Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Chicago Bulls

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Previous editions can be found here. Let's get to it!

Chicago Bulls (22-43, 11th place Eastern Conference)

Good Things

1. Zach Lavine is a star

This season, four guys averaged at least 25 PPG with at least 38% shooting from 3P: Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach Lavine. Those guys are stars and Lavine is too. The biggest improvement he made was in his shot selection. Last year he took 33% of his shots from 3-16 ft (aka the worst shot in the game). This year, that number is 22%. He turned each of those bad shots into a three-pointer, where he hit 38% on eight attempts a game. If his shot selection keeps improving, he could be a 30 PPG scorer sooner rather than later.

Let me meet you right there with "But Zach Lavine doesn't defend or pass. His numbers are empty calories." There's some truth there but it doesn't mean Lavine isn't a star. He's not a superstar, not an All-NBA talent, but he's a star. The passing is what it is. He can't be your primary creator and that's fine. Still, his usage went up this year but his turnovers went down which is a positive sign. Defensively, he's still no great shakes but he's improving there as well. Career bests in steals/blocks per game, his team's defensive rating when he's on the court and the advanced numbers match the eye test. He's trying harder on defense and it shows. Instead of giving 2% effort, he's giving 22% and the numbers bear it out. With a quarter of the season left, Lavine had already doubled his career bests in defensive win shares and defensive box plus-minus. He's not locking down, but when you can score 25 a night without turning the ball over, you don't have to lockdown. He's a star.

2. Coby White is a hit

You talk about a guy that was just heating up as the league shut down. White was averaging 22 PPG in five March games after winning Rookie of the Month for his February play: 20/4/4 on 43/41/94 shooting. There were the ups and downs that come with being a 19-year-old PG in the NBA but the hope is that the highs (Three straight games of 33+ points in Feb) are enough to outweigh the lows (39% FG shooter on the season, poor defender).

3. Well stocked with assets

The Bulls are the fifth-youngest team in the league and most of their pieces (Lavine, Markannen, Dunn, WCJ, White) are 25 or younger. Tomas Satoransky/Thad Young are the oldheads of the team, but each is on a fair contract that runs just two more seasons. The Bulls were 27th in payroll this season and next season, they will see the contracts of Otto Porter and Cristiano Felicio (combined $36 million) expire.

Chicago owns all of their first-round picks until 2026. They will pick 7th in the 2020 NBA Draft because they always pick 7th in the draft.

Bad Things

1. The front office is a mess

The GarPax era is finally over and in comes the Arturas Karnisovas era, the Bulls new GM that was just hired from Denver. None of us really know anything about these GM hires so I'm willing to give him a chance before tweeting bad things about him, but I also like to go look at their previous transaction record as a GM. Karnisovas took over as GM on June 15, 2017, so let's look at the moves he's made since then:

  • Drafted Donovan Mitchell #13 and Monte Morris #51. Good move.
  • Immediately traded Donovan Mitchell for Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles. Bad move.
  • Traded Danilo Gallinari for what became Jarred Vanderbilt. Bad move.
  • Signed Paul Milsap. Good move.
  • Signed the undrafted Torrey Craig. Good move.
  • Re-signed Mason Plumlee (3/41) and Gary Harris (4/84). Meh move.
  • Drafted Michael Porter Jr. Good move.
  • Traded a first-round pick along with Kenneth Faried for Isaiah Whitehead. Faried got waived and went on to average 13/8 for the Rockets. Whitehead never played for the Nuggets. Bad move.
  • Trade a first-round pick for Jerami Grant. Good move.
  • Traded Malik Beasley/Juan Hernangomez/Vanderbilt for a 2020 first-round pick, Gerald Green, Keita Bates-Diop, Shabazz Napier and Noah Vonleh. Incomplete.

So as with any GM, a mixed bag. Rolling the dice on Porter Jr after he slid in the draft, signing a veteran like Milsap and plucking Craig from the depths of the undrafted are good moves. Giving $40 million dollars to backup centers and throwing in first-round picks to get off rotational players is not so good (I'm guessing this was to get under the tax?). Again, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in Chicago. But he needs to nail the coaching decision.

They don't have a vacancy at coach but many will argue that they should. The Jim Boylen experience is....well, it's going:

Things are going well. More on this later.

2. Can't stay healthy

Of the 65 possible games played, the following players missed at least 14 games: Kris Dunn (14 games missed), Lauri Markannen (15), Wendell Carter Jr (22), Chandler Hutchison (37) and Otto Porter (51). Grief. It's hard to win in the NBA but it's even harder when five of your top nine guys in minutes per game are missing that kind of time. And I'm not sure if this is a season of bad luck because during the 2018-19 season, none of the guys listed above played in more than 52 games. Some of that is the growing pains of young players getting adjusted to the NBA, but we all know availability is the best ability. If this keeps up, you have to consider whether the players are injury-prone or if something in the training regimen can be tweaked.

