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As we continue to wait for real basketball to happen (or not?), it may be a good time to monitor teams that will definitely be missing out on all the playoff bubble hijinks. Here's a look at the **CHICAGO BULLS**, with a special shoutout to true Bulls' fans like /u/celsius_two_3_two for helping me review the content. --- **PART ONE: From Playoff Challenger to *Challenger* space shuttle** Like any proper degenerate, I like to make a few Las Vegas "over/under" bets before the season (note: don't try it at home, it's usually a waste of time and money.) Still, a few win totals jumped out at me. Among them: the Chicago Bulls, over/under 33.5 wins. Now, the logical move may have been to pound the "under" here. After all, this was a team coming off two seasons with 27-55 and 22-60 records. However, I couldn't help but overthink this one. Sure, the Bulls had a very bad 2018-19 season (highlighted by Fred Hoiberg getting fired and Drill Sergeant Jim [Boylen](https://images.app.goo.gl/8LANnxFoysw3Y5jm9) taking over). At the same time, they played better in the second half of the season. Boylen (douche or not) would presumably keep improving their defense. Moreover, Boylen and the front office were on shaky ground in terms of their job security, which usually motivates an organization to push forward and win as much as possible. The front office clearly had that in mind as well, signing Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young to sizable $10M+ contracts. Neither are *great* players, or perhaps even *good* players, but they're solid and reliable veterans whom the team could immediately plug into a rotation. These Bulls felt deep, balanced, and perhaps ready to strike. After all, star Zach LaVine would be set to enter Year 6 in the league. Otto Porter would be entering Year 7. Some of their other "young" pieces weren't that young; for example, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine are both 26 right now. Overall, this felt like a recipe for success. Or at least, semi-success. The Bulls were ready to take a jump. Making the playoffs may have been unrealistic, but 35-38 wins felt doable. "OVER" it is! Flash forward nearly a year later, and I've got so much egg on my face that vegans won't even talk to me anymore. Turns out, these "new Bulls" were the "same ol' Bulls." They'll end the season with a 22-43 record, which would have put them on pace for 27.8 wins over 82 games, well under the 33.5 set by Vegas. So what went wrong? How did this potential darkhorse run so far off the rails that it needed to get shot and turned to glue? Let's take a closer look. --- **PART TWO: Missing Otto Porter III + D** One of the major reasons the Chicago Bulls disappointed in 2019-20 was injuries. Center Wendell Carter missed time, and Otto Porter III barely played due to lingering hip injuries. He appeared in 14 games, and only drew 9 starts (averaging 23 minutes per game.) On the surface, Porter shouldn't feel like a huge loss. After all, this is a player who's never averaged as much as 15 PPG in any season in his career and has never sniffed an All-Star team. That said, the loss of Porter had a trickle down effect that hurt the team in numerous ways. Offensively, Porter is a low-usage player who's about as efficient as anyone in the league. For his career, he shoots over 40% from three (40.4%). Better yet, he's only averaged 0.8 turnovers per game (1.1 TO per 36 minutes.) He's what you'd call a role player / *assassin.* He gets in, hits his target, and slips out without being noticed. Porter actually has a little more versatility to his offensive game than the average catch-and-shoot player (he can take you down on the block, for example), but most often, he's used as a spacer and he thrives in that regard. Without Porter's shooting, the Chicago Bulls' offense looked even more sluggish than usual. Their offensive rating ranked 27th out of the 30 teams in the league. Porter's loss also showed up in other ways. Porter's not a *great* defender -- he's probably "above average" -- but that's still an asset to have in your lineup. He's a savvy player who's usually locked in defensively, despite one infamous [*Shaqtin' A Fool*](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkwfh_6TG0A) moment. He also has good size and length for his position at 6'8" with a 7'1" wingspan. That size is a key element to this discussion. Porter has "plus" size as a small forward. In his absence, the Bulls struggled to fill that void with the same. They ended up shifting Zach LaVine (6'6", 6'8" wingspan) over to small forward quite a bit. LaVine played 67% of his minutes at SF this past season according to basketball-reference. You can take those positional play-by-plays with a grain of salt because it's not easy to track and label, but that's still a notable difference in terms of the roster composition. The Bulls were smaller than average at SF, and smaller than average at SG with rookie Coby White (6'4", 6'5" wingspan) playing the majority of his minutes there. The natural follow up to this may be: *so what?