Chicago Bulls basketball is just a few months away now. Here at On Tap Sports Net, we're going to continue striving to bring you all the Bulls content you need to tide you over. Today, we bring you some fun analytics. As the NBA season nears, Seth Partnow over at The Athletic is releasing his annual NBA player tiers. Tier five was released yesterday, and the Bulls were featured prominently. Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmu all made the list of top 125 players in the league.
Note: this does not mean players like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan were not ranked in the top 125; rather, they will likely be ranked in a higher tier.
It makes for fascinating reading; I strongly recommend you check it out (subscription required). For those of you unfamiliar, Partnow takes between 125 - 150 players considered to be the top players in the league and ranks them in five tiers. Essentially, these are the players that analytics deem to matter most to a team from a championship perspective. Here's the breakdown of the tiers:
Partnow's Five Tiers
Tier one is the exclusive club of the very best players in the league (Partnow keeps it at about seven players). In tier two, you have your All-NBA types that analytics love. Tier three is made up of players who are in the All-Star conversation. For tier four, players are considered to be top starters or key reserves. Finally, tier five consists of what Partnow calls "high-rotation" players.
Vucevic, Caruso, and Dosunmu's Slots
Tier five is where Partnow slots the Chicago Bulls' Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmu. While there are no pure rankings in the article, that means all three rank between 85-125 among all NBA players. Of course, no rating system is perfect. However, there are a lot of interesting reflections to make while sorting through Partnow's system.
For Vucevic, being tier five is a step down for him in comparison to previous seasons. For the past two years, Partnow has placed the Bulls' big man in tier four as a top starter in the league.
Obviously, the 2021-22 season was a disappointing one by Vucevic's standards. The two-time All-Star put up 17.6 PPG and 11 RPG. He shot 47.3% from the field and 31.4% from three-point range on 4.5 attempts per game. In terms of scoring, 17.6 PPG was his lowest figure since the 2017-18 season when he scored 16.5 per game in Orlando. The 11 RPG marked his fewest since the 2019-20 season (10.9), and that number came as the Chicago Bulls were a bottom-three rebounding team in the league.
While Vucevic's numbers weren't up to par with his typical performance, it's hard to be upset with a guy giving you 17.6 and 11 on a nightly basis. Still, Vucevic's descent into tier five makes sense given his drop-off and struggles on defense. Partnow still puts his estimated plus/minus (EPM) regarding wins added to a team at 6.1. That ranks eighth in tier five.
Caruso stays in the fifth tier, where he was before last season. What's great about Caruso's inclusion on the list is that he doesn't need the traditional stats to make a championship impact like many other players in this tier. Players like D'Angelo Russell (18.1 PPG/7.1 APG), Julius Randle (20.1 PPG/9.9 RPG/5.1 APG), and RJ Barrett (20 PPG/5.8 RPG) are in the same tier as Caruso (7.4 PPG/4.0 APG).
Of course, Caruso's claim to fame is primarily defense and hustle. He was top-10 in the NBA in steals per game (1.7). Moreover, Caruso was top-five in deflections per game (3.4). His EPM in wins sits at 2.5, which speaks to how much he impacts the game outside of the box score, especially considering he shot below 40% from the field last season.
Partnow even specifically mentions Caruso in the article and explains his inclusion.
"If there is a player type I’m lower on than consensus, it is the moderate- or low-efficiency bucket getter who doesn’t bring much value in other areas. While more shot creation is not a bad thing, top teams generally need complementary skills much more. So if you wonder why players with modest counting stats such asAlex Carusomake the list over some others, this is the reason."
- Seth Partnow/The Athletic
Dosunmu's inclusion here is the most exciting aspect. This is a second-year player who was a second-round draft pick in 2021. He far outplayed his draft slot, though.
Dosunmu appeared in 77 games, starting 40 of them, and he put up 8.8 PPG and 3.3 APG while shooting 52% from the field and 37.6% from deep on 2.4 attempts per game. As the 38th pick in the NBA Draft, Dosunmu played his way to an All-Rookie Second Team selection. The fact that he is now slotted to enter the season as a top-125 player is incredibly impressive.
Now, looking at the analytics, it is probable that Dosunmu was the last player to make it into tier five. His -0.5 EPM in wins is the lowest on the list. Of course, that is just one metric. You are still looking at a second-year guard who made the top 125 over players like Jusuf Nurkic, Christian Wood, Danilo Gallinari, and Jordan Clarkson. That is a major testament to Dosunmu and the respect he has earned in the NBA.
We'll keep you updated as other tiers are released if and when other Chicago Bulls players make the cut. So far, having three of the 125 most valuable players in the NBA who are estimated to add a combined 8.1 wins is a good start.