Knee Deep

Summer is over and that means it’s Basketball Season! I woke up this morning and felt that familiar Arctic chill rolling through Chicago and knew it was time to get back to the Bulls. It’s been about a month and a half since my last post and, surprisingly, I haven’t really missed anything major. Well, nothing except the news that dropped this past week that Lonzo Ball is having a second surgery on his knee, and will be re-evaluated in about 4 weeks.

When I last left off, I teased that I would write about the holes in the Bulls roster as they enter the 2022-23 season. The most glaring hole is very much a Lonzo Ball shaped hole. He was so important to the early season success of the 2021-22 Bulls, that to go into this season without him, it seems like a loss that could harpoon the Bulls chances at making the playoffs.

Quite simply, Ball is one of the best defenders in the NBA. The tandem of Ball and Alex Caruso was one of the best defensive pairings in the league last season, and catapulted the Bulls to the top of the defensive rankings. There really is no replacing the basketball IQ, defensive prowess, and fast break playmaking that Lonzo brought to the table. But maybe you don’t have to replace them.

Last season, the Bulls relied on their defense creating fast break opportunities and easy buckets. It’s a winning strategy that brought a championship to the Chicago Sky in 2021, and proved to be very successful for the Bulls early in the season. They were a relatively small team, with good length, superior athleticism, and hustle. Billy Donovan’s strategy of perimeter defense, forcing turnovers, and transition buckets made a lot of sense for the roster he was working with. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were the centerpieces of that strategy, with major contributions from a defensively improved Zach LaVine, and the lanky Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr.

The roster going into the 2022-23 season is a little different. With the additions of free agent Andre Drummond and rookie Dalen Terry, to go along with Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams, Tony Bradley, and Marko Simonovic, size may not be the same issue it was last season. I expect a coach as seasoned as Donovan will rework his overall strategy to fit this roster.

The loss of Lonzo Ball is a big deal. BUT. The Chicago Bulls have 4, multiple time All-Stars on their roster in LaVine, Vucevic, Drummond, and DeMar DeRozan, and they added another former All-Star when they signed Goran Dragic. Every fan should expect the Bulls to make the playoffs this season. The Bulls should expect to make the playoffs this season, and I think they do.

There is enough talent on the Bulls to make the playoffs without Lonzo Ball, and there is enough potential on this roster to cover his absence.

Ayo Dosunmu is my pick to be the most improved player on the Bulls this season, and the man I expect to fill the Lonzo Ball shaped hole in this roster. I know the majority of the fan base is expecting a giant leap from Patrick Williams this season, and I hope that happens, but Ayo has just as much potential to be a 2-way star in the NBA as Williams, and he is quietly poised to take that jump too. He’s a little older than Williams, a lot more aggressive, and plays on-ball defense at a very high level for only being one year into his NBA career. If Ayo continues to progress along the same trajectory as he did in his rookie year, he could become one of the top perimeter defenders in the league this season.

We can’t expect this Bulls team to play the same style of basketball they did last year and have a ton of success. Unless Dosunmu takes an even bigger leap than I expect, the loss of Lonzo Ball has too great an impact on that strategy. Donovan and the coaching staff should have something else cooked up for us this season, and I look forward to seeing what that is.

With a very big front court, and pick-and-roll guru Goran Dragic in the fold, I expect we’ll see a greater emphasis placed on the half-court offense. The pace of play will be slower than last season too, and this should benefit the majority of the roster. I don’t expect the Bulls to completely abandoned their fast break principles. Their perimeter defense and ability to force turnovers should be strong even without Ball, but I don’t think Donovan will lean on it as their primary form of creating offense like he did last season. ‘Nuff said.

Bulls Media Day is this Monday, September 26th, and it will be the first chance we get to see and hear what the team will be focused on this season. Every Media Day tends to revolve around a central theme, with players and coaches echoing similar buzz words and phrases, it will be interesting to see what those are. The first preseason game will be Tuesday, October 4th against the New Orleans Pelicans, and the regular season begins Wednesday, October 19th in Miami against the hated Heat.

I’m excited for this season! I think the Bulls will again surprise a lot of people. I expect them to make the playoffs. It’s probably too early to predict whether or not they will win a playoff series, but that should be the goal for this season: Make the playoffs, and win at least one series. This roster is too talented not to.

Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!