Season Review: Chicago Bulls 
Photo via Charles Rex Arbogast

Note: All grades are relative to previous seasons and expectations, one player getting a higher grade than another does not mean they are better, just that they had a more productive growth or that they played their role better.

*League Average True Shooting (TS) is 56.4% and is used to measure the entire efficiency of a player's shooting, combining Field Goal, 3 point and Free Throw percentages.

Head Coach- Jim Boylen: 22-43, 27th ranked offense, 14th ranked defense

Star player hates him, fans calling for his head and spending this entire season desperately trying to avoid the axe. It’s been a fun season for Jim Boylen. But, to be fair, he hasn’t done anything to suggest that he should be treated any differently.

He has turned both of their main rotation Power Forwards into pure spot-up shooters, relied magnificently on Zach LaVine to create the offense and completely ignored the aspect of ball movement, all which has combined to make Chicago a disastrous offensive unit, even though the talent they have would suggest a middle-of-the-pack attack.

This team was strongly in the conversation as a borderline playoff one before the season, and here they sit, 11th and 8 games outside of a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference which they should be comfortably inside the top 8 of. Injuries have certainly played a part, but the coach is certainly more at fault.

The entire NBA world- that care about Chicago basketball- has all but come to terms that he will not be hanging around long, and the season's suspension, if anything, is just giving him more time to stick around. 

If you are looking for positives, Chicago has been slightly better than expected defensively, so well done Jim Boylen for only destroying his team on one side of the ball.

Grade- D-

Shooting Guard- Zach LaVine: 25.5 points, 56.8% True Shooting

LaVine's aptitude has continued to ripen in his 6th season in the league, scoring at the highest clip of his career so far this year. His choppy but undeniably smooth pull-up game has been used almost to a fault throughout the year, and while his scoring is great, questions continue to be asked about how much he truly contributes to winning.

He has been touted as a 'ball-stopper', and we have come to a point where that isn’t exactly inaccurate. He hasn’t yet learned to create his offense relying off of others- something which Tomas Satoransky was supposed to help with- and continues to put weight on his own shot-creating skills to get his jumpers off rather than let others help him out.

As well as this, LaVine is merely a turnstile on the defensive end and has no true skills outside of his ability to generate points.

None of that should take away from the player LaVine is, pure scorers are still worth their weight in gold, especially when they can do it at as high of a volume as he can. He is a marvellous shooter, rim attacker and above-the-basket finisher, all of which will make him an important asset when he finds a home on a winning team, or one is built around him.

All of that and his improvement from last season has resulted in a fairly impressive grade, which is reflective of how he has stepped up despite the tumultuous situation around him.

Grade- B

Power Forward- Lauri Markkanen: 14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 56% TS​​​​​​

The Finnisher, while being an awesome and creative nickname, is not exactly accurate. At least, not in Jim Boylen‘s system. With Boylen at the helm, something more along the lines of The Waiter would be acceptable. 

If I were to grade Markkanen purely on his production, he would be teetering around the F range, but there isn’t much you can really do when the coach jams you in the corner or at the top of the key and tells you to wait for the ball to come. He’s a great shooter, but not that great. That is Duncan Robinson territory.

One stat that sums up Lauri’s role perfectly is his 3 point attempt rate, up to 53.6% from just 41.8% last season. Only one make of which has been unassisted, a rare step-back against Utah. His shot attempts in general are also down, something that waiting in the corner can do to you. 

It may seem like he should be shooting better from three since he is forced to wait out there most of the game, but it can be demeaning and take him out of rhythm. It is also severely misusing a player that should be taking a whole variety of different looks, not just catch-and-shoot threes.

His drop in shooting efficiency is not all Boylen’s fault, though, as much as fans might wish it was, Lauri has something to do with it as well. He’s shooting an abysmal 34.4% on catch-and-fire threes, as well as just 29.5% on ‘open’ triples.

He had an appalling start to the season, struggling to make shots and fighting through an oblique injury which hampered his jumpshot significantly, but the shots began to fall as he became fully healthy again, especially in a promising stretch throughout December and early January.

Hopefully this is just a slump that he can fight through like everyone else, and with a more advanced role on Boylen’s departure he may be able to get his groove back from the interior. 

