YAMAOdds

Las Vegas has spoken. The Bulls are going to be bad. Third worst in the NBA bad.

I am not a gambler. The biggest risk I take in life is having a late afternoon coffee, but even I might take the over on the Bulls winning 27.5 games this season. The Eastern Conference has not been very strong the past couple years, and I believe the Bulls are a better team than they were last season. I feel the Bulls will probably win around 35 games, maybe even more if everything goes well for them.

I’m a little uncomfortable predicting wins and losses before we’ve even seen the Jabari Parker/Zach LaVine/Lauri Markkanen experiment play together. I would prefer to make predictions toward the end of preseason, after we’ve seen some lineups and potential rotations. It’s hard to make an accurate prediction without ever seeing an example of the product.

While Las Vegas odds are a decent indicator of how many games a team might win, they are by no means accurate. I tracked down the last 6 seasons of Bulls over-unders and there is about a 5-6 game margin of error with Vegas predictions when it comes to win totals, quite a bit more when it comes to the Bulls overall record within the League.

VegasSpread

These initial predictions are from Westgate Superbook. They are meant to gauge, and spur on, the betting market. They can also have the extra benefit of motivating a team. The Bovada Sportsbook puts out their own over-unders closer to when the season starts, after they’ve seen how the public reacts to Westgate’s predictions. The Bulls finished the Season of the Tank with a record of 27-55. Westgate set this upcoming seasons win total at 27.5 for the Bulls. Essentially, Las Vegas is saying the Bulls will not improve over last years record. I’m sure the team begs to differ.

As this season plays out, the pressure to exceed Las Vegas (and fan) expectations will fall directly on the shoulders of two people: Coach Fred Hoiberg and point guard Kris Dunn. This is a very important season for Hoiberg, it’s arguably his make or break moment with the Bulls. Kris Dunn is also facing a defining moment, he needs to step up and prove he is the Bulls point guard of the future once and for all.

The 2018-19 Chicago Bulls are Fred Hoiberg’s team. It is a collection of young, athletic, and supremely talented scorers. There are six players on this team capable of averaging over 20 points per game; Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker have both had stretches where a 20 point per game average was within reach before injuries derailed their seasons. Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn have both shown that with steady playing time and rising confidence they are capable of putting up points. Young Lauri Markkanen is already a sublime shooter with only a season under his belt, and rookie Wendell Carter Jr, while untested, has the athleticism and touch around the rim to average 20 points without ever really trying.

Hoiberg has no excuses this year.

He has always been lauded as an offense first coach, some have even called him an offensive genius. Now is the time for him to prove it. If Hoiberg is a serious NBA coach, one capable of taking a team deep into the playoffs, he needs to get his players to buy into his system, maximize their talent, and maintain team discipline.

The above passage, detailing the way Hoiberg wants the Bulls to play basketball, was taken from a Zach Lowe article on ESPN.com. It is the system these talented young scorers need to buy into. The San Antonio Spurs have had great success with this quick, unselfish style of basketball, and it’s up to Hoiberg to shape his young team to their mold.

Quick pace demands focus and purpose. Every action must be purposeful, even the initial weave action that the Bulls run must have an intention behind it. LaVine, Dunn, Parker, or whoever else might be handling the ball, can’t be allowed to dribble aimlessly at the top of the arc. This is not an offense for slow, one-on-one, ISO battles. It is not an offense where a player holds the ball on the perimeter unable to complete a pass to the post. It is an offense of selfless ball movement and constant player motion.

The San Antonio style offense should be a great way for all of the Bulls young scorers to get their shots. When it is run properly, the open man gets the shot, and when it is run perfectly that open man will change with each possession.

Much as they may hate to admit it, this young core can’t just play offense alone. Maximizing this teams talent also means convincing them to exert some effort on defense. By all accounts, this Bulls team will be very bad defensively. They will score a lot of points and give up just as many. The difference between a win and a loss for this team is going to come down to defensive effort at key points in the game. Hoiberg must convince his young scorers to play defense at the end of games, at the very least in the last 5 minutes of a game (ideally, for the entire 4th quarter). They have to learn that getting a stop on defense is just as important as scoring a bucket on offense.

This is where the third piece of the coaching puzzle fits in. Hoiberg must discipline the players that are not following the plan. If a player isn’t moving the ball Hoiberg has to bench him. If a player isn’t exerting defensive effort at the end of games, Hoiberg has to bench him. It sounds easy enough, but Hoiberg has been overwhelmed in the past by star players and their egos (Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo, Joakim Noah, etc.). He’ll have to fight his own “nice guy” instincts and make sure his team full of budding stars understands that the only way they get on the court is if they play within the system and put forth some effort on defense. This is Fred Hoiberg’s team, and he has to be the one running it.

This could be Kris Dunn’s team, and he could be the one running it. As the presumptive lead ball handler it will fall on Dunn to start the offense off on the correct foot every possession. He will have to embody the focus, pace, movement, and intention of every play. This is a great opportunity for Dunn. In the Bulls offense, he has essentially been given the keys to a Formula One race car, and it will be up to him to drive it to the finish line.

Dunn has some obvious areas in his game that need to grow if he is going to effectively run the offense. He must do a better job of handling the basketball, he must become a more consistent three point shooter, and he must get better finishing at the rim.

 

Last season, before all the injuries piled up, Dunn had shown some skill as a mid-range shooter, and was also developing his killer instinct, hitting big shots at the end of games. By adding some consistency behind the three point line and at the rim, he will become an even bigger threat. Opponents won’t be able to sag off of him along the perimeter, and they will be forced to foul him in the paint instead of lightly contesting his drives and watching him miss open layups.

Beyond the shooting and finishing, Dunn must grow into a facilitator. He has to be an unselfish example by setting his teammates up for easy buckets. He needs to lead the team in assists and hold his teammates accountable when they stagnate the offensive flow. The ball must move. It’s his responsibility to move it first.

I think Dunn can be that facilitator. He may never be Steve Nash or Chris Paul, but he has shown he can be unselfish with the basketball. His ball handling certainly needs to improve; He committed too many turnovers last season off of poor passes and bad dribbling. Also, he needs to get better at anticipating where defenders and teammates will be during the course of an offensive possession. He must play with better focus and intention. Not only will Dunn be responsible for all of this on offense, he will also have to defend the opponents best player for the majority of a game.

If the Bulls are going to have any chance at the playoffs this season, Dunn must become an elite defender. Hopefully, his effort will inspire his teammates to play defense as well. He can’t be the only Bull giving effort on defense, if that ends up being the case, then I would take the under on 27.5 wins. His defensive example should be the catalyst for his teammates, the inspiration for their effort, and the fulcrum for the Bulls success.

That’s how the Bulls beat Vegas. Fred Hoiberg will have to prove himself as a coach, and Kris Dunn will have to grow into the leader of both the fast paced offense and the sporadic defense. Hoiberg’s job will be difficult: balancing egos, maximizing the talent of his young roster, and getting the team to buy into his basketball vision. Dunn has a great opportunity to make that vision work for himself and the team. He can lead these young Bulls with unselfish play on offense, and tenacious effort on defense. Kris Dunn will set the pace, focus, movement, and intention of this team. He and Fred Hoiberg will be key to this Bulls experiment even having a chance at working out.