At the mid point of the season I went about grading the players, coaching staff, and the front office of the Bulls, let’s see if there has been any improvement…
The G-League point guard played very hard when he got opportunities with the Bulls. He was a decent facilitator, but as an undersized guard he was taken advantage of on the defensive end of the court.
Came back to the Bulls as part of the Niko Mirotic trade. He sat out the majority of the games, and the ones he played in, he looked slow and out of shape.
Won the G-League Rookie of the Year Award as a dynamic scorer. He had a very hard time consistently hitting his shots at the NBA level. Ultimately, he finished the year sidelined with a broken wrist.
Kris Dunn: Mid-Season Grade – A
Dunn spent much of the 2nd half of the season injured, so it is hard to thoroughly evaluate him. The few times he, Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine played together were not encouraging. The chemistry issues and shot hunting over a very small sample size of games, left a bad taste in my mouth where Dunn is concerned.
Cristiano Felicio: Mid-Season Grade – F
While Felicio played better in the 2nd half of the season, he was still pretty atrocious. He failed to make a positive impact in any game he played in.
Jerian Grant: Mid-Season Grade – C
With the return of Cameron Payne from injury, Grant found himself relegated to back up shooting guard. Fortunately for him, this seems to be a better fit for his skill set. No longer forced into running the offense, Grant thrived in his role as an off the ball shooter and secondary ball handler. If the Bulls keep him around, that should be his role going forward.
Justin Holiday: Mid-Season Grade – C-
Holiday’s playing time was limited down the stretch of the season as the Bulls tried to tank. He continued to chuck up shots whenever he felt like it, and it seemed like his defensive intensity slipped as the season spiraled to a conclusion.
An end of the season signing, Kilpatrick almost destroyed the Bulls tanking efforts with his inspired play. He was instrumental in the Bulls late season 3 game winning streak. He led the team in scoring the last couple weeks of the season, and played adequate defense for someone who had just been thrown into the mix. I’m not sure if the Bulls will keep him next season, but it might be worth it to have him on the roster.
Zach LaVine: Mid-Season Grade – Incomplete
LaVine returned from his knee injury halfway through the season. He displayed good speed and explosive athleticism, but he struggled to find his rhythm on offense. He forced up a lot of shots that were not in the flow of the offense, and most of the time it felt like he, Kris Dunn, and Bobby Portis were just taking turns throwing up shots. I was disappointed in what I saw from LaVine this season, but I haven’t given up on him yet. I believe he’ll return to his pre-injury form, he just needs to get comfortable with the new offense and find his shot within it.
Robin Lopez: Mid-Season Grade – A+
Lopez sat out the majority of the second half of the season so the Bulls could tank. He also got himself thrown out of a couple of games for arguing with the referees. He probably deserves another A+ just for helping the tank effort as much as he could. His leadership, professionalism, and fun loving ways seemed to inspire this young team the entire season.
Lauri Markkanen: Mid-Season Grade – A
Markkanen turned it on in the last couple weeks of the season. He flourished in the role of lead scoring option, displaying an amazing number of ways to put the ball in the hoop. He was aggressive in finding his shot, and did not seem phased by the responsibility of the being the main source of offense for the Bulls. He was the biggest bright spot on this rebuilding team. The Bulls are lucky to have him.
David Nwaba: Mid-Season Grade – B+
Though his production slipped on the back half of the season, I felt it was because Nwaba was trying to do more on the court then he had previously. He made an effort to pass the ball more, but he would still get tunnel vision on fast breaks, rarely giving the ball up to trailing teammates, turning the ball over as he ran into stationary defenders. Things for Nwaba to work on this off-season.
Cameron Payne: Mid-Season Grade – Incomplete
Surprising experts, critics, and Bulls fans alike, Cameron Payne proved he belongs in the NBA. He ran Fred Hoiberg’s offense well, pushing the ball up the court with speedy dribbling or long outlet passes. Payne also shot well from distance and helped spark the slight improvement from Cristiano Felicio by getting him the ball in the pick and roll. Solid play from the much maligned point guard.