​​Grade- D+

Center- Wendell Carter Jr. : 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 59% TS

After a good rookie season, Carter took another jump in his play in his sophomore year, even though his season was cut in half with injury, missing 22 games. His scoring and rebounding have been a whole lot better, able to use his smaller frame to out-jump and run his opponents, as well as out-skill them a lot of the time.

While his shot-blocking numbers have dropped, he remains a good defender who uses his jumping ability to affect any shot that ventures near him, and he can still hold his own when height and strength is required. True, old-fashioned, back-to-the-basket post defense? Not so much. But who needs to be able to defend a hook shot when you can get out and defend the three?

Consistency is valuable in this league, imperative even, and that is something that Wendell has mastered. He consistently puts up buckets, either as a lob threat or working on his own, and his offensive rebounding is something his team can count on, a valuable asset for certain.

A large portion of his game on both ends is based on his athletic abilities, which leaves a large gap of room to grow when his experience begins to come, but it could also mean a myriad of injuries and an early end to his career. Probably not something to be thinking about when he is just 20 years old, but it is certainly a possibility.

Looking forward, though, he has shown a great promise that has justified his 7th pick selection by Chicago, even when Michael Porter Jr is flourishing in the Mile High. In a strong draft class, Carter is flying way under the radar.

Grade- B

Point Guard- Coby White: 13.2 points, 50.6% TS

Young point guards are never expected to be great straight off the bat, so it was no surprise when Coby White started the season off a bit scratchy. But, he has bounced back in style, and forced his coach to give him the starting role that he deserves, right before the NBA was shut down indefinitely.

White began to dominate in early February, dropping 33 points in  two consecutive games off the bench and beating teams up not just from the perimeter, but with flashy yet strong drives that we had not seen him implement until then. He can be an incredible player in this league as long as he keeps up the work he’s doing, being an inside-outside threat with a strong mentality to attack at any given opportunity.

The stretch of games we saw not long before the closure alerted the league of a talent that no one has expected to blossom this quickly or with this much explosive energy. The issue is, before his breakout, he was quite bad. Sure, he was still showing off some wonderful potential, but the production that his team was getting out of him was not up to standard.

Thats the way it goes with most rookies, though, so I can’t crucify him for being in the norm, and overall his season has been bright, looking from his perspective or that of the Bulls as a team.

Grade- B+

Point Guard- Tomas Satoransky: 9.9 points, 5.4 assists, 53.3% TS

He’s taking a ton of shots, got the ball in his hands a lot more than usual and his efficiency has subsequently taken a hit. Still, he is an important part of their offense, providing playmaking that they don’t have outside of him, and a consistent offensive leader who provides help as a spot-up shooter as well.

Not necessarily a scorer, Satoransky has never been tasked to provide a punch as such, but he has begun to shoot a lot more with the Bulls, especially from three and inside, alongside his increased playmaking duties. 

His strength comes in consistency and overall versatility, an attribute that the Bulls were targeting over the summer, as well as the beloved three point shooting. 

He’s always been underrated, defensively especially, and his all-around playstyle is a valuable weapon, making plays on both ends of the floor and running the team with his 'veteran' presence. This losing season is just a blip in the road for a winning player.

Grade- C

Power Forward- Thaddeus Young: 10.3 points, 1.4 steals, 52.1% TS

Signed primarily to give some backup veteran presence for a team with playoff aspirations, it was a disappointing result for him to show up to a team without playoff pedigree and be forced to compromise his role as a playoff leader, in exchange being tasked to be a spot-up shooter alongside his usual duties. 

If we are thinking logically, Thaddeus Young is not a shooter. Not that he can’t shoot, mind you, just that he shouldn’t be relying on it for as much of his offense as he is. Another flawless Boylen offensive game plan. 

He is most comfortable driving, cutting and posting up in his offensive creation, just as he has been his entire career, so why change it now, at age 31? And it shows, as he is currently shooting the lowest percentage from the field of his entire career, even inclusive of his younger years and seasons where he has had a much more advanced role.

To his credit, he has fought through this role change well, and his hustle, drive and heart are still going along strong, even with the Bulls in this difficult situation. 

Grade- C+

Point Guard- Kris Dunn: 7.3 points, 3.4 assists, 2 steals, 51% TS

Kris Dunn has been one of the most important players on this team. It seems weird to say, to think about even, but it’s the reality. The fact remains that this Bulls team is only winning games because of their defense, and Dunn is the unquestionable leader. His 2 steals per game are the just the start.

