The Chicago Bulls are on a roll. They have won 9 of their last 13 games, and really only have had one poor performance, after a stretch of three games in four days. They are the best team in the fourth quarter in this stretch, and a top 5 team shooting and in wins. It has many rethinking the team; a 5-14 start seemed to guarantee a blowup of this iteration of the Bulls; now at 14-18, with one of the easier schedules remaining in the NBA, and winning despite injuries to Zach LaVine, Torrey Craig, Alex Caruso, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball at different times. Many wins have come against premier competition too, including the Bucks, the Heat, the Lakers, the 76ers, and the Pelicans. And just about anybody can go off; the Bulls have had games with 6, 7, and 8 players in double figures. In Tuesday’s 118-113 win against the Hawks, Andre Drummond had 24 points, 25 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

With this very strange start to the Bulls season, let’s assess their lineups by net rating so far, through a third of the season. We’ll focus on lineups with 50 minutes played or more, but will interject some of the lesser-used lineups too, for Billy Donovan to try out later. This assessment is quite important. Remember, one reason the Bulls went 15-10 after the trade deadline was because of the addition of Patrick Beverley, who helped lead a top lineup with a net rating of +14.7, with Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Best Lineup:

Coby White/Ayo Dosunmu/DeMar DeRozan/Patrick Williams/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 119.8, Defensive Rating 102.3, Net Rating +17.5

This lineup has played together far more than one would expect preseason due to the Zach Lavine injury, and it’s been absolutely elite. Among lineups with 100 minutes or more played, it ranks 6th in Net Rating, out of 37 qualifying lineups. For reference, the Boston Celtics, with the best starting lineup in the NBA, have a net rating of +19.6. Part of what props this lineup up (and another down) is that almost all the players started getting in a rhythm after the 5-14 start. Only Dosunmu was not struggling in that start. Coby White has obviously exploded in the recent stretch, becoming an elite scorer who can make plays. Ayo Dosunmu has gotten his three point field goal percentage back up. DeRozan is spacing the floor and hitting his teammates for more assists, as if he’s back in San Antonio. Patrick Williams’ numbers might now indicate growth, but the eye test shows him playing with way more confidence. And while Nikola Vucevic is starting to decline, playing through him more has opened up a lot for the Bulls offense. The Bulls really have something here with this lineup, and Billy Donovan should continue to play it the most of any lineup until LaVine returns.

Worst Lineup:

Ayo Dosunmu/Jevon Carter/DeMar DeRozan/Torrey Craig/Andre Drummond

Offensive Rating 76.9, Defensive Rating 113.2, Net Rating -36.3

The defensive rating for this lineup is right around average to slightly above average for this season, which checks out, having four plus defenders. But that offensive rating is nearly 30 points worse than the worst team in offensive rating this season, the San Antonio Spurs at 106.7. That is atrocious. Teams often just double team DeMar DeRozan in this lineup, and the others cannot punish it. Carter hasn’t shot as well as last season, Craig isn’t the highest volume shooting guy, teams pack the paint to stop Dosunmu and Drummond. I understand why Donovan ran this lineup, but he can’t put it back out there more than sparingly when Craig returns from injury.

The Starters

Coby White/Zach LaVine/DeMar DeRozan/Patrick Williams/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 111.7, Defensive Rating 122.2, Net Rating -10.5

This lineup will be a lot better in January as LaVine returns to a new role and we have the other four starters playing much better than they were in October and November. But it was pretty bad to start the season. The Bulls would sink to double digit deficits early and often, and would need miracle comebacks just to make it a game late. White was shooting too much inefficiently and not really playmaking enough, LaVine was taking a lot of bad shots, DeMar wasn’t quite getting to his spots, Williams was lost, and Vucevic was missing a lot of shots he usually makes. I think Donovan returns to this lineup as starters when LaVine is healthy, but he will stagger DeRozan and his minutes much more, so this lineup won’t be playing too much together.

Best Defense

Coby White/Zach LaVine/Torrey Craig/Patrick Williams or Ayo Dosunmu/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 105.0, Defensive Rating 91.4, Net Rating +13.6

A few lineups with too few minutes (with Caruso, Carter, and Drummond) had lower defensive ratings, but too few minutes. White has not been a complete minus defender like he used to be, and Craig and Williams are a great defensive tandem against wings and forwards. Vucevic is still a bad defender, but a number of lineups can mask the issue. The offense is too weak though; there isn’t enough creation between the forwards, especially combined with Vucevic’s decline shooting-wise, plus White and LaVine’s aforementioned slow starts.

Best Offense

Coby White or Ayo Dosunmu/Jevon Carter/DeMar DeRozan/Patrick Williams/Andre Drummond

Offensive Rating 140.4, Defensive Rating 122.9, Net Rating +17.5

With White or Dosunmu pushing the pace, this lineup isn’t far off from what the Bulls were doing in 2021-22 with Lonzo Ball. Carter provides good spacing, DeRozan is able to do his thing either creating space for his own shot or creating for others, Williams is attacking closeouts, and Drummond is cleaning the glass. Defense isn’t great, but when they’re scoring at this rate, with their pace, it doesn’t really matter.

The Carushow Effect

Coby White/Alex Caruso/Zach LaVine/DeMar DeRozan/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 106.2, Defensive Rating 111.9, Net Rating -5.7

Coby White/Alex Caruso/DeMar DeRozan/Patrick Williams/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 112.8, Defensive Rating 106.7, Net Rating +6.1

The numbers speak for themselves. Replace Caruso with any other player in these lineups and they suffer greatly (see the starters from above). He remains an absolutely elite defender, and has oscillated back to good three point shooter this season, along with being able to run point guard for short stretches. There was a point last season where Caruso was the only Bull to have a positive net rating in a 2-man lineup with every other rotation player; with the turnaround the Bulls are having, he could do that again.

A Lineup to play more

Coby White/Alex Caruso/Zach LaVine/Patrick Williams/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 113.6, Defensive Rating 91.7, Net Rating +21.9

Injuries mostly have prevented this lineup from playing more together, but even then, they had just 29 minutes played together. Caruso and Williams cover up the others’ lack of defense, and LaVine and White and Vucevic get the unit to average offensively. Donovan should play Caruso with LaVine when he returns, while staggering the others around; maybe Drummond in here instead of Vucevic, while Vucevic plays with DeRozan, Dosunmu, and Carter. Or swap White and Dosunmu.

A Lineup to play less

Coby White/Zach LaVine/DeMar DeRozan/Torrey Craig/Nikola Vucevic

Offensive Rating 95.6, Defensive Rating 129.8, Net Rating -34.2

The Big 3 had an awful net rating together in October and November, and with a sluggish Coby White early and Torrey Craig, they were even worse together. You’ve gotta think regression to the mean will make them better by default, but we shouldn’t try this lineu regardless; stagger the scorers who are not plus defenders. Craig can fit in anywhere, but not if he has to guard all 5 players while the team doesn’t share the ball offensively.

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