The Chicago Bulls had a productive start to free agency, positioning themselves to compete for the coming playoffs by signing DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso to multi-year deals.
Ball and Caruso were backcourt partners long ago with the Lakers, though they spent little time playing together; now, they will be reunited in the Windy City, having developed into quality guards worthy of playing significant minutes, while DeRozan finds himself back on a playoff contender.
DeRozan Heads North
Do not be fooled by the San Antonio Spurs missing the playoffs; DeMar DeRozan is coming off a season in which he averaged 21.6 points, 6.9 assists (career-high), and 4.2 rebounds. He will be the ice to Zach LaVine’s fire by controlling the mid-range and allowing the Bulls’ leading scorer to fly around the perimeter and hunt his shot.
DeRozan made the Eastern Conference Playoffs in five consecutive seasons before he was dealt to the Spurs in 2018, and he has familiarity with his future opponents.
On top of the obvious talent that DeRozan has, he has star power and gives the Bulls an identifiable “Big Three” alongside LaVine and Nikola Vucevic; Chicago was in the basement for a while, but they have roared back into relevance by singing the four-time All-Star.
Lonzo Lands a Starting Gig
The Bulls primarily started Coby White at point guard last season, though his fit in a backcourt with LaVine was questionable at best; LaVine finished seventh in scoring at 27.4 points per game and needs his touches, not somebody like White who is also looking to score rather than dish the rock.
Insert Lonzo Ball: the UCLA product has a pass-first mindset that has led to him averaging 6.4 assists per night despite rarely being the primary ball-handler. With an all-around scorer in LaVine that likes to play fast and in transition and a mid-range specialist in DeRozan on the wings, Lonzo could approach a double-digit assist average next season. Vucevic will also be the recipient of many easy dump-offs or open looks on the perimeter as the ball flies around Chicago’s elite talents.
Ball is replacing a pretty poor defender in White on a team that was average on defense; Lonzo brings defensive intelligence and intensity as an on-ball defender or lane disruptor and can take the opposing team’s number-one option on a nightly basis. He has averaged 1.5 steals per game for his career, and at 6-foot-6, his length combined with his speed and strength make him a very formidable defender on guards and wings.
The Caru-show is in Chi-Town
Alex Caruso started in the G League and has worked his way into a $37 million player that started in a closeout game of the NBA Finals and was one of Frank Vogel’s most trusted pieces for a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“He has to be considered for All-Defensive Team with the way that he does everything on that side of the ball,” said Vogel last season.
With him serving as a defensive specialist and playmaker in the second unit, Caruso will allow White and the Bulls’ other scorers to dominate the shots and pick their spots, where he will deliver them the ball. He only averaged 6.4 points, but the former Lakers’ guard shot 40.1% on threes and was deadly in the short-corner last season, adding another element to his game based on making intelligent and hustle plays.
The Bulls’ Playoff Breakdown
Looking at the rest of the Eastern Conference, four playoff spots should be unequivocally reserved for the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Miami Heat— after that, the playoff scenario gets interesting.
The Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks were the fourth and fifth seeds last year and retained their important pieces during free agency; the Washington Wizards lost Russell Westbrook but gained three solid rotational pieces; the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Charlotte Hornets all have young and talented teams; and of course, two of this year’s top-three draft picks are in the East.
With all of that being said, the Chicago Bulls turned themselves into a complete team with a winning approach in three simple moves. Bringing DeRozan, Ball, and Caruso on board makes the team smarter, better on defense, adds shooting, and brings three new playmakers onto the roster.
Watch for Chicago to turn heads this season and sneak into the playoffs without needing the play-in tournament and LaVine has a Second-Team All-NBA season.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.
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