He provides immense disruption from his tenacity and intensity, marshalling attackers around the arc and putting up a fight against even the biggest of defenders. He has played Small Forward and Shooting Guard a lot throughout the year, both unnatural positions for him, but he has managed well with his positive defensive attitude and his pest mentality as well as an ability to operate off the ball as a cutter or an occasional spot up shooter. ​​​​​​

The team is 3-11 since his knee injury, all 3 wins coming in outlier offensive performances: v Washington (LaVine and White each score 30+), v Dallas (No Porzingis, Luka 1-8 from 3, Bulls have 6 scorers in double figures) and v Cleveland (5 scorers in double figures, 50% from the field). 

His offense is still taking it's time to develop, but it is coming along. Maybe if he was a bit better on that side of the ball, the team would be having more success, but that should be the role of the offensive leaders, just as it is his responsibility to lead the defense, a responsibility he has taken and ran with.

Grade- A-

Point Guard- Ryan Arcidiacono: 4.5 points, 39.1% 3PT, 55.1% TS

After leading the team in Win Shares last season, Arcidiacono has followed it up with a strong campaign, despite a limited role. He’s the perfect off-ball PG for this team, especially with the 3-point shooting that this team loves.

While his 4 points per game don’t particularly endear him to stat-watchers, he is an easy-fitting cog in this offensive system, and one of the few guys who truly understands his fit in the Boylen-led system. He is also only playing 16 minutes a night, which does not help his point production in the slightest.

Despite how good he has been in his off-ball role, he was much more comfortable as more of a lead guard last season, being allowed to create more offense with his passing and shooting far more from the inside. But that’s exactly how their coach has set up this team, using multiple PG’s at a time and forcing one to ply his trade without the basketball.

Arcidiacono is a fan favourite for a reason, and his consistent play in an undesirable role is just the start, but you always know exactly what you’ll get from Arch. Hopefully we can see him take a few further steps up with his play, but I wouldn’t suggest counting on it, especially as he is just days away from hitting 26.

Grade- B-

Center- Daniel Gafford: 5.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 68.6% TS

As 38th picks go, Daniel Gafford looks ripe and ready, performing impressively on the off game that Boylen decides to play him. His first game playing over 5 minutes, which came over a month into the season, was a 21-point performance against the best defense in the league, a high-flying performance with 6 dunks and multiple above-the-rim plays which define his playstyle perfectly.

One important thing is to have consistency from starters to bench as a team, and the Bulls have that locked down for the future, with two almost identical athletic Centers amongst their many young troops.

Gafford has shown off to his coach in the games that he has been given the proper opportunity, however few and far between they have been, and he has heavily impressed Bulls fans in a process, easily fitting into the Bulls offense as a lob threat alongside Arcidiacono, Satoransky and Zach Lavine

Similar to Wendell, Gafford is a promising prospect if he can hone his talent well. While his game is based largely on athleticism now, he can become something great if he masters the game more, maybe adding a baby hook, some one on one scoring, or even a long range game.

Right now, his experience is the biggest issue. He gets outplayed and outsmarted in the post and on the perimeter by more tenured players, a possible reason as to why Boylen is hesitant to play him.

As a whole, though, his game has been much better than expected, and he has been much more productive than expected, especially for someone who was such a project, which earns him a very flattering grade.

Grade- A

Point Guard- Shaquille Harrison: 4.9 points, 0.8 steals, 55.9% TS

Harrison, flailing in and out of the rotation and the starting lineup, has been buzzing recently, and ends this portion of the season sky-high. He had back to back season highs at the start of March, including a 25 point performance in which he hit five threes and a 17 point game where he made all three.

All of this, coming from a defensive-minded player, is an overwhelming positive, especially considering how bad he has always been on offense. 

Harrison has developed well to his new role as a Small Forward/ secondary ball-handler who will normally guard one of the opposition’s best players and do a damn good job of it, and he is averaging a ridiculous 2.5 steals and even 1.4 blocks (he’s 6 foot 4) per 36 minutes.

One thing that has been impressive to see is the improvement he has made in his rebounding, able to secure boards with impressive consistency and dart off with his lightning-quick foot speed to lead the team up the floor confidently à la Russell Westbrook. The only problem? When he gets up the court, he struggles to finish off all his great work.