* Even with those size limitations, Jim Boylen's Bulls still finished with the 14th best defense (up from 25 last year.) However, the lack of size on the wings helped contribute to the Bulls' problems on the glass. They finished 30th (out of 30 teams) in total defensive rebounds, and 28th in rebounding differential (-3.6 per game). Using rebounding *totals* isn't always the best metric to use because bad teams miss more shots (and thus allow their opponents more rebounds). However, if you dig deeper, the numbers still aren't pretty. The Bulls' grabbed 75.6% of their potential defensive rebounds -- 5th worst in the league. Overall, they grabbed 47.9% of all potential rebounds -- 2nd worst in the league. "Rebounds" may be not be an en vogue stat in general, but it's a weakness that still hurt the team at the margins. When you're a mid-level team, those extra few possessions per game could mean the difference between a win and a loss. The good news? Porter will likely be back and healthy next season. The bad news? He's not cheap. He'll almost certainly pick up his oversized $28M player option. In another circumstance, he may try to rip it up and renegotiate a long-term deal with the Bulls or another team instead, but the murkiness around the cap and around his health makes that too difficult to imagine. Barring a trade, he'll be back with the Bulls next year, and will help the team win a few more games. --- **PART THREE: Misusing their offensive weapons** The Chicago Bulls are a young team, built around young stars like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Both LaVine and Markkanen have some limitations overall, but they're both gifted offensive players. So given that, how is it that the team only finished 27th in offensive efficiency? In terms of the national media, a lot of the blame tends to fall on Zach LaVine. After some inefficient play early on in his career, the narrative has stuck that LaVine is an "empty calorie" or "volume" scorer. However, the results on the court don't really justify that anymore. Sure, LaVine shoots a lot, but he doesn't take as many *bad* shots as you may expect. He takes 8.1 threes per game (and makes an above-average 38%). He takes 5.6 free throw attempts per game (making 82% for his career.) Overall, that's a winning formula. LaVine's efficiency and true shooting is above league-average, no small feat for a player averaging 25.5 points per game this year. You'd like to see him hammer his way to the line even more, but he's not the problem for this team (offensively.) Meanwhile, Markkanen has some work to do. For a 7-footer, he's a gifted shooter. He shot 42.3% from three in college (and even flirted with 50% early in the season.) He carried that success over to the NBA for his first two years, netting over 36% from three each year. His results at the free throw line (84% then 87% as a second-year player) illustrated his potential to keep improving from there. 7-footers tend to get labeled as "stretch bigs" if they can get anywhere over 30% from three; Markkanen has the potential to get closer to 40%. However, that leap didn't happen in Year 3. Markkanen sagged to 34.4% from three, and "only" 82.4% from the free-throw line. But those percentages aren't what bothers me. Percentages will go up and down over smaller sample sizes like that. What's more concerning is how Markkanen's role shrunk offensively. After averaging 15.3 field goal attempts last season, he slipped down to 11.8 attempts this season per game. Even if you account for a few less minutes, he dropped from 17 FGA to 14 FGA in terms of "per 36" numbers. As mentioned, Markkanen is an *offensive* player. He's a shooter. I'm no coaching genius (and neither is Jim Boylen apparently), but I'd encourage a shooter to SHOOT. Because if Markkanen isn't a focal point of your offensive attack, then he's not doing much good for your team. He's not a good defender -- he's not a good rebounder. This is like the Justice League sending Aquaman off to the find evil aliens in the desert; we're misusing his talents here, people. Practically speaking, the next Bulls' coach needs