Additions: Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter Jr, Chandler Hutchison
Subtractions: Jerian Grant, Sean Kilpatrick
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kris Dunn
SG: Zach Lavine
SF: Jabari Parker
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Robin Lopez
Key Bench Players: Bobby Portis, Wendell Carter Jr, Denzel Valentine
Is it still relevant to say that the Bulls absolutely fleeced the Timberwolves on draft night in 2017? That is the trade where Jimmy Butler was sent to Minnesota in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and the 7th overall pick which would turn in to Lauri Markkanen. With Jimmy Butler on the outs in Minnesota, this trade is beginning to look even better for Chicago.
There is something cooking in the Windy City, and it might be ready to eat soon. With Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls have some young talent to push them into the next stage of their rebuild. Dunn, after a less than desirable rookie year in Minnesota, had a sophomore comeback in which he averaged 13.4 PPG and 6 APG while playing tenacious defense as evidenced by his two steals per game. Lavine, the two time Slam Dunk Contest champion, came off a torn ACL to play in 24 games last year and was still able to put up 16.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 3 APG albeit in an inefficient manner. With a full offseason of recovery along with continued improvements for himself and his teammates, it is not unrealistic for the fourth year wing to be primed for his best season yet. Now Lauri Markkanen, the sweet-shooting big man out of Arizona, who was previously mentioned as being the 7th overall pick in 2017 via the Wolves. In his rookie year, the Finnish big man averaged over 15 points and 7 rebounds per game on 36.2% from three point land. Built in the Dirk Nowitzki mold, Markkanen is next in the long line of stretch 4s to provide the offensive spacing that is so badly needed in today’s NBA. Besides making the NBA All-Rookie First Team last season, he also became the all-time leading scorer among NBA players from Finland. Not a bad rookie year right?
You didn’t think I would forget about the Bulls’ biggest offseason splash did you? That splash was combo forward Jabari Parker after the Milwaukee Bucks failed to match his restricted free agent offer sheet over the summer. The Chicago native is home and he is out with something to prove. After landing on the disabled list with a torn ACL twice in Milwaukee, the former number two overall pick is in a new situation where he should be “the man”. Before tearing his ACL in 2016-17, Parker was averaging over 20 points per game and was finally starting to be a more accurate shooter from outside. He continued that trend at the end of last season when he finally returned, knocking down 38.3% of his threes in 31 games. With his jumper intact, it should be easy for Parker to transition to the small forward position, a position of need for the Bulls. With an uncanny ability to create for himself, Parker will be Chicago’s top option every night with Lavine and Markkanen both delegated to secondary and tertiary roles.
With Robin Lopez being the best natural center on the team, it would not surprise me in the slightest to see him starting on opening night, but there are two names off the bench who could push coach Fred Hoiberg to make a switch. The first is Bobby Portis, the fourth year big man out of Arkansas, who has much more offensive versatility than the lesser of the Lopez twins. A career 34.5% shooter from three, Portis could spread the floor more alongside Markkanen or even play in high-low sets with the second year big man. It also opens up opportunities for Jabari Parker to play the low post where he can bully smaller wings. The only negative about putting Portis in over Lopez is losing a decent rim protector on the defensive end.
Enter rookie Wendell Carter Jr who was taken with the 7th overall pick out of Duke. He is Robin Lopez’s biggest competition for the starting center spot after averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game with a slash line of 56.1/41.3/73.8 after helping his Duke team reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Carter can do everything that Lopez can not and can even do what Lopez does even better. The rookie is a true inside-out big man who can score from the low post and stretch the floor, while also swatting shots away from the rim. I would imagine Coach Hoiberg to bring Carter off the bench to begin the season, but it should not be entirely out of the question to put the rookie in the starting lineup rather quickly. Lopez could also be a trade candidate to a playoff team in need of a backup center as his $14.3M contract is over after this season, giving Carter an even easier path to starter minutes.
This is a young team that needs to build chemistry between its young players to set them up for the future. They have five players in Dunn, Lavine, Parker, Markkanen, and Carter Jr all aged 23 or younger who can provide a quality mixture of scoring, shooting, playmaking, and defense for a franchise that desperately needs to return to the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference. Will it be this season? The Bulls could realistically make a run for the 7th or 8th seed in a weak East over borderline playoff teams in the Heat, Cavs, and Pistons which would not surprise me in the least bit. Their weak bench will be the team’s ultimate downfall if they do not make the playoffs. If Chicago can pick up some quality bench depth in the form of veterans next offseason, then I expect them to push closer to a possible five or six seed if any of the Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, or Pacers falter. Only time will tell but with this young, intriguing core, time is on the Bulls’ side.
Picture Courtesy of Clutch Points (Jabari Parker and Zach Lavine)
*For yesterday’s article on the Charlotte Hornets, click here.
Up next tomorrow: Cleveland Cavaliers
University of South Carolina ’21