It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch


It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

And here you thought the Bulls wouldn't be competing for anything down the stretch. Yes, the Bulls will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons, and the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild is off and running with a Lottery selection (and potentially two) on the horizon.

And now the race for the top spot in the NBA Draft Lottery is on, with 23 to 27 games left in the regular season and a whopping seven teams within 1.5 games of each other for the worst record in the league. The Bulls are currently sitting 8th in the reverse standings at 20-37, 3.0 games behind the league-worst Suns and Hawks. And in what's largely considered a seven-man draft, Fred Hoiberg and the boys have some work to do to improve their chances of moving into the top-5 or top-3 of the draft.

Yes, the Bulls were sellers at the deadline, dealing leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. And they lost eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star Break while promising extended minutes for players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio and even Cameron Payne. All those signs point to a franchise with a full and clear understanding that losses right now mean much bigger wins in June. But it's not as easy as it sounds. The Bulls aren't the only team looking to secure losses, and those other teams may have easier paths of doing so. Here's why.

For starters, not all these clumped-together records were built equally. Yes, the wins and losses all count the same at the end of the day, but if we're projecting how each team may finish the Bulls are certainly poised to play better than the teams around them. In fact, the Bulls are still playing .500 basketball (17-17) since their infamous 3-20 start. Unsurprisingly all seven teams ahead of the Bulls have worse records, as do the New York Knicks (11-24 since Dec. 8), who are just two games behind the Bulls, have lost eight straight and are without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL). Remember, there are teams chasing the Bulls, too.

The Bulls have a seven-game win streak to their name and won 10 games in December; of the teams with worse records than the Bulls, only the Mavericks have a seven-win month this season.

And let's remember, too, the Bulls have gone 17-17 while missing Zach LaVine in 20 of those, Kris Dunn in 11 others and Lauri Markkanen in three. Those three are all healthy now (LaVine likely won't play in back-to-backs, but the Bulls have just three of those sets left) and while they have an ugly -18.8 net rating in four games, the Bulls are 2-2 with all three on the floor and have losses against the top-seeded Raptors and defending champion Warriors. It's safe to assume Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will all benefit and improve from playing with one another. And while Nikola Mirotic was a large part of the Bulls' success (they went 14-11 with him in the lineup), the trade has opened up more minutes for Bobby Portis, who's quietly averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since the Mirotic trade. No, Portis isn't Mirotic, but the dropoff isn't all that significant, especially when considering the defensive end.

What's this all mean? That the Bulls have the best top-end talent of any team in these tank standings, and arguably the most talented overall roster. It sounds laughable, but we're not comparing them to the Rockets and Celtics. Perhaps Orlando's core of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (when healthy) comes close, but the Magic also just sold their starting point guard Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar. They're clearly in tank mode, and the rest of that roster is a nightmare. Dallas has some nice pieces, but also plenty of shutdown candidates as the season nears its end.

And that's another angle to this. The Bulls really don't have any players who may rest late in the season. Then again, phantom injuries could arise and LaVine might sit down the stretch for precautionary purposes. But Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, the team's elder statesmen at 29 and 28, respectively, aren't exactly tipping the scale between wins and losses. As long as LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Portis and Denzel Valentine are seeing 28+ minutes, the Bulls are going to be in good position. Teams like Atlanta and Sacramento are already resting veterans, and Memphis could do the same with Marc Gasol if the Lottery balls depend on it. It's a good thing the Bulls don't have this luxury, as they're leaning on their young talent, but it also means the team isn't going to get much worse.

