Even if the NBA is able to salvage some portion of the remaining regular season schedule when the league is given the go-ahead to resume play, the Bulls will face an offseason filled with questions.
Sure, Coby White has been a bright spot, averaging 20.1 points a game in February, 22.4 points with six assists in five games in March and finally making his first start at point guard in the last game before play was suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But is White the long term answer at point guard, and can he team with Zach LaVine to form an efficient backcourt at both ends of the floor?
White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers) is hardly what you’d expect from a starting point guard, but for most of the season he was used as a shooting guard capable of providing instant offense off the bench. With regular play at the point, White’s assist totals should grow to around five to seven per game, but he’ll need to prove the turnovers won’t also grow at a comparable rate. LaVine is very high on White’s potential, and having another explosive scorer playing with him should help reduce the defensive pressure LaVine faces on a nightly basis.
White’s play at the defensive end showed considerable improvement as his rookie season went on, which suggests he could be capable of defending either guard spot at 6'4", allowing LaVine to take the easier match-up. Both players have the quickness to jump into passing lanes and create transition opportunities.
From a coaching perspective, staggering the minutes of the two guards after the opening six minutes will also allow each player to take on the lead offensive role at times, playing alongside a facilitating point guard like Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono or Kris Dunn (if he returns).
While the backcourt is starting to take shape, the frontline is loaded with question marks. Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential? Can Wendell Carter Jr. have success as an undersized center and find a consistent role in the offense? Can Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy long enough to contribute?
Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?
Markkanen took a significant step backwards in year three, and the Bulls were hoping they would get a better chance to evaluate his play over the final 17 regular season games. Don’t forget: Markkanen is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering him a near max deal coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting just 42.5% from the field.
All options have to be on the table for Markkanen, including a possible trade if contract negotiations result in a stand-off or the opportunity to acquire an All-Star level veteran presents itself. It’s likely the 7-foot forward will be back next season, and he could have an expanded role in the offense if a coaching change is made.
The Bulls also were hoping to bet a better read on Carter and Porter over the final 17 games. Carter missed about six weeks of game action because of a serious ankle sprain, but was just rounding back into game shape when the suspension hit.
Carter told reporters he’s probably better suited to play power forward than center at 6’9”, but with Markkanen and Thaddeus Young in tow, center will remain his position for now. Since the Bulls don’t use post-ups as a staple of their offensive system, Carter Jr. doesn’t receive the amount of touches he’d like. Plus, his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers is also underutilized. Carter Jr. will need to spend the offseason working on improving his shooting range to add the 3-point shot to his arsenal.
Porter missed almost the entire season because of a broken foot, and he’ll almost certainly be back with a $28 million player option for next season, When healthy, Porter Jr. can add 3-point shooting and playmaking to the offense, but he’s not part of the team’s long-term future.
Second-year forward Chandler Hutchison saw his season cut short by injuries, and the Bulls really don’t know if he can sustain the improved play he showed before re-injuring his shoulder in early February. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls go for another wing player with their lottery draft pick.
Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, and even though he ranked second in the league in steals per game, his limited offensive ability will probably result in the Bulls letting him walk this off-season. Since the team is already deep at point guard, paying Dunn somewhere in the range of $8 to 10 million per season on a long-term contract just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. The Bulls could look to re-sign Shaquille Harrison to provide some of the on-ball pressure and potential for steals that is Dunn’s specialty.
Since the Bulls will be over the expected salary cap for next season, roster changes will have to come through utilizing the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, trades and the draft. According to multiple reports, the Bulls are expected to add one or more new talent evaluators to their front office hierarchy, but it’s unclear whether someone will be brought in with the authority to drastically reshape the roster or make a coaching change.
Until the front office changes are implemented, everything else is pretty much on hold. With one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, the Bulls could look to trade their upcoming lottery pick and one of their rotation players for a veteran who could help lift the productivity and consistency of the starting line-up. Almost every season an All-Star caliber player is looking to force a trade from his current team, and the Bulls have to be aggressive in exploring those opportunities, especially if the 76ers decide to break up their star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
With the Bulls taking a step back in year three of the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild, no one on the roster should be considered untradeable. If a new general manager is brought in with total authority on roster construction, this could be an offseason of change for the Bulls. But if the current hierarchy remains in place, look for Jim Boylen to return next season with largely the same roster, hoping that improved health and familiarity with the offensive and defensive systems will result in a significantly better record in the 2020-21 season.