Chicago Bulls X-Factor: Lonzo Ball

As the NBA season approaches and training camps get underway, we’ll be taking a look at the player on each team that holds the key to unlocking their full potential.

In Chicago, which overhauled the roster this offseason, there are plenty of options to choose from. But here, we’ll focus on their new point guard, Lonzo Ball. The Bulls gave Ball a handsome new contract and expect him to be the point guard they’ve been seeking for years, as Bulls fans now have hopes of a new star backcourt tandem between he and Zach LaVine. There are plenty of other new players that Billy Donovan will have to sort out in terms of scheme and rotations, but we know, mostly, what to expect from veterans like Nikola Vucevic and new addition DeMar DeRozan.

For the Bulls to make the leap not just into playoff contention but into the tier above the play-in in the East, a lot falls on the shoulders of Lonzo. He has long carried a reputation as a strong defender, but his best work comes off the ball rather than as a point of attack stopper — you can read in detail about that here. It is this conundrum that presents some real questions in Chicago, where it seems the expectation that he will be leading the defense at the point of attack at times given the construction of the roster around him — although Alex Caruso can alleviate that pressure when on the court. Figuring out how to maximize his defensive gifts, which tend to be his ability to anticipate and jump into passing lanes and make the right reads on when to send help from the perimeter, while understanding the Bulls need of an on-ball defender will be the most difficult task for Donovan.

Offensively, the fit seems much more snug. With LaVine on board (and DeRozan and Vucevic), they don’t need a primary creator, but someone who can finish plays as a shooter or a secondary creator, which is where Ball excels. He’s become a terrific spot-up shooter, something that will please LaVine who has all too often faced collapsing defenses in his time in Chicago, and should defenses rotate too aggressively, Ball can put the ball on the floor and make the right read to take full advantage of a team suddenly caught in rotation. On top of that, Ball and LaVine will immediately become one of the best fastbreak combos in the league, turning opponent mistakes on offense into quick, highlight worthy buckets on the other end.

Given his reputation, it’s odd that I feel far more confident in Ball’s fit in Chicago offensively, but considering the personnel, he’s a terrific fit there. Defense is going to be where the Bulls have the most work to do and how the pieces to that puzzle fall into place is going to be the most challenging task for Billy Donovan. If he can figure that out, or if Lonzo can tap into more as a point-of-attack defender and negate those questions on that end, then the Bulls might just be back.