The biggest hurdle for the Bulls, however, is going to be their remaining schedule. Marvin Bagley fans might want to stop reading. Only four teams in the NBA will face an easier remaining schedule than the Bulls, and none are ahead of them in the race for the top pick. The 76ers, Hornets, Warriors and Heat have easier schedules, and then it's the Bulls, with a remaining SOS of .474. Here's how that compares to the seven teams the Bulls are looking up at in the tank standings:

So the Bulls have an easier schedule than any team in front of them, and the Knicks. And looking at the Bulls' remaining schedule (far right column), it's clear that the three games against the Nets (which includes what should be a fun home-and-home in the season's final week) and two games against the Grizzlies will loom large. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bulls picked up random victories over teams like Boston (March 5), Cleveland (March 17), Milwaukee (March 23) or Houston (March 27). They have a way of playing up to their opponents (see: Minnesota).

When it comes to discussing the league's worst teams, the Bulls might simply be too good. And their schedule might simply be too bad. That's certainly a good problem to have when considering the franchise's rebuild has gone quicker than most expected, even if it means fewer chances to secure a top-3 pick. Then again, the Bulls did fine selecting 7th overall last season in grabbing Markkanen, so perhaps a top-5 pick isn't necessary. It might not even be an option.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Would Jordan's Bulls have won 8 straight titles?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Would Jordan's Bulls have won 8 straight titles?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Vincent Goodwill look past the Bulls loss to the Knicks and debate if free agents Isaiah Thomas or Jabari Parker be a good fit on the Bulls. Plus why Fred Hoiberg is in the midst of his best coaching in his Bulls tenure. Kendall also explains why he’s not convinced that Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine can coexist on the court together. And is Collin Sexton the right or wrong player for the team come draft time? Plus the debate between KG and Vincent on IF the Bulls would have won 8 straight titles had Jordan not retired.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Bulls make history for 3-point futility in loss to Knicks


Bulls make history for 3-point futility in loss to Knicks

It was a bad night for the Bulls from beyond the arc. That's putting it lightly, seeing as it was perhaps their worst 3-point performance under Hoiberg and, for volume's sake, one of the worst in NBA history.

Let's try to break it down with the numbers, beginning with the raw ones: The Bulls shot 3 of 30 (10%) from 3-point range in their 110-92 loss to the Knicks. Those three makes all came from bench players (Bobby Portis, Noah Vonleh, Antonio Blakeney). Their starters were an incredible 0-for-19 from beyond the arc. The reserves looked like the Rockets in comparison, going a blistering 3-for-11.

The Bulls began the game missing their first eight 3-point attempts in the first quarter, then another to begin the second quarter. Vonleh broke the skid with a triple, making the Bulls 1-for-10. The Bulls missed their next two triples before Portis splashed home his only deep make of the night. The Bulls were then 2-for-13. They finished the second quarter 2-for-12, and the first half 2-for-20.

They somehow managed to attempt just two 3-pointers in the third quarter, both misses. Then they missed their first two attempts of the fourth quarter before Blakeney's triple with 8:00 left in the fourth quarter. It'd be the last triple the Bulls made - they missed their final five attempts.

OK, got that all? It wasn't pretty. Here's how not pretty it was, dating back to 1983-84 (major shoutout to Basketball Reference for having these stats available):

-- Prior to tonight, only three teams in NBA history had attempted 30 or more 3-pointers and made less than 10 percent of them. The Bulls are now the fourth.

1. 2016 Rockets: 3 of 35 (8.6%)
2. 2017 Nets: 3 of 33 (9.1%)
3. 2018 Suns: 3 of 32 (9.4%)
4. 2018 Bulls: 3 of 30 (10.0%)

-- The 10% shooting from 3 was the second worst performance from deep under Hoiberg.

1. 2016 vs. Warriors: 1 of 20 (5%)
2. 2018 at Knicks: 3 of 30 (10%)
3. 2016 vs. Heat: 1 of 8 (12.5%)
4. 2016 at Pistons: 2 of 15 (13.3%)

And to put it all in perspective, the Bulls' 3 of 30 shooting from deep was nearly twice as bad as Pistons center Andre Drummond's career 3-point field goal percentage: 5 of 26 (19.2%).

Not great, Bob. But for the tanking crowd, it was a helluva night.