With LeBron James‘s Eastern Conference reign coming to a close, the opportunity has never been better for the Chicago Bulls to send a player to the All-Star game. Last year was the Bulls’ first season without an All-Star since Derrick Rose‘s rookie season in 2008. With a young, offensive-minded lineup the Bulls might have three potential All-Stars in Charlotte this February.
The NBA All-Star game entails little to no defense, as the fans love seeing All-Stars light up the scoreboard. This could open the door for players like Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine to become first-time All-Stars. (LaVine has participated in All-Star weekend but has never made an All-Star roster). However, after a great rookie season and some offseason improvements, don’t be surprised to see Lauri Markkanen make a run for an All-Star game appearance after participating in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge as a rookie. While it might be unlikely, we’ll keep our eyes peeled to see if the city of Chicago is able to amass enough votes to send one of these three players to the All-Star game in 2019.
Zach LaVine is certainly looking to prove something in his second season with the Bulls after signing a questionable contract to stay in Chicago long term. The 22 year old played just 24 games last season as he and the Bulls medical staff wanted to ensure he was healthy after tearing his ACL back in February of 2017. Although he did play in over a quarter of the games, he was put on a minutes restriction for most of them. LaVine still managed to average a team-leading 16.7 points per game despite those limited minutes.
No one questions LaVine when it comes to his work ethic. He makes it a point to let all his fans (and even the haters or the trolls) know that he is doing everything he can to improve his game during the off-season. Sled pushes, explosive vertical workouts, and dropping 50 points in the Crawsover Pro-Am League shows no doubt he wants to get better.
The competition will be tough for Zach LaVine in the Eastern Conference with guards like Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, and Victor Oladipo at the top of the ballots. Although there are numerous talented guards in the East, DeMar DeRozan‘s send off to San Antonio leaves a potential spot open for LaVine. While it may seem crazy to say Zach LaVine could be an All-Star, I’m sure no one could have predicted Goran Dragic to make an appearance last year averaging 17.3 points per game at 31 years old. It was just a year prior to that when LaVine averaged 18.9 points per game with the Timberwolves. A healthy LaVine with a chip on his shoulder could surprise everyone come February.
You’re probably familiar with the narrative of Chicago natives coming to the Bulls in hopes of bringing a championship to their hometown, right? There was Derrick Rose and then Dwyane Wade, and now Jabari Parker. Jabari perhaps has more to prove than LaVine as he’s on a very expensive two-year, $40 million contract with a team option for the Bulls should his season go south. His time with the Bulls and future as an NBA player is heavily dependent on his production this season as he is coming off his second torn ACL.
Like LaVine, Parker tore his ACL in February of 2017 and returned late last season playing just 31 games. Parker mirrored LaVine with a minutes restriction of his own, averaging just 24 minutes and putting up 12.6 points per game. It’s no secret he struggles with his defense, but we all know that defense isn’t a common trend in NBA All-Star games. Although he had a rough second half of the season last year, with more minutes and an emergence from Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s shadow, Parker may be able to score like he did in his 2016-17 season when he put up 20 points per game. With the Bulls starting lineup filled with shooters, the floor will be spread for Parker to do what he does best and attack the rim. His 3-point percentage has also been on a steady incline every year since he entered the league.
As probably the most experienced Bulls starter, Parker may shock a lot of people as he looks to take a leadership role for the first time in his NBA career. It will be interesting to see how the Chicago native will respond to the high expectations that come with returning to your hometown. Will he turn the added pressure of being a city kid into positive motivation? I think all Bulls fans are anxiously waiting to find out.
Lauri Markkanen has the least amount of pressure on him out of these three players. He has already proven himself as a consistent shooter and competent rebounder. The big question for Markkanen is how many touches and opportunities he will get to produce with players like Parker and LaVine playing alongside him. Parker and LaVine love to have the ball in their hands and create their own shots. Will this impact Markkanen’s potential All-Star development?
We all know the Finnish kid had a great rookie season, averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Mind you he did this in under 30 minutes per game. He managed to become the fastest NBA player ever to make 100 three-pointers. Everyone saw his potential during the season, and it carried over into the summer.
Markkanen played with the Finland’s national team in the FIBA World Cup. He dominated, averaging close to 20 points per game while making multiple highlight reels with his flashy and acrobatic dunks. Markkanen is active on social media and is always showing his progress, especially in his physique. “I’ve put on about 14 pounds. In general, I feel stronger. Hopefully, I can keep this weight up and play with it because I feel it will help my game,” Markkanen told the Chicago Tribune back in early August. Some rookies coming off a season like Markkanen’s may be satisfied with the work they put in, but Lauri Legend surely doesn’t feel that way.
— Lauri Markkanen (@MarkkanenLauri) June 20, 2018
I really hope Markkanen can not only coexist with Parker and LaVine, but find a way to improve and expand his game on the offensive end. It may be on Fred Hoiberg to bump up Markkanen’s minutes or adjust the rotation if he feels the sophomore isn’t getting his fair share. I know it’s only his second year, but I think if Markkanen gets enough time and touches, he has the best shot among this young Bulls core at becoming an All-Star this 2018-19 season.
