Jeff Van Gundy Rips the Bulls’ Credentials and Calls Them ‘Overachievers’

The Chicago Bulls enter the final stretch of the 2021-22 campaign having overcome their fair share of adversity. Even still, former head coach and ESPN color analyst Jeff Van Gundy refuses to believe Chicago can win the Eastern Conference, let alone an NBA championship.

Van Gundy joined ESPN’s Zach Lowe on a recent edition of the Lowe Post podcast to discuss seven big questions, including the top contender in the East. The outspoken TV commentator didn’t necessarily label the Bulls’ success fraudulent, but he doesn’t believe they are ready to seriously contend for an NBA championship this season.

Chicago faces the second-hardest closing schedule in the league coming out of All-Star Weekend. That could impact its seeding in a crowded East.

Still, the Bulls have managed to withstand body blows all season. Is Van Gundy’s diagnosis of this team a fair one?

The Bulls have momentum coming out of the All-Star break

Although the Bulls have a tough slate in the coming weeks, they have a lot of things going in their favor.

Chicago won five straight games heading into the break, thanks largely to DeMar DeRozan’s scoring brilliance. Additionally, Zach LaVine received clearance from doctors after dealing with knee soreness, then looked like his usual explosive self during All-Star Weekend. That dynamic duo will likely be raring to go after recharging their batteries in Cleveland.

The Bulls also made roster moves. Chicago signed Tristan Thompson in the buyout market, giving the frontcourt a more competent rim-roller who can finish lobs and score on push shots around the basket. His athleticism could also take some of the pressure off of Nikola Vucevic to defend everything at the tin.

With DeRozan and LaVine giving the Bulls one of the most potent one-two punches in basketball, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White providing strong guard play, and Thompson adding key size, Chicago is set for a furious finish. Still, Jeff Van Gundy isn’t convinced they have the competitive chops to get the job done in May and June.

Jeff Van Gundy called the Bulls “overachievers”

L-R: ESPN commentator and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy watches a game in 2019, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine warms up before a game in February 2022
Jeff Van Gundy (L) and Zach LaVine (R) | Left to Right: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images and Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Van Gundy applauded the Bulls’ success. But he believes they’ve maximized the talent on the roster and will not have enough to compete with some of the other beasts of the Easts.

On a recent episode of the Lowe Post podcast, Van Gundy told ESPN’s Zach Lowe he feels the Bulls are “overachievers.” Although he acknowledges the extent of Chicago’s injuries throughout the season, he seemed wary about saying the Bulls could feasibly win the 2022 NBA championship.

“I think [the Bulls] have overachieved dramatically. I just think they’re not at the same level as Miami, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, or Philadelphia.”

–Jeff Van Gundy on the Lowe Post podcast

Van Gundy rightfully pointed out the team’s defensive issues. That aspect, paired with the injuries, does make it seem as though the Bulls have underachieved. Perhaps the balance or ceiling of teams like the Heat, Bucks, Nets, and 76ers exceeds Chicago’s.

Conversely, given how seldom the Bulls have been at full strength, is that an accurate assessment of the team’s chances?

Best to reserve judgment

Jeff Van Gundy listed 76ers and Nets in a tier above the Bulls, despite not knowing how James Harden fits with Joel Embiid or when Ben Simmons makes his debut in Brooklyn.

How, then, can the Bulls stand trial when they went into All-Star Weekend in a tie atop the East despite all the injury issues? It seems foolish, to say the least.

Chicago has gritted its teeth and done what’s necessary to get to this position. While a demanding schedule awaits the Bulls, they also can feel encouraged by the possible return of second-year forward Patrick Williams, who could become a legitimate defensive boon.

Speaking of defensive savants, Chicago should eventually get both Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso back in the rotation. Those two could drastically alter the team’s complexion and significantly bump the contender threshold.

Van Gundy’s evaluation could eventually prove true. Chicago has struggled against teams above .500. A lot could depend on how the seeding shakes out. That said, it’s probably premature to make any calls on the Bulls until they have a fully healthy roster.

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