to rethink the approach with Markkanen. Personally, I believe he has more in the tank offensively than he's been allowed to show so far. Maybe he's not Dirk Nowtizki, but he's still an extraordinary talent as a shooter for his size; I'd make a point of funneling him the ball. And if the problem is that he's getting marginalized by ball-dominant LaVine, then Markkanen should come off the bench as a 6th man scorer instead. He needs to be an offensive priority whenever he's in the game. And consequently, a better offensive philosophy and system needs to be installed in order to allow that to happen. --- **PART FOUR: Natural growing pains** When the Chicago Bulls' playoff chances slipped away, Jim Boylen and the front office finally unleashed their rookie, Coby White. White took advantage of that greenlight and turned up the gas as a scorer. He'll end the season with a modest 13.2 points per game, but that undersells his impact as a scorer. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 18.5 points per game. That trended upwards over the course of the season as well. White averaged over 20 points per game in February and March (albeit over a limited 14 game size.) If White can do that as a 20-year-old rookie, then it's fair to suggest that he could be routinely scoring over 20 PPG in his prime. While Coby White has some obvious virtues -- highlighted by his quickness and his cool hair -- there are some natural concerns and growing pains that he showed. He *scored*, but he didn't necessarily do that with efficiency. He shot only 39.4% from the field, and netted only a 50.6 true shooting percentage that's well below the league average. Defensively, White also struggled. Playing "up" at SG for 71% of his minutes (and even at SF for 17%!), White's limited size and limited experience showed. ESPN's real/plus minus metric graded him as -1.9 impact per 100 possessions. If you wanted to count White as a point guard, that would rank 89th best (out of 94 qualifiers.) If you envision him as a shooting guard, that would rank 134th (out of 137 qualifiers.) That debate -- is Coby White a point guard or shooting guard? -- is an important one. Sure, we're in an era of "position-less" basketball to some extent, but players still have certain roles offensively and certain assignments defensively. White's limited size and length (6'5" wingspan) projects best as a point guard. However, he's more of a scorer than a natural distributor. He only averaged 3.8 assists per 36 minutes this season, not far removed from the 5.2 assists per 36 minutes he averaged back in college at UNC. His playmaking can improve, but he's more of an attack dog by nature. This combination of strengths and weaknesses makes you wonder about the long-term fit next to Zach LaVine. If the Bulls' long-term plan is to play White at SG and LaVine at SF, then they're always going to be behind the eight-ball in terms of length and rebounding (especially with Lauri Markkanen at the 4.) If their plan is to start White as a point guard, then they're going to have to rely on LaVine to be more of a lead facilitator, or on the entire team to adopt more of a ball-moving offense 1-5. Most realistically, White projects best as a super-scorer off the bench, a la Lou Williams. To excel in that role, he'll need to continue to draw more free throws (he was at only 2.0 FTA per game as a rookie), but the potential is there to improve his shot selection and become a big-time scorer. Staggering White and LaVine would also allow them to be aggressive as scorers without stepping on each other's toes. --- **PART FIVE: Done with Dunn?** The other reason that it'll be important for the new Bulls' coach and front office to devise a long-term plan for Coby White is because it will affect other decisions on the roster. Among them: the fate of Kris Dunn. Like Coby White, Dunn has some extreme strengths and weaknesses -- they just happen to be in opposite order. He EXCELS defensively. He has a big frame (6'9" wingspan) and natural instincts on that end. He nabbed 2.0 steals this season in only 24.9 minutes of action. A lot of times, "steals" can be misleading because they amount to gambling. For Dunn, it's more reflective of his actual talent. He has extremely quick hands; he could have made a lot of money as a gunslinger back in the Old West. In some ways, he reminds you of Andre Iguodala on the ball defensively, combining length, strength, and savvy. The rest of Dunn's game is a mixed bag. He's not a bad distributor (averaging 6.0 assists in both 2017-18 and 2018-19), but he's a poor shooter. He's also had injury issues flare up over