positive VORP in a weird case of stat disparity for producing wins.
This, as it so often is with guys who are trash on offense, comes from Dunn being an above-average defender.
The real challenge is whether he can stay on the floor, but with Satoransky around, how much does Chicago really lose by Dunn missing 30 games again?
Markkanen, meanwhile, for all his “hey, super tall Euro guy with 3-point touch” (36.1 percent from long range in 2018-19), is still a zero-VORP player who couldn’t guard my dead grandmother. At some point, you have to ask yourself if a guy who’s only the second-best player from a 22-win team is actually any good. (And since he’s entering Year 3, you absolutely can bet we’ll get to him in the Thursday column at some point this year.)
As for LaVine, man, what an enigma. Spectacular athleticism (see the 2016 dunk contest) and nice shooting stroke (37.4 percent from three last year, 37.3 for his career) submarined by a complete, total inability to play anything remotely resembling NBA-level defense.
That hits at Chicago’s entire problem. They were 25th in Defensive Rating last year (and 29th on offense) and unless Thad Young’s bringing the entire Pacers defense with him, there’s only so much you can do with his output.
But we’re faced with some questionable math on this team, and it reduces to…
Will nine wins of VORP and the improvement of young players under veteran leadership turn a garbage fire into merely a below-average team?
On paper, yes.
But we forgot one major wild card here. The Bulls are still coached by Jim Boylan. Is there some kind of ongoing competition in Chicago to see if they can find a worse coach than Tim Floyd?
Oh, and as long as Jim Paxson and Gar Forman are running the front office, that’s a directionless franchise.
The Bulls will get better someday. But this is not the year. I’m seeing 25-30 wins on a team that never plays as good as they look like they should, leaving this team Busted and me taking the under.
NEXT: Detroit Pistons.