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The Chicago Bulls' Current Players’ Status For The 2022-23 Season: Zach LaVine Hold The Keys To The Bulls' Future

The Chicago Bulls' Current Players’ Status For The 2022-23 Season: Zach LaVine Hold The Keys To The Bulls' Future

The Chicago Bulls sat comfortably atop the Eastern Conference for much of the 2021-22 season, lingering in first place during the late stages of February. Then March came and slapped the Bulls in the face with a 6-9 record. Unfortunately, April was worse. Chicago went 1-4 to finish the regular season, sliding from the team with the best record in the East and home-court advantage throughout the first three rounds of playoffs, to the sixth seed, and a date with the defending champion Bucks to kick off their first postseason action in five years.

Things ended predictably sour for the reeling Bulls against the Bucks in the first round. They lost 4-1 in a gentleman’s sweep against Giannis and Company with a boatload of questions facing their front office during the summer.

Zach LaVine is an unrestricted free agent, and he’ll be priority number one. Nikola Vucevic will be entering his final season under contract, and his fate with the Bulls will be priority number two. Chicago’s backcourt duo of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso looked special at times, a genuine two-way force, but the Bulls lacked the type of lockdown wings needed to advance deep in the playoffs. It will be up to GM Arturas Karnisovas to find one or two defensive specialists with the size to bother the East’s best forwards like Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, and Giannis.

The Bulls’ 2021-22 payroll ranked 16th in the NBA at $136,083,814, and they have some wiggle room during the offseason to add a couple of pieces.

Below we’ll break down the Bulls’ player status for the 2022-23 season and what their front office will likely do with each member of their roster.

DeMar DeRozan - $27.3 Million

DeMar DeRozan

Entering 2nd Season of a 3-Year, $82 Million Contract (2022-23: $27.3 Million, 2023-24: $28.6 Million)

Was DeMar DeRozan’s 2021-22 contract ($26 million) the best value in the league?

DeMar DeRozan’s salary was the 44th highest in the NBA and 20th among all guards.

However, DeRozan averaged a career-best 27.9 PPG while dishing out 4.9 APG and snagging 5.2 RPG during what was an MVP caliber season from the 32-year-old wing who hadn’t made an All-Star team in four seasons and had been all but written off by the media and fans alike. Digging deeper, DeMar DeRozan shot 12.1 tightly contested field goal attempts (closest defender within 2-4 feet), a mark that was second in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant, and he connected on an absurd 51.4% of his attempts. DeRozan was also the league's premier clutch player, winning a handful of contests off buzzer-beaters while scoring 157 total points in tight end game situations with an even more absurd 53.5% hit rate.

So to answer my question above: Yes, his deal was the best value in the league by a country mile, and unless he takes a considerable step back next season, the Bulls forward should have the most discounted contract again next season, and again in 2023-24.

DeRozan features an unguardable mid-range game, and he’s a top-20 passer with the vision to hit his teammates when opposing squads sell out on him with two defenders. DeMar DeRozan is a superstar, the kind of athlete who can be the key player on a championship team. He should be pocketing north of $40 million per year. But, again, he’s not coming close to earning what his actual value dictates. He's earning fringe All-Star money. DeRozan’s combination of superstar talent and a cheap-as-hell contract is a boon for the Bulls, a cause for celebration, because now they have the type of money and maneuverability to pursue better roster fits this summer.

Zach LaVine - Unrestricted Free Agent

Zach LaVine

How good is Zach LaVine?

LaVine is a two-time All-Star who averaged 24.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 4.5 APG while connecting at a 38.9% clip from deep during the regular season. At the same time, he’s an eight-year veteran who’s played in precisely four playoff games while never advancing out of the first round. Even worse, he’s a subpar defender with an ugly -1.5 career Defensive Box Plus/Minus.

In today’s NBA, you can’t win a title with a genuine weak-link defender. Almost every team in the league has become adept at picking apart inferior defenders, hunting switches mercilessly.

We’ve seen score-first guards like Devin Booker and Stephen Curry transform into reliable defenders. Still, for every Steph and Book, there’s a Donovan Mitchell or Trae Young who seems to have no desire to play championship-level perimeter D.

