The Chicago Bulls are just getting started in the 2021-22 NBA season. After 10 games played, the Bulls sport a 7-3 record with 71 games to go. It may be premature to assign player grades this early in the season, but this is the NBA, and players’ performances vary each week. It’s fair to assess the progress players are making along the way.
Some notes: grades are based on production related to expected player roles. As such, Zach LaVine and Tony Bradley won’t be held to the same standard.
Stats: 11.8 PPG, 4.4 APG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 S/BPG, 40.2% shooting, 40.9% 3-point
Lonzo Ball has been the stabilizing force the Bulls have needed at point guard since Derrick Rose was running the show. All in all, Ball is contributing in meaningful ways in every facet of the game.
Following concerns about the Bulls’ defense heading into the season, Ball has been a major force in leading the Bulls to a great defensive start. He is averaging 1.7 steals per game and 0.9 blocks per game. On top of that, he is nailing 40.9% of his threes on 6.6 attempts per game. While his 4.4 assists per game are a career-low, he has still been active in initiating the offense and running fast breaks.
Ball also serves as a solid off-ball threat on the perimeter with the ball in Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan’s hands. His three-point shooting percentage is currently a career-high, too. It’s safe to say Ball is one of the best free-agent pickups the Bulls have had in years.
Stats: 26.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 48.2% shooting, 31.3% 3-point
Zach LaVine has, more or less, picked up right where he left off as an efficient scorer last season. While his scoring and assist numbers are slightly down to start the season, it’s a small sample size and makes sense with his slight dip in usage (31.0% -> 30.6%). Of course, it’s clear that his left-hand injury is affecting his shooting as he has hit a slump from three. Still, he has a career-high PER of 23.0.
Anecdotally, it has seemed like LaVine’s defense has moved in the right direction, even though the advanced metrics still don’t love him on that end of the ball (-2.3 DBPM) and he still has a ton of work to do. To me, the biggest highlight of LaVine’s early season so far is his 90.2% from the free-throw line on a career-high 6.1 free throws per game. Even with his torn ligament, it seems like LaVine’s performance is going to stay excellent as the season progresses.
Stats: 26.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 50.3% shooting, 39.1% 3-point
Just four games ago, I was ready to grade DeRozan with a C+. He had been clutch at times for Chicago, but he was starting off as a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer. There are too many good scoring options to justify taking some of the shots DeRozan was taking.
Then, things started to click for DeRozan. His shooting percentage has shot up nine percentage points, and he has proven to be a perfect complement to Zach LaVine as a scoring threat. The man’s midrange game is deadly. He’s hitting 86.1% of his free throws on 7.9 attempts per game. Those 7.9 attempts per game are good for fourth in the NBA, by the way, even in a year where the NBA has been cutting down on ticky-tack shooting fouls.
On top of it all, DeRozan—in his 13th season—has a career-high PER of 25.6. This is a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player who is off to, arguably, his best start ever. I guess what I’m trying to say is the national media can suck it. All the articles and talk shows blabbering on about the Bulls making the worst move of the offseason by getting DeRozan sound pretty silly now. Bulls Nation knew from the start that DeRozan was going to be a great addition, and he’s even exceeded those expectations.
Stats: 6.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.6 APG, 56.5% shooting, 50% 3-point
An “incomplete” grade may seem like a cop-out, but with the plethora of injuries Williams has faced and the season-ending wrist injury he sustained against the Knicks, there isn’t a great way to grade him.
I suppose, if you take all the conditions away, I would give him a D or D+. His impact on games was more or less non-existent. He did shoot the ball efficiently, but he was only taking 4.6 shots per game. It seemed like he was starting to get comfortable being more aggressive offensively against New York, but then the dislocated wrist knocked him out. Even with his minimal production, his absence still creates a big hole on the roster.
Stats: 13.2 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.2 S/BPG, 37.8% shooting, 26.2% 3-point
With the influx of talent that has joined the Bulls for this season, you had to wonder who might struggle to find their shots this season. Thus far, it seems the Bulls have been trying to get Vucevic going, but his shots aren’t falling at the rate they usually do.
To this point in the season, Vucevic is taking 14.3 shots per game, which is a lot, but it’s his fewest since 2016-2017. Last season, he took 19.9 and 18.8 on the Bulls. Still, the big man is giving you a double-double on average, passes the ball well, and is off to, perhaps, the best defensive start of his career. It’s just that his offensive production is rough right now. I fully believe he will get out of it, but his rebounds, assists, and mostly passable defense are the only things saving him from an F grade right now.
When there are struggles like this, it is easy to play the “what if” game. Currently, in Orlando, Wendell Carter Jr. is averaging 13.7 and 10.6 on 50.8% shooting and 39.5% three-point shooting on 3.9 attempts per game. Franz Wagner, the player the Magic selected with the Bulls’ 2021 first-round pick, is averaging 13.7 PPG on 46.9% shooting and 38.9% three-point shooting. Also, the Bulls’ 2023 first-round pick will be going to Orlando. I would still say, right now, I prefer what the Bulls got. Vucevic is an All-Star, and he will likely start shooting better as the season goes on. But, right now, a D seems more than fair.
