While they spent most of the last few years as laughingstocks across the league, the Chicago Bulls have found their way back and may just compete for the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
It’s been a while since the Bulls had so many good options that their head coach might have trouble finding minutes for everyone, but Chicago’s 2019-20 roster will do just that for Jim Boylen. From point guard to center, the Bulls have depth at every position and will able to play small and big, fast and slow, and every style in between.
They’re not going to be world-beaters by any means, but they’re no longer going to be the easy out they have been since Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota two years ago.
A year after struggling to fill the point guard position with competent play, the Bulls are now somewhat overrun at the position.
Drafting Coby White at No. 7 and acquiring Tomas Satoransky through sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards has helped shore up their weakest position in the rotation and now gives them a slew of versatile lineup options and playstyles. Fellow newcomer Thaddeus Young will give them a strong defensive presence at the power forward position.
The Bulls actually needed to more make moves before being able to officially sign Young and Satoransky.
Shaquille Harrison and Walter Lemon Jr. were currently on non-guaranteed contracts for next season, and both have been cut so Chicago had enough cap space for their summer acquisitions. Both guards were fighting for their NBA lives with the Bulls.
Unfortunately, with White, Kris Dunn and the newly re-signed Ryan Arcidiacono already under contract for 2019-20, plus Satoransky fully able to play the point guard position, this was an easy decision.
On the wing, Zach LaVine and Otto Porter are likely to be the team’s preferred starting duo, though Satoransky presents a very strong option there as well. His ability to play across three positions was what made him such an interesting signing: All three of LaVine, Porter, and Satoransky will be able to play together, whether with a pair of big men or even at the 2-through-4 positions in a small-ball alignment.
LaVine’s primary scoring ability will still be heavily featured in the Bulls’ offense, though the presence of capable point guard play means he will have to operate more often within the team concept rather than freelancing like he did last year. Still, in terms of pure bucket-getting, he is a multi-level scorer who can still take to the skies for a thunder dunk.
Despite the hefty contract, Porter’s value as a shooter brings a lot to the table. He has just enough length and lift to diversify his offensive game, though it’s truly the shooting that drives the vast majority of his value. While not elite on the other end of the floor, he has enough size and athleticism to be at least an adequate defender.
Satoransky’s presence will make things easier on White, whose speed and attacking ability are truly intriguing as a playmaker for himself and others.
But playing the point guard spot at a high level is very, very difficult for any rookie, and the rest of Chicago’s offseason business seems to indicate that they’re going after a playoff spot in 2019-20. Expecting White to be an immediate, everyday contributor to a playoff run is a lot to ask of any rookie, which is where Satoransky’s ability to soak up key minutes will come in handy.
Up front, Young’s arrival could move one of Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. to the bench in the starting and/or closing lineups, though the plan is obviously for the youngsters to earn back those spots as soon as possible. Even then, Young is a nice first big off the bench for any team.
Markkanen is a wonderful offensive prospect. Already capable of shouldering a massive usage load within the Bulls offense, particularly for a big man, he can score all over the floor and presents matchup problems for a lot of defenders. He could use a bit more playmaking to round out his impressive game, but there aren’t many young bigs who can boast the same production as a shooter and scorer.
Carter had a bit of a rough rookie year but still figures to be a huge part of the Bulls’ long-term plans. In many ways, he’s the perfect complement to Markkanen. Though not the same high-level scorer, he has more passing acumen as a playmaker in short roll situations and at the elbow. He’s especially a much better defensive prospect, with the sort of length and instincts to develop into a high-level shot blocker and stopper.
Eventual Al Horford comparisons could be apt.
Young has been a terrific defender throughout his career and remains one of the very best stoppers at the power forward spot. He brings some offensive concerns with a lack of outside shooting and non-elite skills, but he’s solid enough at just about everything to fit in as a fourth or fifth option. “Solid veteran” is the watchword here, and the Bulls needed at least a couple of those guys to help the youngsters ease into their potential.
Most importantly, Young will make up for it on the defensive end and help improve a Chicago unit that finished No. 25 league-wide last year.
Though the rest of the bench remains rather young and unproven, the lineup now at least legitimately runs seven deep. That flexibility is going to make the Bulls a tough regular season and, if things go well, playoff opponent. Particularly in the first round, the postseason can be so much about how teams match up against one another. Chicago’s versatility will make them a difficult team to play in that setting.
That level of success is putting the cart before the horse as things currently stand, but with so many of Chicago’s players on multi-year contracts, their core is relatively locked in for the next few years.
Whether they make the playoffs in 2020 or not, the Bulls’ front office clearly built this roster with the postseason in mind, signing the sort of versatile veterans that teams need on both ends to succeed in those high-leverage situations.
After years of half-hearted “stay relevant” attempts featuring mismatched and over-the-hill veterans, the Bulls finally spent the last couple down years slowly stockpiling young talent.
Now, they’re ready to grow up together, with just enough “good-guy, good player” guidance to ensure it can happen.
Jeff Siegel comes to your computer screen from San Diego, where he laments the lack of an NBA team while sitting on the beach in 72-degree weather year-round. So maybe it’s not that bad.