Chicago Bulls – Contenders or Pretenders?

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The Chicago Bulls were the most dominant team to start the NBA season not named the Phoenix Suns. They sent two players to the All-Star game and were stellar on offense. After the All-Star break, for a variety of reasons including injuries, the Bulls have fallen off the radar.

Chicago Bulls – Contenders or Pretenders?

Current Standings

Chicago is fifth in the Eastern Conference. As they struggled post-All-Star break, other teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics began their ascent.

Now, the Bulls are even in jeopardy of not automatically qualifying for the playoffs. There’s a chance they can fall into the play-in tournament. Chicago is one game ahead of the Toronto Raptors at sixth and two games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers at seventh.

Strengths

The Bulls are an offensive powerhouse. The team ranks 11th overall in points per game, but they’re extremely efficient.

Chicago has the second-best field goal percentage in the league at over 48 percent. The only team they trail is the Phoenix Suns. Chicago is also second overall in three-point percentage at over 37 percent. They trail the Miami Heat. All in all, the Bulls make the sixth-most field goals per game. They’re also fifth overall in free-throw percentage at 81 percent.

None of this comes as a surprise when looking at the roster.

Chicago’s two All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are amongst the top scorers in the league. Other players include Nikola VucevicLonzo BallAlex Caruso, and more.

Weaknesses

As good as Chicago is on offense, their defense doesn’t come close to matching. This explains the losses racking up on their roster. Sure, the Bulls can score at will, but sometimes that doesn’t matter if they can’t make stops.

The simple eye test shows that Chicago needs improvement on the defensive end to compete with the Eastern Conference elite. Statistics show issues as well.

The Bulls are 28th overall in rebounds per game. They’re 22nd in steals and 24th in blocks per game. In short, Chicago isn’t making enough defensive plays.

Caruso was injured for some time. Ball, a legitimate elite perimeter defender, remains injured. A lot of the backcourt defensive pressure has been placed on the shoulders of Ayo Dosunmu. He’s played very well, but he’s still a rookie and not an elite defender yet. Players like DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic need to up the ante on this side of the court. Losing Patrick Williams early in the season severely impacted the defense as well. He’s slowly adjusting in his return to action.

The Chicago Bulls X-Factor

This team’s x-factor will be defense, and more importantly, the return of Ball. Last week, however, Ball experienced a setback in his rehabilitation process.

His status for the remainder of the season and possible playoff run remains uncertain. This is a major worry for Chicago.

Prior to his injury, Ball was averaging about 13 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game. These numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, but they’re solid nonetheless and he was the starting point guard. The most important facet he brought to the court was his defense. Now it’s up to rookie Dosunmu to guard the opposing team’s top backcourt scoring threat.

The Final Verdict for the Chicago Bulls

Chicago looked to be a clear-cut contender in the first half of the season. A lot has changed since then.

Their struggles cannot be ignored and therefore they are pretenders. DeRozan and LaVine are good enough to win games on their own, let alone paired together, but the Eastern Conference has a plethora of elite teams as well. Even if Ball returns, he may not instantly be at 100 percent.

Main Image: Embed from Getty Images