Bulls report card: Player grades for 2020-21 NBA season


The Bulls' season ended in disappointment, but the team saw multiple players post career campaigns. Here's a breakdown of where each guy on the roster stands at the end of 2020-21.Grades relative to expectation and role:

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Stats: 58 G, 35.1 mpg

27.4 ppg (7th in NBA), 5.0 rpg, 4.9 apg
50.7% FG, 41.9% 3P, 84.9% FT

Summary: There are plenty of superlatives to describe Zach LaVine’s seventh season. But how about “historic?” Averages of 27-5-5 on 50-40-85 shooting splits have only been achieved by two players in NBA history — Larry Bird (three times) and Steph Curry  — and LaVine finished decimal points away from getting there. He brought his scoring efficiency into another stratosphere in 2020-21 and made enough improvements as a defender, playmaker and otherworldly shot creator to convince management to invest in him long-term. Entering the year, the latter was far from a foregone conclusion.

Though an 11-game absence after a positive COVID-19 test — and the Bulls’ lackluster play after the trade deadline — dulls the shine on his season a tad, there’s a reason LaVine got over the All-Star hump this season. Before that missed time, he was on pace to appear on plenty of All-NBA ballots as well. Those point, rebound and assist averages, and field goal and 3-point percentages, all represent career-bests. In just 58 games, he finished sixth in the NBA with 25 30-point games.

Offseason Question: So… About that extension?

LaVine’s contract becomes extension eligible this offseason, but without freeing and using cap space to renegotiate his deal, the most the Bulls can offer on top of his remaining one-year, $19.5 million amounts to a woefully-below-market-value four years, (roughly) $105 million.

Might the front office move proactively to invest in LaVine this summer? Or address other concern areas for now and look to re-sign him at a number closer to his worth next offseason, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent? It will be a fascinating subplot to follow given the organization's investment in him, and LaVine’s thoughts on eventual extension talks are clear.

Grade: A


Stats (Bulls): 26 G, 32.6 mpg

21.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.9 apg
47.1% FG, 38.8% 3P, 87% FT

Summary: Uncharacteristic shooting slump to close the season (16-for-55 from the field in his last three games) aside, Vučević was remarkably steady for the Bulls. In 18 of 26 games, he notched double-doubles, and in 16, cleared 20 points. His post-ups were double-team magnets, which led to opportunities for his teammates that he routinely exploited with his passing (Vučević ended the season first in the NBA in post-up assists), and his season-long 3-point percentage ended at 40 on the nose (6.3 attempts) — the highest mark of his career and a six-point improvement from 2019-20. Provided that sustains, he and LaVine still project as an extremely potent offensive pairing heading into next season.

Defensively, his inflexibility showed at times and the Bulls allowed an unimpressive 113.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, but his rebounding and generally solid positional awareness can make him viable on that end provided a more balanced roster next season.

Offseason Question: How should the Bulls play with Vučević?

Billy Donovan made an interesting point in his end-of-season exit interview: "This was a trade where immediately a guy comes in here and now [Vučević is] unequivocally 1A or 1B. Right away. Those things don't normally happen in the NBA... I think if you go around and look at a lot of trades, how many of those kind of trades, where a trade was made where a guy immediately elevated and was so good that you had to totally take advantage of his skill set? And doing that it obviously impacted a lot of other guys on the team. And I gotta look at that personally, just being honest, was that the right thing to do?"

That quote comes in the context of Donovan reflecting on if he handled Vučević's transition correctly from a schematic standpoint. After the deadline, the Bulls transformed on the fly from one of the lightest post-up teams in the NBA to the most post-up dominant team in the league by a wide margin. Such a shift theoretically catered to the frontcourt-heavy Bulls' strengths, and playing through Vučević helped them marginally cut their turnovers, but the holistic results didn't match expectations. The Bulls' offensive rating held nearly level from 110.6 (18th in NBA) pre-deadline to 110.0 (22nd) post-deadline.

Now, there was shooting regression involved, and their offensive rating tanked to 106.9 (26th) in the 11 games LaVine missed due to COVID-19. Perhaps things look differently if the latter doesn't happen. But Donovan consistently preached playing with pace at the beginning of the season, when the offense came its closest to consistently flourishing. With a full offseason to dive into this season's successes and failures, it will be interesting to see what type of gameplan the Bulls construct around their two All-Stars.

Grade: A-


Stats: 69 G, 31.2 mpg

15.1 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.1 rpg
41.6% FG, 35.9% 3P, 90.1% FT

Summary: White’s point guard education certainly had its rocky moments. After 36 starts, Billy Donovan pulled him (and the since-traded Wendell Carter Jr.) from the starting lineup amid concerns related to his defense, ball security and inconsistent shooting.

But White was ready when opportunity next knocked. He stepped back into the starting point guard role when LaVine tested positive, and averaged 17.9 points and 5.9 assists (2.4 turnovers) in his last 18 contests. Beyond the numbers, White found a sustainable role hunting catch-and-shoot 3s and closeout-attack opportunities playing off of Vučević, and in turn showed improvements in his decision-making. That makes this late-season spurt a bit more meaningful than the one that capped his rookie year, which was spurred mostly by scorching-hot jumpshooting.

Offseason Question: Where does he fit moving forward?

White’s scoring prowess and resilience — both within games and over the course of a season — are laudable and should make him an important piece moving forward. The question is: Where? 

Addressing the point guard position has been a reported priority of the front office since last offseason. Is White destiny that of a super sixth man? Something more? Management’s maneuvering this summer will offer a window into their evaluation of the 21-year-old after his second season — another one that was largely tumultuous but ended on a high note.

Grade: B


Stats: 71 G, 27.9 mpg

9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
48.3% FG, 39.1% 3P, 72.8% FT

Summary: Williams started every contest in which he appeared and got valuable experience guarding premier scoring options of every stripe, from *deep breath* Giannis Antetokounmpo to LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard to Devin Booker to Zion Williamson and many more. On low volume, he proved a solid spot-up shooter. His physical tools as a slasher and defender translate to the professional level, even if he’s still learning how to properly use them.

As the second-youngest player in the league and grappling with unprecedented circumstances during his rookie season, Williams showed enough promise to believe. But — as Donovan, his teammates and Williams himself opined throughout the season — he must unlock a more aggressive mentality offensively. Williams ended the season seventh among current Bulls in shot attempts per game (7.4) and his scoring dipped every month from February to April before a modest tick up in nine May contests. While he teased ability to push in transition, pull up from the midrange and handle in pick-and-roll, if there was a statistic that tracked bypassed open 3-point attempts or hesitant closeout attacks, he'd rate near the bottom of the league.

This is all part of the process for a player who's never been a primary scoring option learning to read the game from that lens. The flashes are there (see most recently: his career-high 24 points against the Nets in the second-to-last game of the season), but need to sustain for him to reach what most agree is a lofty ceiling.

"The things that we think Pat does is incredible, and he doesn't know that he's doing incredible stuff out there," Thad Young recently said. "When he gets that killer mindset in him, it's gonna be trouble for a lot of people."

That about sums it up.

Offseason Question: What will a full offseason unlock?

It’s no secret the Bulls are banking on a leap from Williams in the near future. They’re likely without a first-round draft choice this season and in 2023, and remain relatively thin on the wing, centering the 19-year-old as a core piece alongside LaVine and Vučević. 

The Bulls are no doubt pleased with the experiences Williams got this season, the feel and maturity he plays with, and his team-first mentality. With a full offseason, structured regimen and Summer League ahead, how he responds heading into next year will be telling.

Grade: B-

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