Bobby Portis: Mid-Season Grade – B+
Portis started the season suspended for punching Niko Mirotic, this will be the last time I bring this up because everyone involved seems to have moved on. This has been the best season of Bobby Portis’ career. He has been a consistent scorer off the bench and a leader in the locker room. He stepped up this season, and while he still has a lot of improving to do on the defensive end, Portis made an excellent argument for a contract extension.
Denzel Valentine: Mid-Season Grade – B-
Early in the season, Valentine seemed to be focused solely on shooting 3 pointers. It looked like he was trying to turn himself into an expert marksman, like Ray Allen or old man Vince Carter. His role and focus changed in the second half of the season. As injuries piled up to key ball handlers and scorers (Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine), Valentine found his niche as a distributor. Encouragingly, he expanded his game, reverting to his play making college days, running the offense and being more involved than just chucking up 3 pointers.
Another mid-season addition, Vonleh has not impressed since he came to the Bulls. While he hasn’t been awful, Vonleh seems like he’s just another guy to fill out the back end of the bench. He had a couple of moments with the Bulls, but he certainly didn’t make an impact like Sean Kilpatrick.
Paul Zipser: Mid-Season Grade – F
Zipser was so bad this season that the Bulls didn’t even play him while they were tanking!
Coaching Staff: Mid-Season Grade – B+
Fred Hoiberg and the rest of the Bulls coaching staff did a fair job of developing the roster this season. Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, and Bobby Portis showed the most improvement in their professional development. Equally important was the decision to continue starting Lauri Markkanen at power forward even after Niko and Bobby were able to play basketball again. The rookie proved to be an incredibly skilled player. It was a bit distressing to see how much Zipser and Felicio regressed since last season, some of that blame should be placed at the coaches front door. Likewise, the offensive scheme should have featured Markkanen more. They should have made him the #1 scoring option earlier in the season, that they finally got around to it in the last 2 weeks of the season isn’t encouraging.
The Front Office: Mid-Season Grade – A-
Getting a 1st round draft pick for Niko Mirotic was the crowning achievement for Gar Forman and John Paxson this season. It complemented the good player acquisitions (Justin Holiday, David Nwaba, et al) that they made in the off-season. Unfortunately, the GarPax also made some head scratching personnel decisions that jeopardized the tank, and may result in the failure to obtain a top 5 pick in this draft. The inability to trade Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday at the deadline was a massive misstep by GarPax; it failed to land more draft picks, and it also got the team into hot water when the league issued a warning about resting healthy players. The biggest head scratcher of the second half was the signing of Sean Kilpatrick, a journeyman NBAer hungry to make his mark on the league. Kilpatrick was a fundamental part of the late season 3 game winning streak that insured the Bulls would have to rely on the ping-pong balls and luck for a high lottery pick. Without Kilpatrick and those 3 wins, the Bulls would have finished with a record of 24-58, tied for 3rd worst with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks. ‘Nuff said.
The Chicago Bulls: Mid-Season Grade – B
Finishing outside the top 5 in the draft, having to rely on poor odds and luck to get into the top 3, has me souring on the Bulls. Add to that all the injuries to key players in the second half of the season, and the chemistry issues when LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen were on the floor together, it was not a very good conclusion to the season.
That does it for the Final Grades of the Season. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the Bulls this year, I’d love to see how you readers felt about them.
The tie-breakers have happened, and the Bulls know approximately where they will be picking in the draft. They will definitely be picking #22 overall with the New Orleans Pelicans pick they received in the Niko trade. The Bulls also won the 6th seed in the draft lottery over the Sacramento Kings. While they will have the same exact odds as Sacramento to land one of the top 3 spots in the draft, they will pick in front of the Kings if neither one lands a top 3 pick. Hooray!
As we move into the off-season, I have decided to cut back on the number of posts I write. Expect one post a week to be published on Wednesdays during the “Summer.” I may write an emergency post now and then responding to breaking news, and I intend on going back to two posts a week the moment the 2018-19 season starts up in earnest. Thanks for reading! Go Bulls!