The Chicago Bulls have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. Not only that, but they’ve failed to reach the 30-win plateau during that stretch.
However, the first half of the 2020-21 NBA season has been different, and for all the right reasons. For example, the Chicago Bulls finished with a 16-18 record. Sure, this isn’t a great record, but this mark places them in a virtual tie with the Toronto Raptors for the No. 8 spot in the conference playoff race.
Three Biggest Bulls Questions for the Second Half of the Season
While the Bulls still have their share of struggles from a defensive standpoint, they have stepped things up from a scoring perspective. In 2019-20, the Bulls ranked 27th in both points per game and offensive efficiency. This season, the Bulls are ranked 15th in offensive efficiency, averaging 112.4 points per 100 possessions. Additionally, Chicago has the sixth-highest scoring average at 115 points per contest.
With the second half of the season right around the corner, here’s a look at the three biggest questions for the Bulls moving forward.
3. How will Lauri Markkanen fare the rest of the way?
The Bulls acquired Lauri Markkanen in a draft-night trade back in 2017. Heralded as one of the top shooting big men in that draft, Markkanen produced some pretty good numbers during his rookie season. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest. He also shot a respectable 36.2% from 3-point range.
Markkanen followed up with an impressive sophomore campaign, averaging 18.7 points and nine boards per outing. Year three proved to be a different story, though, as Markkanen averaged just 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, his lowest per-game totals during his time with the Bulls. This season, Markkanen’s rebounding numbers aren’t that great (6.1 per contest) but he is averaging a career-high in points (19.1 per outing). Markkanen is also shooting 51.4% from the floor and 39.6% from beyond the arc.
The bad news is he has only suited up 14 times for the Bulls this season, and he hasn’t played since early February (shoulder injury) – a span of 20 games. Taking into consideration that he has missed at least 30 games in each of the last two seasons, it will be interesting to see how he performs when he does return to the court.
2. Can Zach LaVine continue to play at a high level?
As was the case with Markkanen, Zach LaVine was included in that draft-night trade package with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017. Coming off an ACL injury that kept him on the shelf for nearly a year, LaVine averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and three assists per outing. Sure, those numbers weren’t overly impressive, but LaVine’s stock has risen quite a bit since that shortened 2016-17 campaign. He has increased his scoring output in each of the last three seasons. Furthermore, LaVine is averaging a career-best of 28.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per contest.
Is he putting up these numbers efficiently? You better believe it. LaVine is shooting 52.5% from the field and 43.5% from the 3-point line, which resulted in the seven-year guard earning his first All-Star selection. Being that LaVine has been able to put up solid numbers while other players have been nursing injuries, it’s safe to say that he will be able to sustain his level of play for the duration of the season, further establishing himself as a franchise cornerstone.
1. Will the Chicago Bulls make it to the playoffs?
Posing this question may sound silly at this point. Especially since the Bulls have won just 22 games in the last two seasons. One of the positives the Bulls have going for them is a much-needed change in the front office that took place during the offseason. Another positive is the hiring of Billy Donovan, whose effect on the players, has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Not to make the previous coach the fall guy by any means, but it’s no coincidence that this team is playing a better brand of basketball under Donovan with practically the same roster from last season. That and the fact that the Bulls have their best record at the All-Star break in four years is an accomplishment that should not be overlooked.
Can this squad muster up enough victories to nab a playoff spot? If they continue to play at the level they’ve played so far, the Bulls have more than an outside shot at ending their playoff drought.
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