So which type of player is Zach LaVine?

It’s difficult to say, but if this, LaVine’s eighth season, is any indication, he falls more into the Mitchell or Young category.

The Bulls will jump at the chance to sign Zach LaVine to a max contract this summer, and DeRozan has come out and said he wants his All-Star running mate back in Chicago.

Still, Chicago might be better off trying to negotiate a sign-and-trade with Zach LaVine.

Would the Warriors be willing to send Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins to the Bulls for LaVine?

Wiggins is entering the last year of his deal, and Poole will command a hefty salary the Warriors might not want to pay. Wiggins would fill a massive need on the wing for the Bulls, and while Poole isn’t an All-Star contributor like LaVine, he’s become a top-35 player in the NBA.

Chicago needs to think carefully about how to best fill out their roster around DeRozan. LaVine could be the right fit, but they shouldn't simply throw money at their one-way guard before exploring the sign-and-trade market.

Nikola Vucevic - $22.0 Million

Nikola Vucevic

Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, $100 Million Contract (2022-23: $22.0 Million)

The Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic last season to partner Zach LaVine with another All-Star in a deal that has mostly flopped. Vucevic is known as a floor-spreading big man with a clean stroke from the mid-range out beyond the arc. Vucevic hasn’t lived up to his reputation in Chicago. His jumper failed him throughout the 2021-22 season that saw the big man hit only 31.4% of his three-point attempts. Vucevic doesn’t offer much in the way of post scoring and defense, and clearly, a player whose single-best attribute is to spread the floor, but who doesn’t actually spread the floor, is less than ideal. The Bulls’ big man does have a 34.8% hit rate from deep for his career, and he could rebound next season.

The question is: Even if he does connect at a high clip from beyond the arc next season, will he hold value for the Bulls?

The four remaining teams left in the Eastern Conference playoffs offer us an excellent example of the type of centers who can lead their teams deep into the postseason.

Here’s a breakdown:

Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat’s starting center, shot only six total three-pointers for the season, focusing on setting screens, attacking the basket, and protecting the paint as a top-10 defender in the NBA.

The Boston Celtics starting center, Robert Williams, took one three-pointer during the season and, like Adebayo, set screens and rolled to the rim on offense while showing potential Defensive Player of the Year skills on the other end.

Brook Lopez, the Milwaukee Bucks starting center, missed all but 13 games this season and is a floor-spreading big man. Still, his true value comes on the defensive end. Lopez is one of the premier rim protectors in the league, with a 4.7 career block percentage.

Joel Embiid, the 76ers starting center, averaged 19.6 field goal attempts during the regular season, 3.7 of which came from deep. Embiid typically worked from the post on offense, and he is one of the top defensive anchors in the NBA.

Floor-spreading big men have become all the rage recently, but it’s obvious the teams that make it deep in the playoffs feature a defensive-minded center who can guard the lane and have the type of verticality to alter shots at the rim.

Nikola Vucevic doesn’t fit that profile. He had a 2.5% block percentage in 2021-22, and the Chicago Bulls finished outside the top-10 in opponent field goal percentage inside the restricted area (64.7%).

The Bulls would be wise to pursue a center swap. The Suns will not sign-and-trade Deandre Ayton for Nikola Vucevic, nor are the Utah Jazz going to trade Rudy Gobert for the Bulls’ big man. Perhaps the rebuilding Pacers would send Myles Turner to the Windy City, enticed by Vucevic’s cap-clearing expiring contract. If the Bulls can’t find a partner willing to part with their defense-first center, they could look toward free agency. Hassan Whiteside, JaVale McGee, and Bismack Biyombo will be available, and each player offers solid paint protection on defense and the ability to screen and roll on offense. The Bulls could at least move Vucevic down a spot to the power forward position while lining up a better defender at the 5.

