Can Bulls Fans Have Hope Again?

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After 3 weeks of NBA play, the Chicago Bulls are 7-3 and tied for second in the Eastern Conference. While two of those seven wins have come from a rebuilding Pistons team and another from the Zion-less Pelicans, the Bulls still look better than they have in a few years. For the first time in a long time, it looks like Bulls fans may finally be able to hope again.

Is this hot start a glimpse of what is to come? Let’s take a look under the hood.

Finally, Some Changes!

Bulls fans have struggled to watch their team since Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves early in the 2018-2019 season. Even in the last few seasons with Butler, the team struggled under coach Fred Hoiberg. It hasn’t been since the early 2010’s that Bulls fans have enjoyed the hope of a good playoff run.

However, the winds are changing in Chicago. The change began when they hired Marc Eversley in spring 2020, bringing a long-anticipated end to the GarPax front office. Eversley then hired a competent coach in Billy Donavan last season. With these two changes, Bulls fans started to see a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

But all these changes would be meaningless without new players. For the first time since he came to Chicago in the Butler trade, Zach Lavine is no longer alone. This season he is joined by mid-range specialist and league veteran DeMar DeRozan, playmaking guard Lonzo Ball, fan-favorite Alex Caruso, and versatile big man Nikola Vucevic.

The Good

While an offensive resurgence was expected, the first difference fans will notice is the Bulls defensive intensity. Ball and Caruso have brought a defensive energy that the team has lacked since Joakim Noah left the organization. DeRozan, who has never been a defensive liability, and Lavine have fallen in line with their new teammates. As a result, the team is ranked 4th in defensive rating at 102.7.

So far, the Bulls have not had one individual rise to the top of the pecking order on offense. In their ten wins thus far, both Lavine and DeRozan have shared the load offensively. Lavine was the leading scorer in 4 of those games while DeRozan took the other 6. The Bulls are have also benefitted from the playmaking and spacing that Lonzo Ball brings (thanks to his recently reformed jump shot) and the consistent hustle of Caruso. While these may seem like small changes to other fanbases, after the last 3 seasons of Lavine vs everybody this teamwide offensive versatility comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air.

One factor jumpstarting the Bulls offense is the ability to score on the break. Aggressive defense along with a desire to run the floor has led the Bulls to 15 fast break points per game (7th in the NBA so far). Lavine has always enjoyed running the floor where he is able to use his athleticism to make plays. This is a perfect fit for Ball’s assisting eye and his desire to score on the fast break, which was often put on display with Zion Williamson in the last two seasons.

A Desire to Win

There has also been an unwavering desire to win with this group of players. On November 1st the Bulls took on the Celtics. Entering the 4th quarter they were down by 14 points. For most teams, especially the Bulls teams of the last few years, this would be when you throw in the towel, try not to get injured, and start thinking about your dinner plans. But this Bulls team is different. They came back and didn’t just win, but blew the Celtics out in an unprecedented win.

Their desire to win came out again on Monday night when they went up against the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. They held off 38 points from Kevin Durant and dropped 42 points in the 4th quarter, taking what was once a close game and turning it into a 118-95 blowout.

Room for Improvement

But not all is bright and sunny in the Windy City. While the Bulls have enjoyed getting easy buckets on the break, it has led to an occasional lack of discipline in the half-court sets. This problem was evident early in the season against the Raptors where the Bulls struggled late in the game, almost giving the win away.

As Chicago plays tougher opponents and finds themselves in close games in the closing minutes, they must find a way to consistently perform in half-court sets. While Lonzo will not be the primary scorer on this team in the near future, he must have the ball in his hands and confidently set up his teammates.

Vucevic must also change his mindset. He is no longer the primary offensive threat like he often was in Orlando. Now he must sure up his hands and not cough the ball up when the pressure is on, primarily looking to screen, rebound, and hit open shots in the closing minutes.

Lavine and DeRozan can no longer play with an iso mindset as they had to their last couple of seasons. Instead, they must remember why Bulls fans are excited about this team – they have good teammates!

Let’s Keep Watching

While the beginning of the season was fun, we’re currently in the process of finding out what they’re made of. Back-to-back losses against the Sixers were tough, but their good showing against tough teams like the Nets, Celtics, and Jazz is promising. The Bulls finish their week with games against the Luka-magic Mavs and the 9-1 Warriors. If they keep both games close and win at least one, it would be a great sign for what’s to come.

For the first time in years, Bulls fans might finally have hope. Which is good, because when you have the best city edition jersey in the league, you need a good team to back it!

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