The iconic Chicago franchise is back in the limelight this season after several years in the depths of the Eastern Conference.
When we think of American basketball, it is perhaps the franchise that comes to mind first. Building on their decade of unchallenged reign over the NBA in the 90s, the Bulls, then led by Michael Jordan, forged a notoriety well beyond the borders of Uncle Sam. So much so that the name Chicago Bulls speaks to almost everyone, including newcomers to the subject. But the most iconic franchise in the history of the sport, however, has seen much stormier times.
First in the early 2000s after the ruthless dynasty of the 90s withdrew and then more recently during the 2010s half fig half grape for the Illinois franchise. Chicago has not tasted the play-offs since 2017 and has only played 3 Conference semi-finals in the last 10 years. Over the last 4 seasons, the Bulls have never finished beyond 10th place in the East. But this season, a new wind is blowing through the franchise and Chicago, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, has serious arguments to believe in the rebirth of its bulls.
Zach LaVine is no longer alone
At the end of 2017, Zach LaVine arrived in Chicago from the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a trade with Jimmy Butler. Within these Bulls condemned to the second half of the table in the east, it is almost like a UFO. Capable of attacking the circle, of dunking but also very skilful at long and mid-distance shooting, he has a wide range which makes him an almost complete basketball player although defensively perfectible. A major asset but also quite alone. Since his arrival in Illinois, Zach LaVine has never really been able to count on a competitive team to support him. This season, the situation has changed.
In reality, this fundamental upheaval of the Bulls’ starting 5 began during the course of last season with the arrival of all-star pivot Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic. This was followed by a strong arrival at the winger position with DeMar DeRozan. Considered one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, he is an NBA heavyweight, passed by Toronto and San Antonio and 4 times all-star. Finally, the arrival of Lonzo Ball from the Pelicans completed the reinforcement of the back line of the Bulls.
The mayonnaise took quickly
Compared to the start of last season, almost the entire starting 5 of the Bulls has changed completely. If one could imagine a certain delay in ignition, for lack of sufficient benchmarks between all these new players, the reality on the ground quickly swept away doubts. The Bulls immediately found the right formula.
With nearly 26 points on average per game, DeMar DeRozan has successfully integrated into the Bulls squad. “He’s a very different player compared to Zach LaVine. He is a very creative player while LaVine is more of a 3 point shooter“, develops the former basketball player Stephen Brun in the program “Basket Time” of November 2 on RMC. As a more defensive leader, Lonzo Ball brings the balance and stability the team needs while leaving the scoring initiative to LaVine or DeRozan. The former Angelino, much more skilful at 3 points this season (44% success rate against 36% over his entire career) has everything from a good pickaxe. “The Bulls’ problem last season was losses and ball and they took Lonzo Ball. They needed a scorer alongside LaVine, they took DeRozan“, observes the former pivot Frédéric Weis on RMC. This summer, the Bulls were able to identify their weak points and fill them. As a result, Chicago is the 4th best defense in the league and the LaVine / DeRozan duo is the most prolific in the NBA with respectively 25.3 and 25.9 points per game.
All this without counting the contribution of the bench symbolized by Alex Caruso, an excellent defender capable of shooting at 3 points and the rookie Ayo Dosunmu who brings his vivacity and his percussion. This workforce of the Bulls seems particularly well built and intelligently thought out. Enough to aim for the heights?
However, it is difficult to see these Bulls win the NBA title this season. Firstly because the Brooklyn Nets, led by their James Harden-Kevin Durant duo, and the Milwaukee Bucks, defending champions, are favorites in an Eastern Conference, which is fairly open despite everything. Then because in the West, the Warriors and the Suns show an impressive dynamic and appear even stronger collectively than the Bulls. Finally, because Chicago is still showing some signs of feverishness, like the slap received a few days ago at home against Indiana (77-109) or the defeat in Houston, the worst team in the NBA this season (118-113 ).
Nevertheless, reaching the play-offs seems to be a more than reasonable objective for these Bulls who will however have to learn to manage the particular atmosphere of these much more intense and disputed matches. Last season, the strong winger and star of the Knicks, Julius Randle, had failed to reveal the play-offs, he who was playing the first final stages of his career. This is the pitfall that will have to be avoided by Zach LaVine who has not played in any play-off match in his career but who can count on a DeMar DeRozan, experienced in the exercise, at his side.
Far from being expected at this level this season, these Bulls have been able to put their franchise back in the center of attention, perhaps waiting to reconnect with a glorious past.