Chicago Bulls Core: Do the Pieces Really Fit?
The Chicago Bulls have a young core. They’re just not good enough to stay the core.
The Chicago Bulls have a young core consisting of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. Each player brings a solid skill set to the court, and Bulls fans can probably name several reasons to be excited about each individual player. LaVine gives you 24 points per game on 39% shooting from deep while attempting nearly eight three-pointers per game. Markkanen had a rough start to the season, but he’s been picking it up over his last ten games, in which he is averaging 18.5 PPG on 48% shooting and 38% from beyond the arc. Finally, Carter Jr. nearly averages a double-double (11.7 PPG and 9.9 RPG) and provides quiet leadership as a 20-year-old center.
However, each player also has just as many issues that can enrage Bulls Nation. LaVine’s defense and head-scratching long two’s make everyone except for himself question whether or not he can truly be the number one option on a team. Markkanen disappears for large stretches of time, which is partially Jim Boylen’s fault, but he is only averaging 15.4 PPG on 41.9% shooting from the field for the season. Carter Jr. can seem too passive on the floor (do I need to keep bringing up that Boylen is partially to blame for everything, or can we all just assume it at this point?), and his inability to stay healthy has hindered his development.
What Do The Bulls Think They Have?
Chicago went into this season with the belief that they had a young core to build around. LaVine is still just 24, Lauri is 22, and Wendell is 20. The prevailing thought was that the Bulls could place some complementary pieces around their core — enter Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, and Coby White — who might push the Bulls into at least mediocrity. Really, mediocre is all you need to get into the playoffs in the East. Then, the Bulls believed they could build from there. They’d get LaVine, Lauri, and Wendell another year of playing together, they’d bring Coby along and get him up to NBA speed, and Otto Porter Jr. would give them healthy and productive wing play.
Of course, because this is the Bulls and Bulls fans can’t have nice things, none of this happened. Instead, the team is stuck in a place where they’re not quite bad enough to compete for better odds for a top-three pick and not quite good enough to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
What Needs to Change?
Recently, I was planning out an article on trades the Bulls should consider, and I was thinking about their positional needs. Obviously, they need help at the wing, but that can’t be the only help they need, right? LaVine, Lauri, and Wendell man three of the five starting spots. Satoransky is solid at the point, and Coby was just drafted in the lottery to eventually replace him in the starting lineup. Daniel Gafford and Kris Dunn can provide great energy off of the bench, and Thaddeus Young’s leadership and solid play with the second unit can’t be overlooked. Porter Jr. should be solid if he can ever stay on the floor.
So, wing depth and what else? More second-unit players?
A big? Do they take minutes away from the budding Gafford? They can’t take more minutes from Thaddeus Young, who is already upset about his minutes. You can’t trade Thad without risking the locker room fracturing. Do they cut Lauri’s minutes? Wendell’s? They’re barely playing 30 minutes per game as supposed focal points of the offense.
Do they go out and grab another guard? Again, who loses the minutes? Satoransky? Maybe. He averages nearly 29 MPG, but his favorable assist-to-turnover ratio and solid play make me hesitant. If anything, he should see the floor more. Do they trade him? He’s on a great deal and brings more to the Bulls than they could get in return unless he goes for an unprotected first-round pick or something like that. Maybe even then.
Take minutes from Coby? The kid needs to develop, and they’re not going to trade their most recent lottery pick, right? That doesn’t help their rebuild, and it’s not like the Bulls are in a position to deal their prospects away for the veterans other tanking teams are trying to deal away.
Maybe Dunn gets traded, but as an RFA with limited offensive potential, what will teams give up for him? Is the second-round pick or a worse player who plays a position of need, like a Moe Harkless, worth more than Dunn’s tenacious defense if the Bulls end up re-signing them like they should?
They could replace Ryan Arcidiacono. But what player is going to make a huge, impact difference in his 15 MPG?
See the theme? The Bulls aren’t going to improve their situation by dealing any of their minor pieces, and even though their second unit is not very good, there doesn’t seem to be a way to bring in better firepower that helps the team in the short or long term. If the Bulls want to make meaningful changes, something probably needs to change at their core. Neither of LaVine, Lauri, nor Wendell is the centerpiece of a great team. If the Bulls want to make a splash, one of the three most likely needs to go.
So who do you vote goes? Let me know on Twitter: @BullsGuyRob