the course of his career. As mentioned, he's already 26 years old, so it's unrealistic to expect him to become a wholly different player in the next few years. With Kris Dunn, you mostly know what you're getting to get. So the question is: do you want it or not? The Bulls will have to make that choice this offseason, as Dunn enters his (restricted) free agency. There's a chance that COVID will infect the cap and allow them to retain him on his one-year qualified offer of $7M. Alternatively, there's a chance that another team will swoop him and sign him to an offer sheet. He'd make some sense for a team like the Detroit Pistons, who could invest in him as an heir apparent to Derrick Rose at PG. If a team like that offers Dunn a deal in the 3 year, $8-10M per year range, will the Bulls match it? TBD. Again, a lot depends on their views regarding Coby White. If they envision White as a future starter at PG, then there's less of a need for Kris Dunn. The Bulls would be able to start White at PG as soon as next year, with Tomas Satoransky as a combo guard off the bench and Ryan Arcidiacono serving as a third point guard and insurance policy. If the team envisions Coby White as a SG (or combo guard off the bench) then there's more of a need for Kris Dunn to platoon with Satoransky as a lead guard. This game of musical chairs may be getting more crowded, because there's also another element at play: yet-another lottery pick. --- **PART SIX: Drafting some Help** Currently, the Chicago Bulls are slated in the # 7 position in terms of the NBA Draft order. They have a 9% chance of moving up to # 1, and a 32% chance of moving into the top 4. If they can make that leap, then that would mean adding another potential star to the fold. It's not a strong draft by any stretch, but SG Anthony Edwards (Georgia) and C James Wiseman (Memphis) have the potential to be good starters. If they can land someone like that, you ignore "fit", take the potential stud, and work out the rest later. More likely, the Bulls will be picking in that 7-8 range. That's still a good pick, of course, but not one that should cause you to throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore the composition and needs of your team. Again, this is why the "Do the Bulls need a PG?" question becomes so critical. This is a poor draft, but it's strongest in terms of its point guard depth. According to ESPN's draft experts, 5 of the top 13 prospects are point guards (LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes, R.J. Hampton, Cole Anthony). A few of those -- namely Hayes and Anthony -- are "pure" point guards who don't have enough size to switch around and play minutes at the 2. Among the crop that's likely to be available around pick 7, here are some potential fits. PG TYRESE HALIBURTON, IOWA STATE (# 8 on espn). Haliburton is one of the easiest "fits" for the Bulls and for basically every team, because he offers a versatile set of skills. He's technically a point guard (averaging 15.2 points and 6.5 assists last year) and can capably fill that role. Better still, he can be effectively off the ball. His three-point shot looks a little wonky, but he converts it well, hitting 42.6% of his threes in college. Defensively he's got good size (6'5" with a 6'10" wingspan) and instincts (2.5 steals, 1.3 fouls last year). In a sense, Haliburton can be a "3 + D" point guard that plays alongside a ball-dominant player, be it Zach LaVine or Coby White. If the team drafts him, you figure it'd be with the intention of using him as an upgrade on Dunn (slightly worse defense but better offense.) SG DEVIN VASSELL, FLORIDA STATE (# 16 on espn). Like Haliburton, Devin Vassell is another player who could fit well on virtually every team because of his 3+D potential. He's hit 41.7% of his threes in his two years at FSU with a good-looking form that's aided by good size for his position and a higher release than Haliburton. Right now, Vassell is listed around 6'6" with an estimated 6'10" wingspan, but he looks bigger than that to my eye. That's crucial because it would allow him to play both SG and SF and draw some different assignments defensively. I also like Vassell's personality off the court; he seems like a good kid that should continue to improve. Like Haliburton, Vassell is the type of player that should easily into a lineup with LaVine and/or White. SF DENI AVDIJA, ISRAEL (# 5 on espn). I'm not going to pretend to have as much confidence in my projection of Avdija, who's played in the international youth circuit and has been a rising star with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Based