He has and will always be a great defender and energy guy, so that is not a surprise, but what has been shocking to see is the proficiency he has shown from three lately, as well as on offense as a whole. He didn’t shoot much before he blew up for those two great games, but when he is given the opportunity to play over twenty minutes he seems to get into a good groove.

When all is said and done, he will not be much more than a high-level defender, but he has certainly provided that to a high level for a Bulls team that feeds off of his energy.

Grade- B+

Center- Luke Kornet: 6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 53.9% TS

During a lengthy period in which both Daniel Gafford and Wendell Carter were sidelined, Luke Kornet did an admirable job of replacing them as the starting Center, although it was obvious the pair was still wholly missed.

While Kornet provides floor spacing which you just don’t get from either of the rotation regulars, he can be easily overpowered by stronger, more talented guys in the middle, and the rest of his offensive game is often weak and unreliable .

For a semi-young guy who the Bulls were looking at to take a step up in his regular starting spot, it was a promising period for him not long before the NBA hiatus, including a 25-point, 29-minute game against an equally depleted 76ers team and a stretch which included some impressive displays of interior functioning.

Now, the Bulls just need to see that turn into a regular occurrence. When that happens, then the floodgates begin to open for Kornet, and the opportunities will become much more frequent.

For now the fact remains that an inconsistent three point threat who can’t play like a traditional big (even though he’s 7 foot 2) and is a F- defender will never be more than what he is right now, and unless he can add some more diversity to his game the Bulls won’t have much use for him going forward.

To put Kornet's game into perspective, he is the league's fourth tallest player (playing every single one of his minutes as a Center), averaging 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and taking 58% of his shots as threes. It’s a strange blend of player that doesn’t come around often, though not necessarily in a good way.

Grade- C-

Shooting Guard- Denzel Valentine: 6.8 points, 51.1% TS

When discussing the most prominent one-trick ponies in the league, Valentine would be right up there, this season at least. He can shoot, that’s about it. And he hasn’t even been shooting it very well. 

It's really quite sad, Valentine was looking primed for a good career before his ankle injury which hampered him for the entirety of last season, so you can’t blame him for his poor play this season. He had a lot of versatility last year which we just haven’t seen this season, especially in regards to his playmaking and scoring variety.

It’s certainly possible that he bounces back from this, and a few games we’ve seen out of him this season have suggested exactly that, but he has struggled too much to stay healthy. And, as they say, availability is the best ability.

Pick 14 was possibly too high for someone like Denzel, but a lot of his disappointment has been out of his own control. The sample size isn’t quite big enough to draw any huge conclusions about him, and I couldn’t give him a better grade than bang average.

Grade- C

Small Forward- Chandler Hutchison: 7.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 52.1% TS

Chandler, despite the season-ending surgery but a week ago, had a positive season. He provides surprisingly good value for his 19 minutes, especially with his improved jumpshot percentages and constant foul-drawing threat.

And, even if he’s not always particularly efficient, it’s important to remember that young players must be evaluated on the promise and potential they show, not always in production. And for that reason, I’d like to highlight a game against Indiana that he played almost two months ago, on January 29th.

Familiar with that date? I wouldn’t be surprised. That was one of the biggest games the Bulls were involved in, with a national audience. Why? Victor Oladipo. And on his return from a 12-month injury, he was showed out by a young upstart named Chandler Hutchison, dropping 21 and showing the world just what kind of player he is.

He was explosive, with numerous rim-shattering dunks, intricate, with three gorgeous floaters, and reckless, with a few wild drives that just happened to go in. It was his perfect game, and a summary of everything he is as a player. He didn’t even make a single three.

Remember the name, folks, and don’t be surprised if he’s beating your team to the ground in a few years.

Grade- B+

Center- Cristiano Felicio: 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 67.1% TS

Considering how ​​​maligned Felicio was by Bulls supporters not long ago, he has earned their trust by acting as reliable back-back-back-up for their multiple other, younger, Centers. Basically, he’s not very good, but he’s good enough for where he is. 

Strong, bouncy and stacked with energy, Felicio plays a big part in any team's defense, as well as providing rebounding that is unprecedented for someone with his role.

Offensively, he is limited, but he has one of the best Offensive Rebound %'s in the league for a reason, and he can competently move off-ball as every Center should.

He will always be a disappointment considering the promise when they signed him for 32 million dollars as a backup prospect, but he acts as a solid, efficient Center when the main two can’t play.

Grade- C

VAVEL Logo