We’re back in the saddle after a week off. The website has a new look. The Bulls have some new personnel, and the prospects of a competitive season ahead. This blogger has some new pep in his step after learning he is about to become a father for the first time. And so why not pull the rug out from under the good vibes and think about…
Some Areas of Concern!
I’ve been pretty positive about the Bulls this summer. I’ve sung the praises of the GarPax for picking up solid NBA players in free agency, the draft went as well as could be expected picking 7th overall in a weak draft class, and the two new bench coaches that were hired are both from outside of the Bulls usual incestuous pool of former players. I have been overly optimistic about the roster and upcoming season, so it’s time to snap back to reality. This team should be much improved over last year, but a lack of wing depth and the inexperience of the head coach could make life as a Bulls fan a living hell.
The Bulls have two legit wing players on this roster right now: Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. They also have a slew of players that can be shifted into that role: Zach LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn, and Shaquille Harrison. But for all of the players in this 2nd group none of them are a perfect fit for that 3 spot on the roster (i.e. Small Forward). The Front Office filled a lot of roster holes this summer, but neglected to address the 3. This may prove to be a fatal oversight on their part, as Chandler Hutchison is already sidelined with an injury and the Bulls are carrying a full roster; they won’t be able to sign a player without cutting someone first.
Not that there’s many free agent wings left worth signing. I think this is the reason the Front Office re-signed Shaquille Harrison; unimpressed by the remaining talent on the market, GarPax went with Shaq’s pluck, defense, and effort over the aging, or never realized, talent they saw in free agency. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
Of course, trading for a wing is always an option, but it takes two to tango and I’m not sure how many players are available this close to the start of the season. Kris Dunn seems to have been shopped around the league without any takers. Maybe Valentine can be moved if he starts the season well, but his injury history will be a gigantic red flag for most teams, plus, if he’s playing well, do you really want to get rid of a floor spacer/playmaker?
Another wing concern, it’s not as if we know for sure that Chandler Hutchison is an NBA caliber player. Out of the two wings on the roster, only Otto Porter has proven he belongs in the NBA, Hutch still has a great deal of growth ahead of him before I will feel comfortable with him as the 1st wing off the bench. Yet, the Front Office decided to live with all that responsibility being thrust on Hutch’s shoulders. Paint me skeptical.
Hutch has shown some flashes. The week or so before he suffered his season ending toe injury, Hutch had started to make consistent, positive contributions on the court. However, the good play we saw in those last few weeks did not carry over into his performance in Summer League. His shot was still broken, he looked slow on defense, and he was sloppy with the ball. We’re all hoping it’s just rust that will shake off once the season starts, but it could just be who Hutch is as a basketball player.
The carousel of out-of-position players that can fill in at the 3 doesn’t fill me with much confidence either. Asking LaVine or Valentine to guard an opponents 3 is not appealing to me. Constantly playing small ball and throwing Dunn or Shaq into the lineup is also unappealing. Sure, they are both strong defenders, even when mismatched against bigger opponents, but the offense you lose out on when either one of those guys is on the court negates the defensive effort they give. This leaves Tomas Satoransky as the last possible fish-out-of-water wing. Unfortunately, Sato is in the same boat as LaVine and Valentine, defensively deficient when it comes to guarding the position. Don’t get me wrong, Sato is a good team defender; he is smart, and understands how to position himself in a defensive scheme, he also has decent fundamentals on the ball, but he is not a stopper. He has struggled in the past as a defender when he has to play the 3.
How will the Bulls address the final hole in the roster? If they can’t sign or trade for a player, then they have to cover it with out-of-position guys and schemes. Which leads me to my next area of concern: Head coach Jim Boylen.
Boylen has certainly been a lightening rod of controversy in his first couple months as the Bulls head coach. From overworking his players to the point of mutiny, to his new school multiple ball handler/old school post-up in the paint offense, to his head scratching coach-speak, Jim Boylen has had one hell of an introduction to the Bulls head coaching gig. And it’s because of these roller-coaster first few months that I am concerned.
I’d like to say upfront, I think Boylen can be a good head coach for the Bulls.
He still hasn’t consistently proven he can maximize a players strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. He hasn’t shown he can out maneuver opposing coaches with sneaky-smart lineups and plays. This offseason, Boylen has been talking about playing a more up-tempo, fast-break offense, but he didn’t show much of that last season. There were a lot of half-court sets with Robin Lopez posting up in the paint, or dribble-drive kick outs that resulted in desperate shots at the end of the shot clock. It was a slow and methodical type of basketball the Bulls played, and it didn’t result in many points or wins.
The first big test for Boylen and his staff will be covering the wing sized hole in the roster with a well conceived rotation. Balancing the minutes for each player while adequately covering that 3 spot, both on offense and defense, might become the coaching staff’s full time job. If Hutch isn’t up to the challenge of the backup role, we might see a sliding rotation of players moving in and out of the wing position throughout the course of a single game and the season as a whole.
One of the great things about this offseason was the number of versatile players GarPax were able to sign. Boylen will have a plethora of options at every other position in the rotation. He can role out big lineups, small lineups, fast lineups, defensive lineups, perimeter focused lineups, post-up focused lineups, etc. The Bulls are a versatile team. With so many options available, can Boylen figure out what combinations are best for winning? Or will he just pound square pegs into round holes, trying to force fit players into his new school/old school system?
We’ll find out.
Also a concern, with a roster of versatile veterans set to be more competitive than they have been for several seasons, will there be room in the Bulls rotation for developing young players like Coby White and Daniel Gafford? How about the glut of bigs at the 4 (power forward) and 5 (center)? How will Boylen balance the minutes of Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet, Cristiano Felicio, and Gafford? The same could be asked about the lead ball handler position, with LaVine, Satoransky, White, Valentine, Dunn, and Ryan Arcidiacono all capable of running the point, how will that all shake out?
With this many redundancies on the roster (which, given the Bulls recent injury history, I think is a good thing) it could be easy for someone to get lost in the constant shuffling of parts. Boylen and the coaching staff must find the right combinations that unlock victories for the Bulls, and they have to do it fast. With this much talent on the team, I don’t think they can afford to start the season scuffling for wins. This may not be a playoff season for the Bulls, but the stated goal for this campaign is to be “in the hunt.”
This is Jim Boylen’s first full season as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. The expectations of the Front Office and the fan base are set pretty high. It might be too much for a semi-rookie head coach to handle.
Training camp and preseason start in less than a week, Boylen will have a lot of work ahead of him in October. He needs to crack this roster and set it up for success. With tanking no longer a viable option for rebuilding teams, internal development and improvement have become even more vital for the Bulls. Jim Boylen will need to spearhead those efforts. We need to see Markkanen and Carter Jr flower into potential superstars. Hutch, White, Kornet, and Gafford have to show consistent growth and positive contribution throughout the season. Zach LaVine’s ego needs to be handled with care. The veterans like Young, Porter, and Satoransky need stability and reassurance that they aren’t riding in a clown car heading straight to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. And the role players, Arch, Shaq, Valentine and Dunn, will have to be made comfortable with whatever place they find themselves in the rotation (Felicio has had more than enough time to get comfortable on the bench).
Semi-rookie head coach Jim Boylen is in charge of it all. If that’s not a little concerning, I don’t what is.
We are just days away from Media Day and the start of training camp/preseason. The Bulls 1st preseason game will be on Monday, October 7th. I haven’t decided if I’m going back to two posts a week during preseason, or if I’m waiting for the regular season. Stay tuned to find out. Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!