Sure, Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls are Fun and Dynamic, but are They Legitimate Title Contenders?

Thus far, this is what we know for certain about the Chicago Bulls: They have several stellar shooters, DeMar DeRozan was the pickup of the offseason, they have tremendous balance offensively, and almost certainly they will end an unsightly playoff drought that stretches back to 2017.

Thus far, this is what we still need to see from the Bulls: Their defense is, at times, ordinary, their rebounding needs to get a lot better, and their spotty record against top foes has yet to prove whether or not they are legitimate championship contenders or just an early-season surprise that will crash and burn come playoff time.

If it sounds like the proverbial jury is still out on Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, DeRozan, and the Bulls, it’s because it very much is. An upcoming stretch against Brooklyn (Wednesday), Golden State (Friday), Boston (Saturday), Memphis (Jan. 17), Cleveland (Jan. 19), and Milwaukee (Jan. 21) should either affirm or debunk the Bulls case as contenders to win the Eastern Conference.

The Chicago Bulls have been one of the NBA’s feel-good stories thus far

Not many experts had the Chicago Bulls as the Eastern Conference’s top team at the season’s halfway point and as a challenger to Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. After all, it’s kind of hard to envision a franchise inexplicably out of the playoffs the previous three seasons jumping to the top of the conference in one offseason.

That should tell you just how much of a revelation and a difference-maker DeRozan has been thus far. Most people in the basketball world scratched their heads and moved on when DeRozan — a Los Angeles native — turned down the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers to sign with the Bulls. Not only has he averaged 26.5 points and 4.6 rebounds, but he’s also given the franchise some veteran savvy and toughness both late in games and late in shot-clock scenarios. He quickly proved he could play alongside LaVine and twice demolished the Lakers (38 points on Nov. 15 and Dec. 19). Also, he set some NBA history on Dec. 26 and 27 when he hit buzzer-beating, game-winning shots on consecutive nights.

The Chicago Bulls can hit foes with a variety of weapons, but their defense must improve

Pair DeRozan’s steadying influence with the all-around brilliance of LaVine (26.4 ppg., 4.9 rpg., and 4.2 apg.) and Vucevic (15.9 ppg., 11.7 rpg., 3.4 apg., and 1.1 bpg.), Lonzo Ball’s surprising shooting (38.6% from 3-point range) and Coby White (11.3 ppg. and 38.6% 3-point shooting) ignoring trade rumors and it’s easy to see why the Bulls have been one of the league’s most consistent teams thus far.

They started the season 4-0 and 6-1 and eventually got to 12-5 — a significant improvement over the forgettable 7-10 start they got off to last season when DeRozan, Vucevic, and Ball were playing elsewhere. They’ve been able to limit their losing streaks (three two-game skids), and they zipped to the top of the East with a nine-game winning spree before Sunday’s game at Dallas. The nine-gamer is the franchise’s longest since the end of the 2010-11 season.

Still, head coach Billy Donovan — who notched the 300th victory of his NBA career on Friday — knows the Bulls have a ways to go before they can be taken seriously as contenders. Their defensive rating is 13th in the NBA (108.2 points per 100 possessions), and their small-ball lineups have led to them ranking just 27th in the league in rebounding.

Time will soon tell if the Bulls have what it takes to be beasts in the East

Make no mistake about it: The Chicago Bulls are all in on trying to be relevant again. They showed that by hiring Donovan as head coach and surrendering a first-round draft pick in a trade for Vucevic last season. They supplemented those moves by signing DeRozan and Ball to massive free-agent contracts in the offseason. Next on the agenda: Add some veteran toughness and rim protection before this season’s trade deadline.

Impressively, the Bulls have gone 2-0 against Brooklyn, Denver, and the Los Angeles Lakers. But they also have racked up several wins against the likes of Orlando (2-0), Detroit (2-0), Washington (2-0), and an Atlanta team (2-0) that isn’t defending at all this season.

However, the troubling part has been the Bulls getting swept by Philadelphia and Miami in two games against each. Those are two elite teams in the East and two teams that the Bulls expect to battle this season for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Like the rest of the NBA, Donovan has taken a wait-and-see approach to the Bulls’ candidacy as legitimate contenders. Sure, they are a joy to watch how DeRozan and Vucevic can carve foes up in the midrange, and LaVine, White, Ball, and Alex Caruso can bomb in 3-pointers from all corners of the United Center. But do the Bulls have enough defensive grit and toughness to slow down Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler when they have to have a stop?

The upcoming stretch against the Nets, Warriors, Celtics, Grizzlies, Cavs, and Bucks could very well shed some light on just how serious we should be taking the Bulls. Again, we know they are fun and dynamic and are about to end that hideous playoff drought. But are they gritty and tough enough to be a true beast of the East?

“We’ve got to get better. We just have to get better,” Donovan said in Friday’s postgame news conference as reported by The Associated Press. “We’ve got to get better defensively. … I think if you spoke to the guys, they would say that we have to keep getting better defensively. We have the capability.”

Statistics courtesy of

RELATED: Is Chicago Bulls Star DeMar DeRozan an MVP or a MIP candidate?