Bulls Insider

Revisiting predictions for 2023-24 Bulls season

With second straight play-in appearance likely, a look back at preseason hits and misses

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

On Oct. 24, 2023, six predictions for the Chicago Bulls season landed on the NBC Sports Chicago website.

The caveat then---and now---was that it's hard to make bold preseason predictions about a team that returned 12 of 14 players and finished almost dead level at 40-42. So the six predictions were of the practical, not bold, variety.

How did we do? You be the judge.

The Bulls will finish 43-39 and make the playoffs

This landed under another caveat---the needed quality of good health. That, of course, eluded the Bulls, as it does many teams. However, the Bulls again experienced a severe spate with season-ending surgeries for Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams and the continued season-long absence of Lonzo Ball.

The premise for the prediction came true: The Bulls had stumbled from 25 clutch victories in 2021-22 to 15 clutch victories last season. A rebound seemed in order.

And indeed, the Bulls, with six games to play, have played the most clutch minutes in the NBA and rank second only to the Nuggets with 25 clutch victories.

The Bulls are likely going to finish with 38 to 40 victories and have clinched a berth in the play-in tournament, where they will need two straight victories to make the latter part of this prediction true. Stay tuned.

Zach LaVine will join the vaunted 50/40/90 shooting club

This didn't age well.

This is rare company indeed. Only eight players have achieved these vaunted numbers, shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

They are Larry Bird (twice), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash (four times), Kevin Durant (twice), Stephen Curry, Malcolm Brogdon and Kyrie Irving.

LaVine enjoyed a dominant preseason in which he looked athletic and explosive and talked about how good his body felt. Coach Billy Donovan talked about wanting to put LaVine in more catch-and-shoot situations.

Everything lined up---until it didn't.

LaVine and the Bulls stumbled to a 5-14 start, with LaVine struggling to finish at the rim and shooting below his career percentages. When he finally succumbed to season-ending foot surgery with just 25 games, his final numbers stood at 45.2 percent shooting, including 34.9 percent from 3-point range, and 85.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Coby White will keep his starting point guard spot

Again, these predictions were of the practical, not bold, variety. Still, White's role fluctuated greatly through his first four seasons. So this represented a jump.

Nobody, not even White, could've predicted how much.

Not only has White kept his stranglehold on the position, he'll likely be a finalist for Most Improved Player honors. White is averaging career-highs pretty much across the board.

More important, he's fourth in the NBA in total minutes, has grown as a playmaker and defender and emerged as a vocal leader and foundational piece for the franchise.

The Bulls will have a top-10 defense and top-15 offense

Get me rewrite.

As of Wednesday, the Bulls ranked 19th in offense and 20th in defense.

The defense has dropped from last season's top-five finish despite the additions of defensive-minded free agents in Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter. Craig has battled injuries and has played well when fully healthy, but his current playing time is impacted by their lingering effect. Carter has never landed a consistent role.

The injury to Williams has hurt the Bulls defensively, too. But the biggest culprit has been the Bulls' 3-point defense; they've ranked 29th or 30th in opponent 3-point makes and attempts all season.

Offensively, for all the talk about changing their shot profile, the Bulls currently rank 25th in 3-point makes and 26th in 3-point attempts. Obviously, losing LaVine and Williams hurts here. As does the lesser-than-expected impact of the Craig and Carter additions.

But still, given this team has offensive-minded players in DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, it should be better offensively. And it's not for the second straight season.

Alex Caruso will repeat as an All-Defense first-team member

As long as the floorburned favorite plays at least 20 minutes in three of the final six games to hit the 65-game threshold to be eligible for this award, it's a lock.

If anything, Caruso has been even better this season than last. He's averaging a career-high 1 block per game to go with his 1.6 steals, which currently ranks fourth in the NBA. He leads the league in deflections per game and is second in total deflections.

Look for Caruso to draw some Defensive Player of the Year votes too.

The Bulls won’t make any major trades at the February deadline

Every once in awhile . . .

This accurate call was helped by LaVine's injury and cool market since both sides were open to a new address. Still, management again didn't trade Caruso and didn't even entertain trading DeRozan, who they now will look to re-sign before he hits unrestricted free agency.

On the day of another inactive trade deadline in February, DeRozan certainly looked and talked like someone who knows he'll be back with the Bulls. His extension is likely the next major news story---but that's a prediction for another day.

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