3. Offensive Identity

For a team with a legitimate offensive star, the Bulls offense stinks. They're 26th in points per game and 27th in offensive rating. They're 26th in TS% and 27th in Free Throw rate, meaning they can't shoot from anywhere and they don't get to the FT line enough to make up for it. They're in the bottom third for assist rate as a team, as well as rebounding. They do commit the fifth-most turnovers in the league though so there is something to build on.

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

1. Hire a good coach

It seems pretty obvious, but per Freddy Hoiberg and Jimmy Boylen, we see this can be harder than it looks. I'd be trying to get a meeting with Kenny Atkinson. Sell him on a rebuilding team, but one with way more assets and roster talent than the Nets team took he took over. I also think they'll be able to get a meeting with Mike D'Antoni after he inevitably parts ways with Houston this summer. I'd give Becky Hammon a call as well. Karnisovas has his work cut out for him, but there is no shortage of good candidates.

2. Choose a big man

WCJ and Lauri sound nice together in theory. Lauri spaces the floor for WCJ on offense, WCJ defends the rim on defense so Lauri doesn't have to do so. In practice, I'm not sure it's working. In 856 minutes this season (over 41 games), they were a -0.5 net rating and produced at an offensive rate that would have been 29th this season but a defensive rating that would have been 3rd in the league. In 436 minutes last season (over 21 games), they were a -13.7 net rating, producing at rates that would have given them the worst offense in the league by a mile and 15th best defense. The improvement is encouraging but I'm still leery on the fit. They both have durability concerns, the offensive numbers together are abysmal and with the way the NBA is trending, I'm not sure they can play both and maximize their potential together. I would keep WCJ. He's two years younger, is a much better defender and fits into more lineups with his two-way play. I'd use Lauri as trade bait.

3. Get a table-setter

This is a bad offense with talented offensive players because they don't have anyone to set the table. There isn't a single person on this Bulls roster whose job it is to get someone an easy shot. Lavine/White are great at what they do but they can best help a team by putting the ball in a basket. They don't have anyone to get them the ball in the right places to make their jobs easier. Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell both had All-Star seasons once their teams added someone to run the offense (Rubio, Conley). I could see Lavine taking a similar leap if he had someone to direct the show. Tomas Satoransky is fine as a secondary creator, but again, I think he'd see an uptick in efficiency if he could play off a REAL™ point guard. But who, Withers? WHOM? I'm glad you asked.

  • Chris Paul. The ultimate table-setter, even at his big age. He's the adult in the room that the Bulls need and he could be had. Otto Porter and Thad Young (salary), Markannen and Chandler Hutchison (young talent) and a first-rounder of the Thunder's choosing. It doesn't have to be that exactly of course, but I do think they have the pieces to make OKC at least listen to a trade.
  • Lonzo Ball. Lonzo would be a perfect fit for the Bulls. He's young enough to grow with their core, is a plus on both sides of the ball and looks to put teammates in a position to succeed. I'm not sure if he's available, but I do think the Pelicans will have a decision to make on which next contract they feel more comfortable handing out (Jrue or Lonzo). Lonzo doesn't make as much as CP3 so a trade is much easier, but New Orleans is so stocked with assets that who knows what they'd even ask for. I'd try to build a trade around Markannen, White and a couple of picks. Lavine and WCJ would be untouchable here because of what I think Lonzo could bring out of their game, but just about everything else is on the board.
  • Monte Morris. I think Monte Morris is begging for a bigger role on a team. The Bulls turn the ball over a lot, fifth-most in the league. Monte Morris does not turn the ball over. Morally, he just does not believe in it. Collegiately, he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the history of the NCAA (4.65 assists for every turnover) as well as four of the top seven seasons all-time in the stat. He doesn't take a lot off of the table as a player and he looks to keep the ball moving. He's not the defender that Paul/Ball are, but he also wouldn't cost as much.
  • Tyrese Haliburton. Another Iowa State guard with a well-rounded game and he should be available where the Bulls are projected to draft. He doesn't have the AST-to-TO numbers that Morris has, but he's a better shooter, much bigger and a better defender. Even if they are able to nab one of the top three guys above, I'd still look long and hard at Haliburton.

Protected Players

1. Zach Lavine

2. Wendell Carter Jr

3. Lauri Markannen

4. Coby White

5. Tomas Satoransky

6. Kris Dunn (RFA)

7. Thaddeus Young

8. Daniel Gafford

Thoughts: No real surprises here. Maybe you swap out Thad for Otto? Meh.

Unprotected players

1. Otto Porter

2. Cristiano Felicio

3. Denzel Valentine

4. Ryan Arcidiacono (I would have protected him if his name was just Archie Diacono, but no dice)

5. Chandler Hutchison

6. Luke Kornet

7. Shaquille Harrison

Thoughts: Again, maybe you swap out Harrison for Dunn? Sure.

Ineligible Players

None

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