Another tough loss for the league’s youngest team according to realgm.com at 24.4 years of age. 5 of the teams 8 losses were by an average of less than 5 points and against 4 likely playoff teams. And 3 of those 5 losses could/should have been victories if not for an unlucky bounce or two. Perhaps what has been most impressive, however, is how competitive the baby Bulls have been with out 3 starters for much of the season and one of their most important bench players. Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine have combined to play in just 5 games. I am not Nostradamus but any reasonable person could argue the Bulls record would be significantly better with those players available and healthy.
The silver lining, of course, is the influx of minutes available to our first and second year players like Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, and Antonio Blakeney. Carter and Blakeney have played significant roles and have performed their roles beautifully. Carter is 7th in rookie scoring but has averaged 15ppg since Portis went down with an injury and would put him 4th on the rookie scoring list for this season and 3rd for rebounds per game. Blakeney has been just as impressive, shooting over 55 percent from the field and an absurd 59 percent from three.
Ironically, his free throw shooting could use a little work, but he only averages 2 free throw attempts per game. Hutchison is getting some good rookie minutes but needs to show more aggressiveness when on the court. Being without their best shooter in Markkanen, best back court defender in Dunn, and longest tenured player/locker room leader in Portis has caused some early setbacks. When each of those players -plus Valentine- are ready to return, the Bulls will be markedly deeper and better both offensively and defensively.
If Chicago had been fully healthy to start the season, a 7-3 or 6-4 record would have been attainable if not likely. The teams next 10 games should be slightly easier than their first 10. With 5 games against opponents with sub .500 records and four very winnable games at home, the Bulls should be in decent shape when Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn return to the starting lineup. The last Saturday in November marks the beginning of another 10 game stretch against 8 teams from last years playoffs and will give the Bulls a good look at where they are at in terms of development and team continuity. It may take a few weeks to integrate the likes of Markkanen, Dunn, Portis, and Valentine but seeing as each of these players have spent much of their time on the court together in the past it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Difficult questions, however, will need to be answered and difficult decisions made about playing time once the team is at full strength. Is the offense run through Zach or Lauri? Does Jabari Parker lose minutes to a full front court? Does he spend more time at small forward? Are minutes available for important bench pieces like Valentine and Blakeney? Does the continued development of Wendell Carter Jr. and, to a lesser degree, Chandler Hutchison, remain important to a franchise trying to make the postseason? These are generally good problems to have, but they will need to be approached with caution and a delicate touch as there are only so many minutes to go around. The Bulls are both talented and deep enough to make noise in the Eastern Conference if they can stay healthy, and I expect them to do just that.