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The Chicago Bulls are hoping to get back to the playoffs this year without having to play in the league’s play-in portion of the schedule.
The Bulls will largely have much of the same lineup that was forced to compete against the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat in the play-in. The Bulls got the best of the Raptors, and they led the Heat into the second half before falling short. The fact that the Heat made it all the way to the NBA Final made the Bulls’ season that much more painful.
General manager Arturas Karnisovas is keeping the same Big 3 of Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic as the core of the team. This may be a questionable strategy, since the Bulls were only able to finish with a 40-42 record after going 46-36 in the 2021-22 season and finishing in sixth place.
The question is whether Karnisovas and the Bulls have a lineup that will bounce back or whether they are sticking with players that don’t play well enough together.
The combination of Karnisovas and head coach Billy Donovan believe the players’ familiarity with each other will pay dividends in the 2023-24 season.
LaVine averaged 24.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the Bulls in 2022-23 while shooting 48.5% overall, 37.5% from 3-point range, and 84.8% from the foul line.
LaVine has established himself as one of the top scorers in the NBA. The two-time All-Star has appeared in 348 games with the Bulls. He’s averaging 24.5 points with Chicago. However, LaVine has had a problem with consistency when the game is on the line. While there are times when he will dominate in the fourth quarter, there have been too many games when he disappears or plays poorly in the final 12 minutes.
The Bulls want more consistency from a player who will make $40 million next season.
DeRozan is the Bulls’ most consistent player, but many thought the 34-year-old would be traded during the offseason. At this point in his career, DeRozan seems like he might be a better fit for a team that is one player away from championship contention than a team like the Bulls that will have to battle to make the playoffs.
DeRozan averaged 24.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the Bulls last season while shooting 50.4% from the field, 32.4% from beyond the arc, and 87.2% from the free-throw line.
The key to the Bulls’ success may be the health of Vucevic, who signed a three-year, $60 million deal in the offseason. He averaged 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists last season. He shot 52.0% from the field, 34.9% from beyond the arc, and 83.5% from the free-throw line.
Vucevic is one of the most difficult matchups because of his ability to score from both the inside and outside. Defenders who don’t respect his outside game have seen Vucevic fill up the net with his outside shooting.
The 6-10, 260-pound Vucevic started and played in all 82 games for the Bulls last year, and his consistent availability is one of his greatest strengths.
If the Bulls cam get support from players like Jevon Carter, Coby White, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Williams and Andre Drummond, the Bulls have a chance to become a top-6 team in the Eastern Conference this season. If not, they will most likely be fighting for a play-in position again this year.