Lonzo Ball - $19.5 Million

Lonzo Ball

Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $85 Million Contract (2022-23: $19.5 Million, 2023-24: $20.5 Million, 2024-25: $21.4 Million Player Option)

Lonzo Ball showed off improved three-point shooting chops during the 2021-22 season, upping his average from 37.8% off 8.3 attempts per game the previous season to 42.3% off 7.4 attempts this year. Ball also featured his usual top-10 transition outlet passing and a superb feel for the game in half-court situations. Zo wasn’t merely a one-way player. He was one of the most effective point-of-attack defenders in the NBA, capable of slowing down the most effective point guards in the association. He also used his 6-6 length combined with his excellent basketball I.Q. to get into passing lanes, averaging 3.2 deflections nightly which placed him 7th in the league.

Unfortunately, Lonzo Ball played in only 35 games this season, sidelined with a knee injury. Durability has been an issue for Zo throughout his career. He’s never made it through an entire season without missing time, topping out in 2019-20 with only 63 games played.

The Bulls were essentially a top-10 defensive team with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso (more on him next) on the floor and a bottom-10 defensive team without their backcourt duo, which is a mix of good news and bad. The Bulls need more help from the center position, but the bones of a championship-caliber defense are there. However, after watching Lonzo Ball miss extended time throughout his first five seasons in the league, you can effectively pencil him in for a significant injury next year, limiting the Bulls on defense.

Either way, Lonzo Ball’s a top-tier point guard who fits perfectly next to DeMar DeRozan as a floor-spacing guard with All-Defensive Team potential. Injuries or not, the Bulls are lucky to have him, and he should be a mainstay in Chicago for the next decade.

Alex Caruso - $9.0 Million

Alex Caruso

Entering 2nd Season Of a 4-Year, $37 Million Contract (2022-23: $9.0 Million, 2023-24 Million: $9.5 Million, 2024-25: $9.9 Million)

Alex Caruso became an advanced stats god during his time with the Lakers, and nothing changed after he joined the Bulls in 2021-22.

Here’s a breakdown:

Dunks and Threes rated A.C. in the 94th percentile in their Defensive +/- metric (+2.1).

Caruso was 6th in the NBA in deflections at 3.4 per game.

The Bulls were +7.4 points per 100 possessions with Alex Caruso on the court, the top mark out of all Chicago’s main rotation players.

Alex Caruso is one of the most valuable role players in the league, a player who guards the perimeter with a massive chip on his shoulder and consistently jumps passing lanes. He is also a solid playmaker and rim-slasher.

The Bulls have Caruso locked up through 2025, and he should be a mainstay in their rotation for the foreseeable future.

Patrick Williams - $7.8 Million

Patrick Williams

Entering 3rd Season Of A 4-Year $32 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $7.8 Million, 2023-24: $9.8 Million Team Option)

Patrick Williams injured his wrist during the fifth game of the season, tearing ligaments that required significant recovery time. Williams ended up playing 17 regular season games during his second campaign in the NBA, averaging 9.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, and 51.7% from deep.

Patrick Williams has shown the potential to guard positions 1 through 4 on the court, and at 6-7 with a 7-0 wingspan, he has the prototypical size teams look for in a wing defender. Patrick Williams could move into the starting lineup next at the power forward position for the Bulls.

Coby White - $7.4 Million

Coby White

Entering 3rd Season Of 4-Year, $24 Million Rookie Contract (2022-23: $7.4 Million, 2023-24: $9.9 Million Qualifying Offer)

Coby White averaged 12.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 2.9 APG while shooting 38.5% from deep during his third campaign. He functioned mainly as a floor-spreading wing during the regular season, taking nearly 60% of his shots from deep.

While White has shown a smooth outside stroke, his defense and playmaking were issues. White ended the season with a -1.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus, and he allowed his assignments to shoot 2.9% over their normal average. At the same time, White averaged only 2.9 assists per game while only passing the ball 31.4 times per contest, a mark that landed him 5th among all guards on the Bulls.

Coby White needs to channel his inner Alex Caruso next season and do more of the nitty-gritty things it takes to win instead of merely blasting away from deep.

Derrick Jones Jr. - Unrestricted Free Agent

Derrick Jones Jr.

Derrick Jones Jr. averaged 5.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 32.8 3P% during the regular season. Jones Jr.'s numbers don’t jump off the screen and wow you, but he was one of the few players on the Bulls who played above-average defense throughout the season, and Chicago would be wise to bring him back on a minimum deal.