Stats: 7.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 44.8% shooting, 34.8% 3-point
Alex Caruso has been simply outstanding off the bench for the Bulls. He is in the closing lineup for Billy Donovan, and his defense and energy have been huge for Chicago.
Off the bench, Caruso is tied for third in the NBA in steals per game and is tied for fourth in the NBA in deflections per game (4.0). His offensive production has been solid, too. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.05, and he has been pushing the ball forward on fast breaks with consistency. When Chicago signed Caruso for four years and $37 million, I honestly felt like the Bulls overpaid. Now, the contract looks like an absolute steal.
Stats: 5.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 51.2% shooting, 40% 3-point
Javonte Green seemed like a throw-in as the Bulls acquired Daniel Theis at the trade deadline last season. However, the heart and hustle Green shows have endeared him to his coaches and Bulls fans. At 6-foot-4, Green has been matching up with—and holding his own against—big men thus far. He even moved into the starting power forward spot after Williams’s injury.
In just 19.4 MPG, Green is averaging a steal per game and he is making a high percentage of his shots. Granted, he is taking just 4.3 shots per game and only 1.0 three-point shots per game, which is the main reason Green comes in as a B grade. His defense is solid, his hustle is great, but his offensive game is limited. While it wouldn’t make sense to ask Green to shoulder a ton more offensively, his limitations on that end of the court leave much to be desired.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Stats: 6.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.0 S/BPG, 57.9% shooting, 25.0% 3-point
Derrick Jones Jr. was buried on the bench at the start of the season for some reason. However, he has played in six games now and 15.7 minutes per game off the bench—good for second among Bulls’ reserves.
In those limited minutes, Jones Jr. has been another great defender both on the wing and in the paint. He is averaging 1.3 blocks per game, which leads the team. Throw in the high-flying dunks and his ability to get to the free-throw line, and he should continue to see an uptick in minutes. It would be nice if Jones Jr. could be more of a shooting threat, but if he continues to focus his shots around the basket, he can be a solid, albeit limited, offensive contributor to complement his great defense.
Stats: 5.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 43.2% shooting, 42.9% 3-point
When the Bulls drafted Dosunmu in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft, it was deemed a steal. Here was a first-round talent that somehow fell to pick No. 38. Still, it’s hard to say that Dosunmu’s production this far was expected.
Dosunmu has earned Billy Donovan’s trust, and he is playing 13.6 minutes per game. Among rookies, he is 16th in minutes played in the NBA on a very good Bulls team. He’s also coming off a career-best 15-point performance over 20 minutes in the Bulls’ win over the Brooklyn Nets. The most pleasant surprise has been Dosunmu’s three-point shooting. He’s taking 1.6 attempts per game and making just under 43% of them. His role still needs some defining, and his playmaking can improve (1.29 assist-to-turnover ratio), but the rookie has looked good thus far in Chicago.
Stats: 2.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 50%
Tony Bradley was at the end of the bench to begin the season but started getting some more meaningful minutes when Patrick Williams went down with an injury. All things considered, Bradley has looked really solid in his role as a backup center.
He’s only playing 10.6 minutes per game, but he is having an impact on the boards and on defense. The major flaw that has been exposed in the Bulls’ defense so far is their ability to deal with true bigs on the glass. Bradley is a big body that snatches up rebounds and plays solid defense. He’s the only real big on the roster besides Vucevic, and he’s earning his minutes off the bench. If only he had a little more offensive versatility, he could improve his grade.
Troy Brown Jr.
Stats: 3.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 43.9% shooting, 36.4% 3-point
Troy Brown Jr. is still trying to earn his minutes as a Chicago Bull. He found his way into the rotation early on, but now he is riding the bench again. It’s interesting because his skill set fits a need for the Bulls bench. Theoretically, he can fit the role of a scoring spark and an off-ball shooter.
However, Donovan clearly isn’t loving what he is seeing from Brown Jr. It’s even worse considering Daniel Gafford is now over in Washington putting up 8.9 points and 1.9 blocks in 18.8 minutes per game, and the Bulls could certainly use another big man. At least acquiring Brown Jr. sent Chandler Hutchison out of town.
Stats: 2.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 70% shooting
Alize Johnson had a strong preseason, and that led to him receiving early-season minutes. However, as the regular season progressed, it became clear that Billy Donovan didn’t see Johnson as a fit for what he was trying to do. As such, Johnson has been relegated to the end of the bench, and the emergence of Derrick Jones Jr. and Tony Bradley indicate he will be staying there.
Johnson is a good body to have at the end of the bench, though. He will hustle, score under the basket, and rebound. Still, his performance in the preseason made it seem like he could have a big impact on the Bulls. He has not.
Stats: 0.0 PPG, 0.5 RPG, solid smile all things considered
Matt Thomas making the roster was a surprise. He offers some three-point shooting ability, which is nice, but his role at the very end of the bench seems perfect for him. We haven’t really seen Thomas play yet (five minutes all season), which is a good thing. If things keep going well for the Bulls, they will continue to not need to play Thomas.
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