3 things the Bulls learned from their surprising 2022 season

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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If you told fans before the season started that the 2021-22 Chicago Bulls would go on to be decimated by injuries, have every player on the roster catch COVID-19, and only manage to win six of their last 21 games, they’d probably have immediately started looking at the top prospects in the country to prep for a lottery pick.

But things turned out to be a lot more bright despite the team’s end-of-season struggles.

Instead, fans are here reflecting on “what could have beens” in an otherwise very successful season. The truth of the matter is that the Bulls just improved by 15 wins in a single year. The truth is that a bonafide All-Star and MVP candidate in DeMar DeRozan chose to team up with Zach LaVine in Chicago. The truth is the Bulls entered 2022 at the top of the Eastern Conference and would go on to steal a game on the road in the playoffs from the defending champions. That sounds like a resounding success.

Sure, there are many areas the Bulls can still improve upon and nobody expects the question marks surrounding this team to disappear until they answer them themselves. There’s no way to know what Arturas Karnisovas has in store next for this roster, but what we do know is that the Bulls are finally on an upward trajectory and giving their fans a sense of hope they haven’t felt since the days when Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were in MVP conversations.

To speculate about what’s next in store for the Bulls, we must first reflect on what we just learned during this playoff run, both the good and the bad. Entering the season, most critics had the Bulls pegged as a borderline playoff team that would likely end up in the play-in tournament. Obviously, the team would go on to crush those expectations early on.

If they are to continue defying expectations, they’d be wise to learn these crucial lessons from their 2022 playoff run.

Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls
Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls (Photo by David Banks-USA TODAY Sports) /

3. They finally figured out their point guard problem

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: the last time the Chicago Bulls had a point guard with a higher box plus/minus than Lonzo Ball was in 2013, a time when Jimmy Butler was still a bench player, Carlos Boozer was Chicago’s leading scorer and Nate Robinson was in the Bulls’ starting lineup. In the nine years that have followed, the Bulls have desperately attempted to find a player who could fill the tremendous hole in our hearts left by the departure of Rose.

For the first time in those nine years, we may have finally found that player. Ball was an essential part of what made this Bulls squad so special before succumbing to a torn meniscus just 35 games into the season. He proved to be a deadly floor spacer for Chicago, hitting a career-best 42.3% of his three-pointers while jacking them up on a high volume of 7.4 attempts per game. This mark was good for fifth best in the NBA and the best among all players who averaged seven or more attempts from beyond the arc.

Ball’s exceptional ability as a spot-up shooter and playmaker helped make games much easier for DeRozan and LaVine. The Bulls were 22-13 in games Ball played, good for a 51.5 win pace — that’s 5.5 games better than they would go on to actually finish.

Had the Bulls won more than 51 games, they would’ve locked up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and gotten the opportunity to make a deeper playoff push against a depleted Brooklyn Nets team. If that happens, it’s likely many fans would feel much differently about the team’s future outlook.

With all that being said, it’s not fair to place the credit for Chicago’s success entirely at Lonzo’s feet. In fact, he had quite an impressive supporting cast behind him this year. Alex Caruso stepped up in a big way, providing DPOY-caliber defense while also being a much-needed player-coach for the youth on this team. Caruso’s energy and high basketball IQ clearly rubbed off on the others, namely rookie Ayo Dosunmu.

Speaking of Dosunmu, the second-round draft pick made a massive impression and was essential in keeping the Bulls afloat in the midst of an injury-ridden season. Ayo should certainly be named to an All-Rookie Team for his efforts this year and has been just what the team needed. Fans have even rallied around the homegrown Chicago product in a way we haven’t seen since Rose himself.

Best of all, this core group of guards should be sticking around for a while. Ball and Caruso are contracted for each of the next three seasons through 2025 (with a player option on Ball’s final season), while Dosunmu is under team control next season and will soon be due to sign an extension. While he’ll be unrestricted and is free to sign with whoever he wants, he should have every incentive to stay in Chicago where he’s valued. That fact won’t be lost on the front office.

Despite being invaluable sources of perimeter defense, shooting, and playmaking, these three players will only be making a combined $30 million in 2022-23.  Their great play has opened up a genuine window of contention for the Bulls. The only thing holding them back at this point is their ability to stay on the court.