Just one offseason removed from their best season in over half a decade, the Chicago Bulls still can’t seem to avoid catching strays from the media and big network analysts. This time, ESPN once again takes a shot at Chicago by projecting the Bulls to be among the Eastern bottom-feeders in the upcoming 2022-23 campaign.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently attempted to project what we might expect from every team in the NBA if we account for injury history, illness, and general year-to-year inconsistencies. It’s an admirable cause to be sure, but these rankings quickly lose their luster once you see just how laughably terrible they are.
Case in point: Pelton has the Bulls dropping to 38-44 after just achieving a 46-36 record last year.
This projection feels particularly jarring considering the fact that the Bulls seem to have slightly improved on paper and would have a hard time experiencing more trouble with injuries and COVID than they did last season. By all accounts, the Chicago Bulls look primed to improve and push for a 50-win season. And yet, Pelton’s rankings have them finishing in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, just barely treading water over blatantly tanking teams like the Pacers, Magic, and Pistons.
ESPN’s onslaught of criticism continues, as they have the Chicago Bulls projected to be an Eastern Conference bottom feeder in 2022-23.
Here’s what Pelton had to say to justify his pitiful ranking for the Bulls next season.
"Despite starting 2021-22 atop the East at 26-10 before a second-half slide, Chicago is projected to finish worse than .500 this season. That stems in large part from the Bulls’ minus-0.4 point differential, which would typically translate to 40 wins instead of the 46 games Chicago actually won. The Bulls were even worse in Lonzo Ball’s absence, performing 1.5 points lower than average after accounting for opponent and location. With Ball’s return from knee surgery uncertain (he is penciled in for 875 minutes), Chicago might need more late-game heroics from DeMar DeRozan to get on the right side of .500."
Looking at the numbers, it’s fair to say that the Bulls may have won a few more games than they should have simply due to DeRozan’s late-game heroics. After all, DeMar did lead the NBA in 4th quarter points last season and was consistently dependable down the stretch.
Still, even if ESPN expects DeRozan to take things down a notch next season, attributing a dramatic 8-game drop to a team that faced the most setbacks in the conference last season and made moves to be better on paper next year feels like sensational journalism.
It’s not like moving forward without Lonzo Ball will even be uncharted territory for this team, as Chicago was still on a 42-win pace with their starting point guard just last season. Even if you think their peers in Toronto, Cleveland, and Atlanta have surpassed the Bulls, I still fail to see any argument based in reality where the Hornets, Wizards, and Knicks should be favored over Chicago.
As Pelton admits himself, the Bulls just outperformed this terrible metric by six wins last season. If the Bulls can avoid the injury bug, it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to see them do it all over again. In fact, I think it’s far more likely the Bulls win 50 games next season than 38. But what do I know? I haven’t even built a laughably skewed model to fit my own biases as a Bulls fan. Let’s take a rain check on that one for now.