CHICAGO — It’s the start of a new Bulls season, but you can’t blame fans for feeling pretty much the same as they did last year.
After all, the majority of the roster returns, and one of the key players remain out, with the same coach hoping to get more out of the team’s core over the next six months.
So, as one might imagine, expectations are a bit tempered for the team as they prepare to open up the 2023-2024 season at the United Center against the Thunder at 7 p.m. It comes after the Bulls went 40-42 a year ago, winning one game in the play-in tournament before losing to the Heat for the No. 8 spot.
Here are a few things to look for from the team as they get ready for the first of 82 games.
While no one is talking about the job status of either one, there is certainly a thought that executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas, general manager Marc Eversley, and head coach Billy Donovan have something to prove in 2023-2024.
After a fast start to the 2021-2022 season built optimism, that’s slowly faded as Lonzo Ball has been forced out of the lineup with a knee injury the last two seasons while progress in the core has stalled.
The Bulls were in first place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break, and have been sliding or staying neutral ever since.
Should the team stay below .500 – as they were for most of the 2022-2023 season – would Karnisovas look to disassemble the team’s core and be forced to start again? It will be a few months before those decisions are made.
The last stand for the “Big 3”?
Part of that core, of course, is the team’s “Big 3” of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic, with Karnisovas inheriting the first player and acquiring the other two in trades.
Like this current run of the team, there was initial success with all of them together but there was a drop once Ball left the lineup in January 2022.
DeRozan is entering a contract year as his three-year, $81.9 million deal is set to expire after this season, while LaVine is entering the second of a five-year max contract signed in 2022. Vucevic just signed a three-year, $60 million deal just this offseason.
Should the season get away from the team, perhaps DeRozan could find his way to a contender, or the Bulls would part ways with LaVine, who was the subject of trade rumors at times last season.
Can 2 former first round picks take steps forward?
Outside of the “Big 3,” fans will also have their eye on two other starters who are looking to reach their potential as home grown Bulls prospects.
Coby White, the team’s 2019 first round pick, is getting his chance to start at point guard to begin the 2023-2024 season after spending the majority of last season as a reserve. The guard had a strong finish to his fourth NBA season, averaging over 13 points in the month of April, including 14 in the play-in tournament final against the Heat.
It earned White a new three-year, $36 million contract entering this season, and Patrick Williams is hoping to do the same after the Bulls’ didn’t give him a rookie extension earlier this week.
The forward has had his ups and downs since the Bulls took him with the fourth overall, including missing the majority of his second season with a wrist injury. He had 10.2 points – a career-high – along with four rebounds a contest as he played in all 82 games, starting 65.
If the Bulls could get them going, it could help add some punch to the 2023-2024 season.
One criticism of the Bulls’ offense, which has been against the trend in the NBA recently, is their lack of three-point attempts.
In 2022-2023, the team took a league-low 28.9 per game, compared to the 43.2 taken per contest by the league-leading Warriors, with the team hitting 36.1 percent of those. Increasing those chances figure to help bolster the Bulls’ offense since their defense was seventh with 111.8 points a contest.
This preseason, the Bulls made an effort to increase that, shooting over 30 three-pointers in three of their five preseason contests.
- Oct. 8 – at Bucks – 35
- Oct. 12 – vs. Nuggets – 38
- Oct. 15 – at Nuggets – 29
- Oct. 17 – vs. Raptors – 26
- Oct. 19 – vs. Timberwolves – 36