Grading The 2020-’21 Chicago Bulls

Well folks, we’ve all had a little time away from Bulls basketball, time I’m sure we’ve all used on introspection and personal accountability. I know I’ve taken some time to enjoy Good Basketball in the form of the NBA Playoffs, and it’s allowed me the space I needed to come up with some purely arbitrary grades for the Chicago Bulls and their 2020-’21 season.

I’m doing things a little differently with this post, I won’t be giving a grade to every player on the roster. I’ve decided to merely grade some of the key components of the team, namely the players who either made a significant impact on the season, or those who will probably be around next season. That means players like Denzel Valentine, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Cristiano Felicio will not be graded (we know who they are and what they’ve contributed). It also means guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Javonte Green, Troy Brown Jr, and Devon Dotson have also been left off the grading list because they didn’t get enough time on the court to really evaluate them. Notably absent from my grades is one Daniel Theis, who, while playing a significant number of minutes after joining the Bulls, will probably not be with the team next season. If the Bulls do re-sign Theis, I’ll write an entire post devoted to the man and what he brings to the team.

So without further ado…

The RokDeez Bulls Blog Final Grades For The Chicago Bulls 2020-’21 Season

(in no particular order)

Coby White

Mid Season Grade: C-

Coby had a bit of a roller coaster season. As the starting point guard in 54 of the 69 games he played in, he struggled early in the season with his new responsibilities as lead ball handler. Coby often looked mechanical in his early season play, like he was trying to think his way through a possession instead of just play his way through it. Shooting struggles and defensive lapses also plagued the first half of Coby’s season, adding to his mounting frustration. He was eventually moved to his former role as the microwave scorer off the bench, a move that seemed to inspire a hunger for starter minutes as well as instill a little confidence in his scoring. When Coby broke back into the starting lineup, he was a very different player. You could see his focus and determination on both ends of the court. His effort on defense was markedly improved, as was his scoring and general feel for the game. With the edition of Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, the Bulls started running their offense through the post, which took a lot of pressure off of Coby, and allowed him to get back to doing what he does best – catching and shooting. His scoring took off, and so did the rest of his game. Coby ended the season in a much better spot than he started. His play as a lead ball handler has improved, his effort on defense has improved, and while it was a frustrating struggle through a rough season, Coby White put it together in the second half of the season.

Final Grade: B

Thaddeus Young

Mid Season Grade: A+

This was one of, if not the best season of Thaddeus Young’s career. He was an instrumental part of everything the Bulls did on the court. His near triple-double play, his leadership on and off the court, his experience in the league, all combined to make him nearly indispensable for this team. His passing from the post saved the Bulls season when White was struggling as the lead distributor. Young did taper off a bit in the second half of the season. Part of it was the trade for Vucevic, who took up the mantle of post passer when he arrived, and the other part of it was the length of the season catching up to the 14 year veteran. I’m not sure we’ll ever see this kind of season long performance from Thad ever again, but I don’t want to write the man off, as we saw this season, he’s full of surprises.

Final Grade: A

Tomas Satoransky

Mid Season Grade: B+

Satoransky proved once and for all that he is a bench player in the NBA. I don’t think too many people had other ideas about this, but it was proven beyond a shadow of doubt this season. He played solid minutes off the bench all season long with a small patch of games where he started in place of the struggling Coby White. Sato did not impress in his time filling in for White. He had a couple games where he looked good and contributed, but there were too many other games which he started where he didn’t give enough production to justify his role. His shooting also seemed to dip a bit in the 2nd half of the season, not ideal when your team is trying to make the playoffs. All in all, it was a fairly average season for Tomas Satoransky.

Final Grade: C

Nikola Vucevic

Mid Season Grade: NA

Vucevic came over at the trade deadline and instantly made a difference for the Bulls. He provided a solid post presence the Bulls haven’t had since Robin Lopez left the team. His scoring and rebounding numbers were pretty much automatic, you could pencil in 20+ points and 10+ rebounds for him nearly every night. The addition of a second All-Star also took a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Zach LaVine. Vucevic’s steady production is going to be a game changer for the Bulls, and should be the added boost the team needs to seriously compete for the playoffs. While they fell short of the playoffs this season, I’m looking forward to seeing Zach and Vuc in action next year.

Final Grade: A

Lauri Markkanen

Mid Season Grade: Incomplete

Markkanen missed a good portion of the 1st half of the season due to Covid Protocols, but when he finally did get some playing time it was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from him. Every now and then he would have an explosive game, but he was a non-issue more than he was an impact player, and that’s been the problem for him the last few seasons. His lack of production earned him a seat on the bench for most of the 2nd half of the season. Donovan did find interesting ways of utilizing Lauri from off the bench, putting him in at the small forward position when the Bulls went Big. It wasn’t a totally awful season for Lauri, his shooting numbers were up, shooting over 40% from the 3 point line for the first time in his career. He was also much more active on the defensive end of the court, and while his defensive effort was noticeably improved, I’m not so sure his impact on defense improved. Lauri looks like a man destined for a change of scenery.

Final Grade: C

Garrett Temple

Mid Season Grade: A

Temple had a pretty decent season for the Bulls. I didn’t really expect anything from the grizzled veteran, but he came into the season and won me over with his hustle and shot making. Temple was a solid defender, and his production and leadership off the bench and in spot starts had me calling him the captain of the Expenda-Bulls. Unfortunately, the length of the season and the length of his career seemed to finally catch up to Temple down the stretch. While his effort and leadership never dipped, his shooting did. I won’t be opposed if the Bulls decide to re-sign Temple this offseason, but they can’t rely on him next season like they did in 2020-’21.

