We’ve reached the All-Star Break of the 2020-21 NBA Season, the unofficial halfway mark, it’s time to handout some mid-season grades. In no particular order…
Coby White – Coby struggled early this season with his new responsibilities as the Bulls lead ball handler. While a bit disappointing, his struggles were not unexpected. The hardest thing to do is learn how to be an NBA point guard while starting in that position. It would be weird if White didn’t struggle this season. That being said, I’m not that worried about Coby White as a point guard. He definitely needs to get better with decision making and limiting turnovers, but more important than that, he needs to work on consistently scoring. Some days he’s got it, other days he doesn’t. If the Bulls are going to make any sort of push for the playoffs, they are going to need someone to compliment Zach LaVine by scoring 18+ points a night. With Lauri Markkanen in and out of the lineup, it’s got to be Coby; the Bulls can’t afford a series of off nights from him. What’s been a bit more disappointing to watch from Coby this season has been his defense. When he was drafted, I was optimistic that his size, speed, and strength would give him an advantage on that side of the ball, but so far he’s looked a bit confused, plays a bit small, and seems to be a step slower than whomever he’s defending. He’s been one of the weak links in the Bulls very average defense. It hasn’t been all bad for White, when he’s got it going on offense he’s great to watch. He plays freer when he’s hitting his shots. He’s able to create for teammates, and just flow with the game. To his credit, Coby has stayed aggressive on both ends of the court, even when he’s struggling, and he is one of the better rebounders on the Bulls, averaging 5.1 rebounds per game. It’s been a mixed 2020-21 for Coby White. Grade: C-
Wendell Carter Jr. – Wendell has made some noticeable improvements this season, especially on the offensive end of the court. He has been much more willing to shoot the ball, and has exhibited some skill as a passer. On defense, Carter has been pretty solid. He’s had his fair share of struggles against guys like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, but everybody in the league struggles against those guys. As an undersized center, Wendell does give up a few things on both ends of the court, but you learn to live with that for the positives he brings to the team. My biggest gripe with Carter continues to be his hands. He has a really tough time catching the ball. Whether it’s a pass from a teammate, or trying to grab a rebound, Carter can’t seem to grip the basketball. It’s a fundamental skill, and it really limits his ability. Grade: B
Otto Porter Jr – Porter has played well enough when he’s in shape and healthy. Unfortunately, he was only in shape for about a week this season, and then his back issues flared up. Grade: A very disappointed Incomplete.
Lauri Markkanen – Lauri has looked much better on offense this season than last. I had high hopes for him considering it’s a contract year for the Finnisher, but just like Otto, Lauri has been injured far too often. Grade: Incomplete
Thaddeus Young – Thadgic Johnson, as Bulls TV analyst Stacey King calls him, has been spectacular this season. Between consistently filling up the stat sheet every night, being a locker room leader and mentor to the Bulls young roster, and proving himself to be the 2nd best b-ball player on the team, Thad Young has really come into his own this season. A year ago I was disgusted with Thad, he wasn’t contributing to an awful team and had the gall to complain about playing time, turns out he was right. Under Billy Donovan, Young is playing the best basketball of his career, and has been a positive influence on the team. Grade: A+
Zach LaVine – Zach is well on his way to being a superstar in the NBA. Are there flaws in his game? Sure. But as the newest All-Star for the Chicago Bulls, I think it’s more important to point out that the Bulls aren’t anywhere near 16-18 without LaVine. Grade: A+
Patrick Williams – The Bulls rookie has been impressive in the first half of his first NBA season. He has been a starter since game 1, and has proved he belongs as a starter on this team. He is improving both on offense and defense every game, and I expect he will have a long and fruitful NBA career. What I would like to see from Williams the rest of this season, is for him to be more involved on offense. I think he is capable of being that complimentary scorer to Zach LaVine, he just has to step up and do it. Grade: B.
Denzel Valentine – Denzel has come off the bench and given the Bulls some good minutes. He has also given them some bad minutes. He had an inexplicable couple weeks where he couldn’t make a bucket, and a couple of crucial miscues that contributed to the Bulls losing a game or two. But when he’s got his “old man at the YMCA” game going, he’s nearly unstoppable. Grade: C.
Daniel Gafford – It’s been a rough season for Gafford. He started off playing fairly well as the energy big coming off the bench. He was playing well enough that some Bulls fans were even calling for him to start over Wendell Carter. Gafford got his chance to start when Carter missed a few weeks with a deep thigh contusion. It wasn’t pretty. He fouled opponents too much, and couldn’t stay on the court long enough to make an impact on the game. Since Wendell returned from injury, Gafford has fallen out of the rotation. I think he needs a boost of confidence. Maybe he can work his way back into the lineup during the 2nd half of the season. Grade: D.
Garrett Temple – Like Thad Young, Temple has been a leader for the Bulls. He took over the wing responsibilities from the injured Otto Porter, and he has taken the young Bulls players under his own wing. You can see him talking with his teammates after every stoppage in play, going over what just happened and how it could have been done better. Temple is like an on-the-court coach, and it’s obvious that Billy Donovan trusts him and Thad to teach and grow their young teammates. Grade: A.
Chandler Hutchison – Unfortunately, a bout with Covid and it’s after effects has kept Hutch sidelined for most of the season. Grade: Incomplete.
Tomas Satoransky – Sato missed a portion of the season with Covid as well, but has since returned and put up some nice games. Coming off the bench, he’s found some nice chemistry with both Zach LaVine and Thaddeus Young, and has helped take some of the ball handling off of Coby Whites shoulders. Even in a limited number of games Sato has been playing better than last season. Grade: B+.
Ryan Arcidiacono – Arch hasn’t played nearly as much this season as he has in previous seasons for the Bulls, and that’s a good thing. It means that the Bulls are much better than they have been in the past, and they don’t need to rely on Arch’s “try hard” grit to get them through the season. When he has played, Arch has been his normal self, a solid contributor. ‘Nuff said. Grade: C.
Luke Kornet – Kornet has just recently been inserted into the rotation, and he looks rusty. As a “3 and D” big, you would expect Kornet to be a threat from the 3 point line, unfortunately he has not looked good shooting 3’s. He is 6 of 22 from beyond the arc (27.3%), and started the season a brutal 1 of 14. He does have 6 blocks in limited minutes over 10 games, but he needs to be better in both the “3” and the “D” portions of his play if he wants to continue getting minutes. Grade: D.
Cristiano Felicio – Felicio has barely played during the final season of his contract with the Bulls. He did have the prettiest no-look assist of the 1st half of the season for the Bulls. Grade: D.
Billy Donovan and the Coaching Staff – They have the Bulls competing every night, winning close games, and coming back from huge deficits. There has been tangible improvement across the roster, a sense of building confidence in the young players, and players being held accountable for their mistakes. The culture has shifted. It’s time to expect more from the Bulls, and that’s in large part thanks to Billy Donovan and his fellow coaches. Grade: A.
Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley, and the Round Table – The only changes the Bulls executives have made to this team have been the hiring of Billy Donovan, the modernization and expansion of the Bulls support staff, and the signing of Garrett Temple, and yet this franchise feels like it is in a much better position than it was a season ago. With the trade deadline just a few weeks away, we’ll see if there are any tweaks they can make to the roster to help the Bulls make the playoffs or have a brighter future. Grade: A.
That’s it for the Bulls mid-season grades. On the whole a much better 1st half of the season than we’ve been used to as Bulls fans. Let’s hope they can keep it going through a much tougher 2nd half.
Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!