The NBA season gets underway in less than two weeks, and the Chicago Bulls season will start with it. A roster that is mostly the same as last season, with a few upgrades in depth with the additions of Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig, and Julian Phillips, likely won’t suddenly become better without key development from the young players on the team. The Bulls were 40-42 last season, and were a play-in team. The question is: what will allow them to bounce back and become a good playoff team this season?

The answer lies with the two (likely) starters who are not part of the big three of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic. Coby White at point guard, and Patrick Williams at power forward.

White got the start in the Bulls’ first preseason game. Whether he ends up the starter or the 6th man (as the Bulls might need his scoring off the bench), his improvement last season was a beacon of hope in an otherwise mediocre season.  The averages were not extraordinary (9.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.7 SPG), but he had his most efficient season in terms of shooting (44.3%/37.2%/87.1%) and assist to turnover ratio (nearly 3 to 1). Plus, he improved a lot on the defensive end of the floor, with 3.6 WAR and +0.2 RAPTOR rating according to 538.

The eye test also showed White was finally starting to play more like a point guard than a scoring, shooting, or combo guard. He was pushing the ball in transition when possible, and was probably the Bulls best passer outside the big three in the halfcourt. He was also a threat to catch and shoot threes, and could pullup as well, a big need for a Bulls team lacking shooters.

The question is whether Coby White, combined with Jevon Carter, can really make up for the loss of Lonzo Ball. If we look at the construction of the 2021-22 Chicago Bulls, who led the East for a lot of the season before injuries killed the season, Ball was the connecting piece that put it all together. White isn’t the same player as Ball, but if he could mold himself to continue to hit threes while initiating the offense and pushing the pace, it could really raise the floor and ceiling of the Bulls offense, and be less iso. Carter helps a lot with filling in for Lonzo’s 3 and D ability, and Ayo Dosunmu would have to fill the role of scoring off the bench.

As for Patrick Williams, in his de facto second season (he missed most of 2021-22 with injury), averaged 10 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.2 APG, and 1 SPG on 46.4%/41.5%/85.7%. The shooting numbers are very encouraging, and I implore him to up his volume of three point attempts. It would open up the midrange game for him. Williams also continued to guard opposing teams’ best players and doing well; just look at his performances in the play-in. He needs to get stronger on the boards, but I see it improving.

The Paw is an even bigger X-factor than White; the Bulls could either start him as part of their best 5, or bring him off the bench so he can take over on offense more. And going into this season, it HAS to be the breakout season; either Williams becomes a very good player and gets consistent, or he remains inconsistent and is officially a reach at number 4 overall. But he has flashed that Kawhi Leonard ability; let’s see if he can do it for a full season.

Coby White and Patrick Williams are far from the best players on this iteration of the Chicago Bulls. But they might just be the most important, the same way Lonzo Ball was in 2021.

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