The Chicago Bulls finished the 2018-19 season with a 22-60 record, making them the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference and the fourth-worst team in the entire NBA. Simply put, it was another wasted season for the once-proud franchise.
While no one expected the Bulls to make a huge leap in 2019-20, some people predicted they’d sneak into the playoffs. The results, so far, have been worse than expected. Injuries and lackluster performances from otherwise smart free-agency acquisitions play a big part in the Bulls’ struggles.
As a result, high-jumping star Zach LaVine has been forced to carry a huge offensive load. Let’s look at why LaVine can’t carry this team on his own, and what the Bulls can do to fix things.
The Chicago Bulls’ year so far
Entering the season, many analysts believed the Bulls had a chance to grab the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs. As of January 5, 2020, however, Chicago is just 13-23. That rather dismal record has dropped their chances of making the playoffs to a mere 14%, according to analytics site 538.com.
The Bulls’ problems aren’t all their fault, however. Key forward Otto Porter has missed most of the season with a nagging foot injury. Meanwhile, free-agency pickup Tomas Satoransky has failed to make much of an impact.
The same goes for veteran forward Thaddeus Young, who is scoring less per game than in any season since his rookie year. Third-year forward Lauri Markkanen has also failed to improve his performance.
The Bulls’ woes lie primarily on offense. In fact, the Bulls currently have the worst offensive efficiency rating in the NBA. They’ve been surprisingly stout on the defensive end and currently hold the ninth-best defensive rating. Yet the Bulls interior defense remains appalling, with opponents scoring at the rim basically whenever they want.
Zach LaVine’s high usage rate
The Bulls’ biggest problem is they simply don’t have many players capable of creating their own shot, or even shooting well, whenever someone else manufactures a good look for them. As a result, LaVine has been forced to shoulder a huge load on the offensive end.
LaVine has always been a shoot-first player — and he’s even more so now. In the 80 clutch minutes he’s played this year, LaVine has only dished three assists. If he happens to be shooting with a hot hand, the approach may work. In many cases, however, those hero ball moments cost the Bulls close games.
The Bulls’ solution moving forward
So what can the Bulls do to lighten the offensive burden placed on LaVine? The most obvious answer is to find a capable point guard to orchestrate a more balanced offensive approach. Ideally, LaVine can move back to his true position, shooting guard, and stop doing so much of the ball-handling.
Satoransky has the skills and the pass-first mentality to make that approach work, but so far, the point guard has struggled to integrate with the rest of the Bulls squad.
Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine both have huge upsides, but neither shows the kind of playmaking skills the Bulls desperately need. If coach Jim Boylen can’t find a way to improve his roster’s performance, he may find himself in the hot seat if the Bulls continue to struggle.