Bulls vs. Raptors Play-In Preview: Which team is better on paper?

Fred VanVleet, Patrick Beverley, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet, Patrick Beverley, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
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Securing the 10th seed and officially earning the last spot in the 2023 NBA play-in tournament, the Chicago Bulls have quite the rocky road laying ahead if they wish to move on and witness the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Before they start thinking of the playoffs, however, they’ll first need to commit their full attention to the Toronto Raptors.

After losing the season series against the Raptors 1-2, expect Chicago to come out firing to get revenge and hopefully earn a spot in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Considering DeMar DeRozan has already taken to posting images from the Godfather on his Instagram, it seems he and the rest of this team fully understand what must be done tomorrow.

As we all know, the regular season is merely a testing ground for the real postseason action. With that in mind, how do the Bulls truly stack up against the Raptors ahead of their duel in the play-in tournament?

Bulls vs. Raptors Play-In Preview: Who has the stronger backcourt?

Since the All-Star Break, no player on either of these teams has even been in the same stratosphere as Zach LaVine. In the month of March, he averaged 28.4 points per game while shooting 53% from the field and 43.6% from beyond the arc. If LaVine doesn’t come ready to play in possibly the biggest game of his career, the Bulls will almost certainly lose. But if he does and gets hot early, this Bulls team is capable of beating anyone.

Star Power: Bulls

Chicago and Toronto are unique cases in that the majority of their playmaking doesn’t actually come from the backcourt. Of the Raptors’ four leading passers in assists per game, only one is a guard. Likewise, Chicago’s first and fourth-place leaders in assists per game play in the frontcourt. The Bulls and Raptors rank 20th and 23rd in the NBA in assists, respectively, so I don’t think this will be a massive difference-maker here — but if I had to pick one I’d go with Toronto, as Fred VanVleet’s 7.2 assists per game are by far the highest mark of any player on these two rosters.

Playmaking: Raptors

Although the Bulls have the most talented backcourt scoring threat of either team in Zach LaVine, he does all the heavy lifting on offense for Chicago’s guards. Toronto can’t match LaVine outright, but Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr. are all significantly better than the Bulls’ options at point guard. Finding a way to stagger Zach’s minutes with Coby White will be crucial if the Bulls wish to keep things close without completely hemorrhaging the defense.

Scoring: Raptors

VanVleet and Anunoby are as stout as a defensive duo as you can ask for, and they certainly won’t make things easy for Chicago on the offensive end. However, things will quickly fall off when they come off the court. Toronto could simply play them in excess of 40 minutes (as Nick Nurse has been known to do in the past), but even then, it’s difficult envisioning them maintaining the same defensive intensity throughout the whole game without rest.

Meanwhile, Alex Caruso is in the midst of an All-Defensive First Team caliber season while eclipsing every DPOY candidate in several key categories. He’s first in steal percentage, second in defensive box/plus minus, and is loved by the advanced analytics. Rotating Caruso with similarly effective defenders in Patrick Beverley and Ayo Dosunmu will help keep their legs fresh and should make them a net positive in the end with LaVine also playing his best defense we’ve ever seen from him in a Bulls uniform as of late.

Defense: Draw

As mentioned above, the Bulls are simply a far deeper team at the guard positions compared to Toronto. Coby can match Trent Jr.’s offensive output, and nobody else on the Raptors’ bench is likely to see heavy minutes. The Bulls have five guards they can count on in key moments, so this tips the scales in their favor.

Depth: Bulls

It’s closer than it may look at first glance, but I’m confident Chicago’s guards will outplay Toronto’s backcourt cast in tomorrow’s game. At least, the Bulls will need them to do so, if they wish to have a real chance at advancing to the playoffs.

Overall: Bulls