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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Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

2. Their biggest weaknesses are interior defense and rebounding

Nikola Vucevic’s individual performance this year was auspicious at times, mediocre quite often, and downright horrible more often than most fans would be comfortable with. That being said, Vucevic’s struggles this season might still be more indicative of a failure in roster construction rather than his own shortcomings.

To put things plainly, it’s going to be difficult for any team to be a genuine championship contender when their interior presence on both ends of the court is virtually non-existent. As the third option on offense, Vucevic was tasked with being primarily a perimeter threat in the same vein as championship players such as Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, and Brook Lopez before him.

Unfortunately, Vucevic greatly struggled to hit his shots this year despite generating by far the most open looks in the league this season, seeing 7.8 field goal attempts per night with no defender within six feet. The second-most wide-open player this year was Al Horford, who only saw 4.8 open looks per night. This sounds like great news until you see that Vucevic only hit 32.4% of these shots (for comparison’s sake, Horford hit 43.5%).

His shooting percentages were just absolutely abysmal. When the Bulls’ interior presence was equally miserable, it’s hard not to think about what could have happened had Vucevic been tasked to play primarily as a low-post powerhouse.

With Vucevic repeatedly pulled out of the paint, the undersized Bulls took a beating down low. Chicago allowed 49.6 points in the paint while only generating 4.1 blocks per game, with these numbers ranking 22nd and 25th in the NBA, respectively. Perhaps even more indicative of major flaws in the system, the Bulls ranked 28th in rebounds and 29th in offensive rebounds.

Because of this, other teams were able to take advantage of Chicago with ease. When the Bulls did manage to get a stop, they’d often fail to secure the rebound, which helps explain why the Bulls allowed opponents to shoot a ridiculous 47.4% from the field — the highest of any playoff team. No matter how well the offense is playing, Chicago is going to struggle to win games if the defense cannot get successful stops when it matters most.

The Bulls also only managed to reel in 8.7 offensive rebounds per game, which helps explain why they ranked dead last of all 16 teams in the playoffs in second-chance points as well as points in the paint (by quite a wide margin, at that). Meanwhile, teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors dominated the offensive boards and worked to win games over their arguably more talented opponents because of this.

If Chicago is meant to be taken seriously as a championship contender, they will need one of these two things:

  1. A legitimate top-10 player in the NBA
  2. A well-rounded team that can out-rebound, out-shoot, and commit fewer turnovers than their opponents.

Considering the second route is far easier to control and less dependent on pure luck in the draft — and the fact that neither DeRozan nor LaVine could possibly be considered top 10 players — this route should be where the front office has their attention focused. The Bulls are already a great shooting and passing team — all they’re missing now is a few roster additions to bolster the team’s interior defense and rebounding.

With free agency looming, the pressure will be on Karnisovas’ to make these necessary changes happen.