on what I do know, he could be an intriguing boom/bust pick around # 7. He's a big forward (6'9") who can convert inside, and better yet, has a real knack for playmaking. The Bulls' young stars -- Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen -- are all better scorers than passers right now, so perhaps Avdija can operate as a de facto point forward and help the offense click into place. Right now, his shooting results have been shaky though, so he's not someone you can just throw out there and tell to stand in the corner as a 3+D option. If you take him, you need an actual plan to highlight his skill set. The Bulls' top exec Arturas Karnisovas is from Lithuania originally, so you presume that he'd have no qualms about selecting an European like Avdija (whose dad is Serbian) if need be. Of course, that logic didn't quite work out for Sacramento GM Vlade Divac and Luka Doncic. SHAKIER FITS. Alternatively, there are some players in the Bulls' draft range that may not be ideal fits. As mentioned, Killian Hayes and Cole Anthony are more of traditional ball-dominant point guards; I don't love the idea of that next to Coby White and Zach LaVine. I'd also be wary of Dayton's PF Obi Toppin. Toppin has strong scoring potential with a decent shot and good athleticism inside. That said, he's a little stiff in the hips defensively, and may duplicate Lauri Markkanen in that regard. --- **PART SEVEN: Buh-Buh Boylen** One of the Chicago Bulls' biggest decisions will be among their first. Technically, the new front office has not fired coach Jim Boylen yet, but it appears that his clock is ticking on that decision. It's only a matter of time. Candidly, Boylen gets too harsh of a rap from national media and fans. He's not a *complete* asshat. He's had success as a defensive assistant in the past, and did help the Bulls' defense improve some over the past few years. He'd be a fine assistant coach somewhere in that limited capacity. However, he does seem woefully out of his depth as a *head coach.* He's never had success in that role before, and he didn't have any now. His offensive system is virtually nonexistent, and his attitude is boarish. Usually those "Drill Sergeant" coaches get a short-term year or two of improvement from a young team, but he couldn't even do that. We need to pull him out of there before there's a full-on *Full Metal Jacket* rebellion here. Looking ahead, the Bulls need to pick a coach that can get the team back on track, especially in terms of their offensive philosophy. That said, the Bulls have to be careful not to "zigzag" too much in their coaching hires. They went from Tom Thibodeau (the gruff, defensive-heavy coach) to the Anti-Thibodeau in Fred Hoiberg (likable, low-key former player), and then jumped on the seesaw again with the complete opposite in Boylen. There's always a tendency to go for the *opposite* of your last coach, but presumably there's a happy medium in between these two poles. Goldilocks was happy to find something "just right," so Karnisovas should be as well. According to media reports, **Ime Udoka** is a top candidate, and would be a natural fit. While Udoka doesn't have head coaching experience yet, he's about as "ready" as any first-time coach would be. He's a former player, and a long-time assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio (and now has worked the last year in Philadelphia.) The Spurs' philosophy is an ideal template for the Bulls to use, both in terms of their offensive ball movement and their locker room culture. I'd also recommend **Kenny Atkinson** as a viable candidate. He didn't mesh with the new superstars in Brooklyn, but he'd done a great job prior to that in terms of rebuilding a broken Brooklyn team. He specializes in pace and space offense, and player development. That sounds ideal for this team right now. There are a few other candidates out there that would be worth interviews (Chris Finch, Wes Unseld Jr., Chris Fleming, Nate Tibbetts, Alex Jensen, Dave Joerger, etc) but Udoka and Atkinson represent a very solid top two. Hiring either of them would be a great first step for this new administration. --- **TL;DR** The Chicago Bulls' "breakout" didn't happen; instead, they broke down. However, the foundation isn't bad here. If the new front office *wants* to push for the playoffs next year (manifested by keeping Otto Porter and continuing to play veterans) then it's not unrealistic that they can get up to 35-40 wins with better health and a better offensive system. Conversely, the team may decide they're further away than that, and take a step back to collect their bearings.