It’s that time of year.

The NBA season gets underway tonight, and the Chicago Bulls season will get started tomorrow, as they host the Oklahoma City Thunder. While wholesale changes didn’t arrive in the offseason to a roster missing its point guard and went .500 last season, there’s reason for optimism, in an eastern conference that is wide open behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

Record Prediction: 46-36

This was the Bulls record in 2021-22, when they had Lonzo Ball for half the season and DeMar DeRozan playing like an MVP candidate. Ideally, they can match that record, which got them the 6 seed in 2021-22, and get somewhere between the 5 and 6 seed in the East (heck even 3 or 4 are attainable with the Philly drama). The goal should be to make the playoffs, avoid the play-in, and to show progress, win a playoff series, definitely possible if they avoid Boston and Milwaukee until round 2. The Bulls have to do better against their division opponents this season; 2-2 against Milwaukee and a sweep of Detroit was good, but they got swept by Cleveland and went 1-3 against Indiana. 10-6 should be the goal in the division. From there, going 36-30 against the rest of the league shouldn’t be impossible. Tankathon has the Bulls with the 11th easiest schedule in the league.

A 40-42 record last season doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in this team, but remembering their 15-10 finish, once they got someone to fill in for Lonzo Ball, and considering they upgraded their depth slightly (Jevon Carter for Patrick Beverley, Torrey Craig for Derrick Jones Jr, Julian Phillips/Dalen Terry for Javonte Green), plus some young guys to step up, they should be better.

The Bulls surpass expectations if

Patrick Williams becomes who he can be. The 4th pick in the 2020 NBA draft has shown flashes, but hasn’t been consistent enough. If Williams is in the most improved player of the year conversation come April 2024, the Bulls might be making noise in the East. Ditto for Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu improving, but Williams is the biggest X-factor on this team, and probably in the division.

The Bulls fail to meet expectations if

A slow start leads to Arturas Karnisovas and the front office pivoting and trading away veterans like DeMar DeRozan (expiring contract), Alex Caruso, and Nikola Vucevic (eligible to be traded December 15). This would mean the Bulls would be trying to get a top 10 pick, recoup their missing protected 2025 first, and retool (or rebuild?) around Zach LaVine and the younger players on this team as they collect assets.

Most Likely All-Star is

Zach LaVine. A slow start prevented him from making it last season, but fully recovered from his knee injury, LaVine was the Bulls best player down the stretch. DeRozan has made the All-Star game each of the last two seasons (while LaVine made it in 2021 and 2022), but if I had to pick one, give me LaVine.

Most Likely Award

Alex Caruso for defensive player of the year. He made All-Defense first team last season, and could play even more this season seeking the award. He is a top 5 defender in the NBA.

Bold Prediction

The Bulls big 3 each average 20 PPG en route to a 3 or 4 seed. Billy Donovan knows he has to feed Vucevic in the post more to unlock the rest of the offense, so we will see a little less isolations for DeMar DeRozan and more Vucevic-centric offensive possessions. After all, the Denver Nuggets did win the championship with Nikola Jokic leading the charge, and Vucevic is a poor man’s Jokic. DeRozan will still get enough shots to average 20+ PPG, Vucevic will jump from 17.6 PPG to 20 PPG, and Zach LaVine should hit 25 PPG as the Bulls try to get him used more in off-ball sets for catch and shoot 3s.

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