With the 2020-21 NBA season looming, optimism stems high and patience grows thin as the Bulls are closing in on playing their first NBA game since March — over nine months ago. The Chicago Bulls are an exciting young team that finally has competent leadership at the coaching and front-office levels. Team success will be dependent upon the growth of the Bulls’ core players, as several of those roster pieces have the talent and athleticism to excel in 2020-21. In saying that, here are three somewhat bold predictions surrounding the Bulls for the upcoming season.
Zach LaVine Will Average Over 30 Points Per Game
The two-time dunk contest champion is coming off a career-high 25.5 points per game, which was good for 11th in the league last season. However, the next step for LaVine is becoming an elite scorer rather than just a really good one. The prestigious 30-point club was limited to just three players last season: James Harden, Bradley Beal, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although LaVine may be the youngest on that list, he definitely doesn’t lack the firepower to reach that goal.
In terms of how LaVine can average over 30, it starts with more trips to the line. LaVine averaged a mere 5.6 attempts at the stripe per game last season. By getting to the rim and creating more contact more frequently, LaVine can drive that number to take a major leap. In addition to LaVine garnering more free throw attempts, new coach Billy Donovan must look to cast Zach in a wide range of different positions on the floor to maximize his offensive firepower. LaVine is a proven dynamite shooter off the catch (44% from the corner last season) so if the Bulls can use him in an off-ball role more often, he will be able to generate easy points.
A 4.5-point increase doesn’t seem too impossible a goal for LaVine, and if he can reach this mark he will become the first Bull since Michael Jordan to average over 30 points per game in a single season.
Patrick Williams Will Guard Five Different Positions
With the addition of Garrett Temple, the re-signing of Denzel Valentine, and assumingly having a healthy Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison back in the mix, the Bulls got a whole lot more versatile this offseason. Players that can play multiple positions make the ‘positionless basketball’ opportunity so much greater with the majority of the wings able to slide to 2, 3, or 4 and the bigs being able to switch between the 4 and the 5. In comes Patrick Williams, the fourth overall pick out of Florida State this year, arguably the most versatile player in this draft pick.
“Athleticism, versatility, multiple positions,” was how Arturas Karnisovas described Williams, who was once a point guard in high school before switching to the power forward position in his lone season at Florida State. Williams’ god-given speed, strength, and athleticism allow him to hold his own on almost every position, something that will likely give him the role of ‘defensive stopper’ — a role occupied by Kris Dunn last season. This means we will likely see Williams guard the opponent’s best player every day.
In terms of him defending every position, putting Williams on a crafty point guard like Stephen Curry or Chris Paul probably isn’t likely. However, Williams matching up against a player who likes to get to the basket, like Ben Simmons, or someone that uses his strength to his advantage to get downhill, like Luka Doncic, could be something we see. Williams will comfortably be able to hold his own against both forward positions and most fives in the league. As his NBA experience grows, Billy Donovan will likely test Williams’ limits defensively.
Wendell Carter Jr. Take a Bam Adebayo-type Leap
Entering his third year, Wendell Carter Jr. still has a lot to prove. Defensively, however, he has established himself as an anchor. He’s someone you can rely on to protect the rim, guard the pick and roll at an elite level, and be able to make strong reads. One thing Carter still lacks is a consistent offensive game, which tends to come with a consistent offensive role — something he didn’t have access to under former coach Jim Boylen.
Carter Jr. is set to be utilized as someone with authority to make decisions on the offensive end. Coach Billy Donovan wants to see Carter Jr. used as a playmaker out of either the block or perimeter, as well as someone capable of taking and making jumpers.
When Carter Jr. was asked about his offensive role, he said, “The talks that we’ve had for my expectations this year is just for me to be more reliable on the offensive end, allow me to make decisions, be a decision-maker from the free-throw line, and other areas of the court. He’s putting a lot of trust in me on the offensive end.”
Billy Donovan had high praise for Carter Jr. as well. “I think for Wendell — just watching him and being around him and even communicating with him — I think there’s a lot of different things he can do,” Donovan said.
“I think he can be a facilitator for us. I think he’s got very good vision — he’s a good passer for a big man. I think, also, him being put in some situations where he can kind of stretch his range a little bit and maybe do a little bit more on the perimeter, I think that will be a big part of his growth and development as a player.”
A strengthened offensive role for Carter will not only help his confidence, but it will also help his game improve. If he can prove his worth offensively, he could be used a bit at his preferred power forward position. But most importantly, we would see him break out and take a potential Bam Adebayo-type leap assuming he gets these touches and is allowed to make more decisions offensively.
Coby White even said that Wendell had been shooting threes “really well” at training camp. He added that Carter will be able to handle, make reads and shoot more this year.
“He’s gonna get to show a lot more versatility… Everyone’s going to see a way different Wendell and it’s gonna be better for us,” White told NBC Sports Chicago reporter Rob Schaefer at his latest media availability.
Carter’s value as a modern-day big man makes him a player extremely important for the Bulls’ rebuild. With a growing role offensively and a more favorable drop coverage defensively — meaning he won’t have to hard hedge on opponent guards like last season — we will see Carter have his biggest season yet.