A Maligned $85 Million Acquisition Has Ignited the Undefeated Chicago Bulls During Their Best Start in 25 Years

The Chicago Bulls are doing something they haven’t done since the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. With a 111-108 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the 4-0 Bulls are off to their best start since 1996-97. One of the key reasons Chicago is playing well is DeMar DeRozan, who is already silencing many of his offseason doubters.

The Chicago Bulls are undefeated

The NBA season is all but a week old, but only three teams enter Tuesday without a loss. The Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz are 3-0 and 2-0, respectively. But only the Bulls are 4-0, sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

Chicago has won its games by an average of 10 points, the league’s fourth-best point differential. Its defense has come on strong, holding opponents to a fourth-ranked 97.5 points per game. For context, last year’s team allowed 111.6 per game with a -0.9 point differential. The Bulls also rank third in shooting 42.3% from three and 86.4% from the stripe.

Head coach Billy Donovan is largely using a six-man rotation, with Alex Caruso the lone reserve eclipsing over 16 minutes a night. Four Bulls are averaging 14 or more points, with Zach LaVine netting a team-high 25.5. Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, and Caruso are also averaging two or more steals per game for the league’s fifth-best team in defensive rating.

DeMar DeRozan has flourished for the Bulls

The Bulls were among the biggest movers and shakers during the offseason. After acquiring Vucevic at the trade deadline, Chicago signed both Ball and Caruso to long-term deals. But the team turned heads after signing DeRozan to a three-year, $85 million pact.

No one was disputing DeRozan’s credentials. The 32-year-old is a four-time All-Star who has averaged 20 points in more in eight straight seasons. But questions lingered regarding DeRozan’s contract as well as his fit alongside LaVine, with both guards needing the ball in their hands to be at their best.

So far, the partnership hasn’t been problematic. Both players are finding a way to get shots, with DeRozan averaging 18.5 attempts per game to LaVine’s 17.5. DeMar’s 22.5 points are right in line with where he’s been the last few years with the Raptors and San Antonio Spurs, and he’s currently on pace for a career-best 37.5% clip from three.

DeRozan’s best game for the Bulls was in Monday’s return to Toronto, his old team for nine seasons. As his team was in the midst of blowing a 20-point lead down the stretch, DeMar scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. The veteran hit several clutch midrange shots, as well as a pair of three throws with 24 seconds left to give Chicago a six-point cushion.

“It’s always my job, especially late game, to close out the game,” DeRozan said after the game. “Understanding what needs to be done and just getting to my spots and to try and make big shots. It’s something that I’m not shy of. I always want those moments and understand the magnitude of them.”

Are the Chicago Bulls a serious contender?

DeRozan and the Bulls have certainly been an impressive storyline through one week. But a few more games should really determine whether Chicago is a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

Thus far, the Bulls’ schedule has been light. With two games against the Detroit Pistons, as well as battles against the Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago has beaten opponents with a combined 2-9 record. Their schedule is about to turn, however, with the New York Knicks and Jazz up ahead followed by road games against the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

There are a couple of other mild concerns in the Windy City. Vucevic’s 14.3 points are his lowest since 2013-14 and his 21.4% clip from three is a career-low. Chicago is also facing a challenge if injuries occur, as its bench behind Caruso is shallow.

However, with four legitimate All-Star-caliber players in the lineup, the Bulls should be able to hang against anybody. Especially with a veteran like DeRozan who has proven he can take — and hit — the big shots late in games.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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