The Chicago Bulls were officially eliminated from playoff contention Friday as the Washington Wizards clinched their play-in spot with a 120-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. As things stand entering Saturday, the Bulls sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and have the eighth-worst record in the NBA at 30-40.
It's been a season of ups and downs for Billy Donovan's team. At one point, Bulls fans were actually hopeful the team would get into the playoffs after the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic. Of course, that's not what happened. So, instead of seeing how the Bulls could fare in the playoffs, let's explore some storylines to keep you interested in the final two games of the season.
Do The Bulls Tank?
There is no way for the Bulls to drop below the eighth-worst record. If they lose their last two games, they will still have the eighth-best odds for the number one pick. Conversely, both the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings are only one game better than Chicago with 31-40 records. If Chicago somehow takes home wins against the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, they could see their odds slip to the tenth-best odds for the first overall pick. Take a look at how that impacts the chances for the Bulls to keep their top-four protected pick.
To acquire Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls gave up a 2021 top-four protected first-round pick. If the Bulls maintain their current spot in the standings, they will have a 26.2% chance of keeping their pick this year. If the Bulls end up with the ninth-best odds, that chance drops to 17.3%, and the tenth-best odds give them a 16.9% chance. Winning out could potentially drop the Bulls' chances at keeping their pick by ten percent.
So do the Bulls make sure they keep the better odds? There is likely a sweet spot between giving the core more minutes together and playing Cristiano Felício 48 (deserved) minutes. The Nets will likely be motivated to win to maintain the second seed in the East. Depending on how the Nets' final two games go, the Bucks will either be trying to win or possibly resting their stars for the playoffs.
How Does Lauri Markkanen End His Season?
Lauri Markkanen is set to become a restricted free agent in the offseason, and his future with the Bulls is very much up in the air. He is averaging 13.6 PPG in 25.8 MPG on the season -- both below his career averages of 15.6 PPG and 29.5 MPG. He has also only played in 49 of Chicago's 70 games. On the other hand, Markkanen is shooting 47.8% from the floor and 39.6% from three (5.8 attempts per game). Those are both career highs, and a seven-footer who can shoot around 40% from deep is a commodity in today's NBA.
So, does Markkanen come back? Will he want to come back? He has been relegated to the bench as of late. He averaged 17.3 PPG as a starter, but his role has diminished due to the arrival of Vucevic. Markkanen is only 23 and he could seek a starting role on a number of teams. However, as a restricted free agent, Markkanen does not have as much say about his destination as an unrestricted free agent would.
Still, do the Bulls want him back? That might depend on the price tag. If the Bulls renounce all their impending free agents, they will have $83,114,124 on the books for six players next season. That leaves Chicago with $28,885,876 in cap space and a plethora of needs.
Additionally, inconsistency and health issues have plagued Markkanen throughout his career. Will the Bulls get the Markkanen who scored 20 points in 25 minutes on 70% shooting and 66.7% shooting from three against the Raptors on Thursday? Will he finish with similarly strong games? That recency bias could influence how much a team wants to dish out to try to acquire his services.
What Do Coby White and Patrick Williams Do?
Both Coby White and Patrick Williams have been the focus of many conversations regarding potential and whether they will live up to their draft status. The Bulls drafted Coby White with the seventh overall pick in 2019, and many were surprised he fell that far. The Bulls selected Williams with the fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft as the first player off the board after the consensus top three players.
All year long, Williams has flashed potential, and his shooting has been more than solid. Still, there have been concerns about how passive the rookie is. He is built like a full-grown man already, but there are games in which he seems to just hang around the perimeter and pass the ball.
Williams is averaging 9.0 PPG and 4.6 RPG on 47.8% shooting and 38.3% from three during his rookie season. He is one of the most efficient rookies when it comes to shooting, but one would hope for double-digit scoring from the fourth overall pick. It will be interesting to see if the Bulls get the rookie more looks in these last two games.
Coby White has been hot and cold all year. The second-year guard is averaging 15.2 PPG and 4.7 APG (2.1 Assist/Turnover ratio) on 41.9% shooting and 36% shooting from deep on 6.6 threes per game. Those aren't excellent numbers, and they haven't met the expectations following White's hot stretch to end last season.
Still, Coby White started heating up when Zach LaVine was out for a stretch this season. Even as Zach LaVine has returned, White has averaged 17.8 PPG and 5.8 APG (2.5 Assist/Turnover ratio) while shooting 42.7% from the floor and 41.4% from three while taking 8.7 attempts per game. If White can finish the year on a high note, does that impact the offseason plan for the Bulls when addressing the point guard position?
All Things Bulls
The Bulls only have two games left this season, but there is plenty to watch for as they get ready to miss the playoffs again. All season long, through the playoffs, and throughout the offseason, check out all the latest Bulls content, articles, podcasts, and more at Bulls On Tap, presented by On Tap Sports Net.