Final Grade: C+

Zach LaVine

Mid Season Grade: A+

Zach had a tremendous season, setting new bench marks for offensive efficiency and scoring. He was finally recognized as an All-Star, and carried the Bulls to their most successful season since the beginning of the rebuild. When he missed a huge chunk of the 2nd half of the season due to Covid, it ultimately doomed the Bulls to another season sans playoffs. His 2nd half production also dipped due to a lingering ankle injury, but despite that set back, it was the best season of LaVine’s career. Every year LaVine proves the naysayers wrong, and every season he improves on his game. This year, not only did his offensive efficiency and scoring go up, so did his effort and impact on defense. Zach LaVine is no longer an awful defender. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he is a good defender, but he was fully engaged on defense this season, and it made a real difference for the Bulls as a whole.

Final Grade: A+

Patrick Williams

Mid Season Grade: B

Williams rookie season was a very typical rookie season. There were ups and downs, flashes of brilliance, stretches where he seemed to be invisible, the inevitable Rookie Wall, and the equally inevitable other side of that wall. I must say, I was disappointed in just how many disappearances Williams seemed to have this season. On a team that is as starved of talent as the Bulls have been, and as talented as Williams appears to be, he should have been the number 2 option for the Bulls from game 1. Unfortunately, that never really happened. Williams is young, and he was never “The Man” in college. He seems more inclined to relinquish control than try to impose his will on the game. That mentality will have to change if he is ever going to reach his full potential in the NBA. What I saw from Williams this season reminded me a lot of what we’ve seen from Lauri Markkanen the last couple seasons, the passive approach to the game. To much standing in a corner waiting for the ball to come to him, not enough putting pressure on the defense with cuts, and picks, and general involvement in the offense. Maybe it’s unfair, but I expect more from Patrick Williams.

Final Grade: C

Billy Donovan and the Coaching Staff

Mid Season Grade: A

The Bulls improved this season. They put up the best record of the rebuild. They just missed out on a play-in spot for the playoffs. There was a good deal of personal growth from most of the players on the roster. The Bulls were middle of the pack on defense and offense, they no longer looked like a laughing stock. All of those improvements should be attributed to Donovan and the coaching staff. This was a season of growth for the Bulls, and it was great to see. It was also a season in which expectations shifted dramatically at the trade deadline.

The Bulls went from a team in the middle of a “season of evaluation”, to a team that ought to have made the post-season. They failed at that new goal. I’m also putting that on the coaching staff. There are excuses that can be made for missing out on the playoffs; Zach being out with Covid, the lack of practice time, and the struggle of new teammates adjusting to each, just to name a few. In the end, it’s on the coaches to help the team figure all that out. Donovan and his staff weren’t able to accomplish that quickly enough in the condensed season. That being said, I think Donovan and his staff did a fair job with the hand they were dealt.

Final Grade: B-

Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley, and The Round Table

Mid Season Grade: A

The Round Table did a lot this season, not only to change the roster of the Bulls, but also the expectations for the team. While seemingly passive in the offseason leading up to the 2020-’21 campaign, Karnisovas made some surprising editions that helped the Bulls get off to the right start. Hiring Billy Donovan, drafting Patrick Williams, and signing Garrett Temple all seemed like home run maneuvers at the half-way mark of the season. Follow that up with trading for a second All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, while adding solid play and toughness from players like Daniel Theis, Troy Brown Jr, and Javonte Green, it should have been another home run, and a trip to the playoffs. But things didn’t work out the way the Round Table envisioned for the 2nd half of the Bulls’ season.

Now, the Bulls face the possibility of a draft without a 1st round pick, not being able to afford Daniel Theis whose contract is up, and the albatross contract of Al-Farouq Aminu who will be owed $10+ Million next season, all in a failed bid to make the post-season.

That’s the glass half empty take.

If we look at the trade in a more positive light, then we see a Bulls team with two All-Stars, a promising wing player in Troy Brown Jr under team control for the foreseeable future, and a player with an expiring $10+ Million contract that might be used in a future trade.

While things didn’t work out for the Bulls in the second half of the season, it’s not for lack of trying from the front office. This is the first time in a while that the Bulls front office has consistently made bold moves. I think one of the reasons why some fans have been so negative about the trades is that we have been conditioned to revel in the “safe bet”. GarPax lived in constant fear of making mistakes with their moves, and so they built a lukewarm team filled with mild-mannered players that had issues with toughness and confidence. Karnisovas and Eversley seem more than happy to swing for the fences with every at-bat they get. I’m more than okay with that.

In my last post, I expressed some concerns with the way the Round Table seem to conduct their business. It’s true that there are legitimate concerns to be had about them, and it’s also true that there are legitimate criticisms that can, and should, be made about their maneuvering, but I will not fault them for their Go-Big-Or-Go-Home approach. This is a front office filled with bold decision makers, that’s who they are, and that’s how they got the job. Far be it from me, or any other fan, to try to change their approach. I for one want to see how it all plays out. So far, it’s gotten the Bulls farther along than the last 3 seasons of tanking have. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up hitting a grand slam, and we’ll end up with a game changing player, and a chance at a championship.

Final Grade: A

That’s it for 2020-’21 season. It’s now time to start looking forward to the 2021-’22 Chicago Bulls, including the draft, free agency, potential trades, possible saviors from distant shores, etc. Until we delve into the future, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!