2017-18 Record: 27-55 (13th in East)
Players Added: Wendell Carter Jr. (draft), Antonius Cleveland (waivers), Chandler Hutchison (draft), Jabari Parker (free agency)
Players Lost: Jerian Grant (trade with ORL), Sean Kilpatrick (waivers), David Nwaba (free agency), Quincy Pondexter (free agency), Julyan Stone (trade with CHA), Noah Vonleh (free agency), Paul Zipser (waivers)
Projected Team MVP: Lauri Markkanen
It might be a reach to say that Markkanen is the team’s MVP front-runner, largely due to the fact that he will miss extended time at the beginning of the campaign. The former Arizona standout suffered an elbow injury that will keep him on the sideline for a while and, in the process, this decision became more difficult.
However, there really isn’t another great option. The Bulls do have intriguing talent, including rookie Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and the newly-signed Jabari Parker. With that said, Chicago probably needs Markkanen to be the best player on the roster, at least when considering that it would be difficult for Parker and/or LaVine to make the defensive jump necessary to break through at the top.
If Markkanen can come back within a few weeks of the start of the season, he has the highest upside on the roster, particularly if one believes that he can defend at a passable level. The overarching takeaway is that this is a team without a definitive No. 1 option but Markkanen has that ability in the future.
Team X-Factor: Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker
I just can’t choose. This is a space normally reserved for one player but, in many ways, LaVine and Parker are too similar. Both have concerning injury histories. Both rely almost exclusively on their scoring prowess to generate quality offense. Both have ugly defensive track records. Both are overpaid, at least when comparing their current salaries to past production.
See what I mean?
At any rate, the Bulls could really use an uptick from one or both of the LaVine-Parker duo this season, if only to avoid defensive pitfalls all over the floor. Parker has higher upside considering his pedigree and brief flashes but, in the same breath, he was available for a reason and the former Duke star will have to live up to the considerable billing.
The jury is out on either player operating at a level befitting of the contract investments from the Bulls side, but it will be interesting nonetheless.
Best Case Scenario:
Could this be a legitimately effective offense? The defensive side of the ball leaves a ton to be desired, but there is real offensive talent on this roster. A scenario in which the Bulls could play small-ball with Markkanen at the 5, Parker at the 4 and real spacing would be a lot of fun and, frankly, the path to this team being competitive on a nightly basis flows through their offense.
It may not be likely, but if both Parker and LaVine produce efficient offense while giving something defensively, there is more upside to the Bulls than you might think. It won’t be a playoff berth in all likelihood, but Chicago does have the ability to build on the brief moments of optimism from last season.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Bulls were really bad last season. The team managed to secure 27 victories but Chicago played at a lower level than that based on the metrics, and the season-long win total was buoyed by one great stretched key by a player (Nikola Mirotic) that is no longer around.
With that said, there is definitely a scenario in which the Bulls produce at a similar, or even worse, rate this season. Namely, the Bulls could be the worst defense in the league, particularly if they elect to deploy Jabari Parker at the 3 for extended minutes. The wing duo (yikes) of Parker and LaVine would produce all kinds of issues and, even if they receive better-than-average play (by rookie standards) from Wendell Carter, it is tough to envision strong performance on that side of the ball.
It might not be fair to suggest that Chicago’s downside includes being the worst team in the NBA but, if things go as poorly as they could on defense, this is probably a bottom-five squad.