Ayo Dosunmu - $1.6 Million

Ayo Dosunmu

Entering 2nd Season Of A 2-Year, $2.5 Million Rookie Contract

Ayo Dosunmu, the 38th pick in last year’s draft, played solid basketball during his first season in the league, flashing eventual starting shooting guard potential. Dosunmu averaged 8.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 37.6% from deep while playing better-than-expected defense. Dosunmu has an excellent feel for the game, and at 6-5, 200-pounds, could become a top-tier two-way guard for the Bulls during his prime, all of which means Chicago management should look to lock him up to an extended contract during the summer.

Javonte Green - $1.8 Million

Javonte Green

Entering 2nd Season Of A 2-Year, $3.5 Million Contract

This season, third-year wing Javonte Green found himself thrust into the starting lineup for 45 games due to injuries up and down the Bulls roster. Green took advantage of his time in Chicago’s starting five, making a name for himself as a defensive-first wing willing to do all the dirty work for the Bulls.

Green will enter the 2022-23 season in the final year of his $3.5 million contract, and the Bulls would be wise to let him play out the year before offering him another two-year deal.

Troy Brown Jr. - $7.2 Million (Qualifying Offer)

Troy Brown Jr

After Patrick Williams was sidelined during the 5th game of the season, many fans and experts thought Troy Brown Jr. would capitalize on his teammate’s misfortune by using his extended run to prove himself to the Chicago front office. Things didn’t work out that way. Troy Brown Jr. averaged 4.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 1.0 APG while shooting 35.3% from deep and playing ho-hum defense.

Troy Brown Jr. saw little to no action in the playoffs, and it seems likely Chicago will pass on his qualifying offer.

Tristan Thompson - Unrestricted Free Agent

Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson came to the Bulls in a mid-season trade, and played in 23 regular season games averaging 5.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 0.6 APG. Thompson saw his game time shrink in the playoffs to only 7.6 minutes per contest, and he made a minimal impact during Chicago’s first round series against the Bucks. It seems doubtful Tristan Thompson is in the Bulls’ long-term plans, and it would be surprising to see him back in the Windy City next season.

Tony Bradley - $2.0 Million (Player Option)

Tony Bradley

Tony Bradley is a fourth-year center who averaged 3.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 0.5 APG for the Bulls during the regular season. Bradley had little effect on the Bulls’ offense or defense throughout the year, and it’s hard to see any organization offering him a multiyear deal during the offseason, so Chicago fans can expect Bradley to opt into his 2022-23 player option.

Matt Thomas - Unrestricted Free Agent

Matt Thomas

Matt Thomas is a three-year veteran shooting guard who enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent who didn’t make it off the bench during the playoffs. Thomas has a career 40.4% three-point mark that holds some value around the league, but probably not with a Chicago squad loaded with depth in the backcourt.

Marko Simonovic - $1.6 Million

Marko Simonovic

Entering 2nd Season of A 3-Year, $4.3 Million Contract (2022-23: $1.6 Million, 2023-24: $1.8 Million)

Marko Simonovic played in only nine games during the regular season and saw no action during the postseason. Simonovic is a project under contract with the Bulls for the next two seasons and will have a chance to prove himself during next year’s preseason.

The Chicago Bulls Have Room To Improve During The 2022 Offseason

The Chicago Bulls showed improvement this year, making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Still, they struggled at the end of the regular season, sliding into the sixth spot out east, and they finished the year going 0-16 against the top 3 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference.

The Bulls have an MVP candidate on a discount deal in DeMar DeRozan, and they also have excellent two-way guards, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, locked up for the next few seasons. Zach LaVine will also most likely be back on a max contract unless the Bulls get creative in the offseason and look for a sign and trade.

The Bulls look set on offense.

However, they need to shore up their 22nd-rated defense if they want to become genuine title contenders next season. Chicago could look to move center Nikola Vucevic for a rim protector, and they should also bring in one or two proven defensive wings.

Overall, the future looks bright for the Chicago Bulls.


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