Which Bulls player will come up consistently clutch this season?
Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys pick up where they left off on yesterday’s episode talking about what the fourth quarter of games might look like. Jordan and Matt dive into clutch time statistics, what they mean, how they are important, and where the young Bulls core ended up last season. The second half of the show the guys kick off their newest segment of “Most Iconic Moments in Bulls History” with 32 different storylines that have defined the Chicago Bulls. The guys start with Michael Jordan’s “I’m Back” fax vs. Derrick Rose’s press conference asking “Why Can’t I Be MVP?”. The guys discuss the importance of both and ultimately which one moves on. Vote for either on Twitter (@LockedOnBulls) and join the discussion at (331)-979-1369.
Bulls Voicemail: Who are you relying on to take the clutch shot?
Locked On Bulls is back with their weekly Bulls mailbag show, the guys kick off the episode with a voicemail about comparing Lauri Markkanen to Rasheed Wallace. The guys compare both players, why Matt and Jordan don’t necessarily see a connection and ultimately what Markkanen should be working on this season. Second voicemail is in response to an early question asking how Fred Hoiberg can get back into the good graces with Bulls fans who don’t believe in him. Third voicemail is a call about not necessarily needing to sign a top-tier free agent in 2019 in order to compete. Last voicemail of the show asks who we would like to see take the last shot in close games this season. Matt and Jordan dive into some clutch time statistics from last year to try and make a case for any of the five Bulls core players. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.
Three Factors That Will Determine Bulls Playoff Chances
The Chicago Bulls won 27 games last season making it their lowest winning season since 2004. The Bulls were 26th in the NBA in points per game and 27th in points allowed per game. They were also 29th in the league in total point differential at -577 points. Although the Bulls had their worst season of the decade, the new and young additions to the roster may induce a playoff berth in a struggling Eastern Conference.
When deciding whether or not the Bulls are a playoff team, these questions come to mind:
- Can an injury-prone starting lineup remain healthy?
- Will Jabari Parker finally become the elite player he got drafted to be?
- Are other teams in the East too good?
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room, this Bulls starting lineup has a long history of significant injuries. Whether they can remain healthy is a question that could make or break their playoff chances. The two biggest concerns for the Bulls regarding health is Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine. Parker and LaVine have a combined three ACL tears in the past two years. We know from previous years with Derrick Rose that it is difficult to stay healthy and yield the same production after an injury like Parker and LaVine suffered. But it wasn’t just Parker and LaVine who were recovering from injuries throughout last season.
Kris Dunn missed 11 games due to a concussion after a hard fall in January. He missed a few more games due to minor injuries like a dislocated finger, patella tendinitis, and a big toe sprain.
Bulls sophomore Lauri Markkanen missed a total of 14 games last season dealing with some minor injuries. Markkanen’s “back stiffness” was the main reason for most of his missed games. You could argue that some of Markkanen’s “rest days” came at the end of the season when the Bulls were trying to get a better draft pick.
Health is perhaps the biggest factor in whether the Bulls can make the playoffs. A healthy Bulls team can be a productive one with this young and talented lineup. No player necessarily needs to be a star if the team is healthy. Each player in the starting lineup is capable of scoring 15 per game with ease. If they all remain healthy, it’s not hard to see them as the 8th seed in the East.
After the Bulls offered Parker a questionable $20 million deal, expectations have never been higher for the Simeon legend. Many Bulls fans are wondering if Parker can be the scoring threat he once was with the Bucks. As much as I hate being reminded of it, I can’t help but think of Rose’s struggles on the floor after his ACL tear.
It’s not just about whether Parker can remain healthy. Can he still show the explosiveness and athleticism he had prior to the injuries? Driving to the rim and creating his own shots off the dribble are substantial elements of Jabari’s game. If that is taken away from him due to his injuries, we may not see the player the Bulls paid for.
The East has been the significantly weaker conference over the past several seasons. It’s for this reason the Bulls’ chances of making a playoff appearance are a lot greater than they would be if they were in the West. There were a total of five teams under 30 wins in the East last year and every team that didn’t make the playoffs was under .500. There were only four teams in the East that had 50 or more wins. One of those teams was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, the Cavs will struggle to reach the playoffs this season without LeBron James.
The Bull could pull off a mediocre 42-win season and still manage to make the playoffs. Not many teams in the East improved their roster quite like the Bulls. They drafted what looks to be one of the more talented and NBA-ready rookies in the league in Wendell Carter Jr., signed a proven scorer in Parker, and continue to develop young and talented players like Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis.
The Bulls are one of the most improved teams in the NBA if they can remain healthy and Parker can live up to everyone’s expectations. They have scorers all over their starting lineup and players like Portis and Antonio Blakeney wanting to prove themselves off the bench. Whether you want the Bulls to make the playoffs or not, there is no doubt they will be a fun team to watch come October.