The Bulls’ 2019-20 season is officially over after 65 games.
And what a season it was.
Yes, a .338 winning percentage left them well short of preseason playoff expectations, even with the league’s novel 22-team resumption format allowing for teams within six games of the eighth seed into play-in contention (the Bulls finished eight back of the Orlando Magic).
But widespread front office overhaul — punctuated by the hires of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager — somewhat salvaged a lost season. The two now face the rigors of an unprecedented, potentially nine-month offseason that will involve draft prep, continued roster and front office evaluation, and possibly a coaching search — all while continuing to grapple with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed much of the team out-of-market, limited training capabilities and could act as a buzzsaw to the CBA as we know it.
That’s a lot to digest. And we’ll get to it all. But first, let’s tie a bow on the on-court good, bad, ugly and otherwise the Bulls endured this season, in report card form. We’ve hit the guards. Now, it’s time for the wings — where injury asterisks are sure to abound.
Otto Porter Jr.
14 G, 23.6 MPG | 11.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 APG | 44.3% FG, 38.7% 3P, 70.4% FT | 2020-21 contract: $28,489,238 (player option)
Porter makes the Bulls a significantly better basketball team when he’s on the floor. In severely limited action this season (331 minutes), the Bulls registered an offensive rating of 110.2 points per 100 possessions and defensive rating 107 with him on the floor — figures that, extrapolated out, would register 16th and sixth in the NBA, respectively. Not phenomenal, but certainly better than their current ranks of 29th offensively and 13th defensively.
That is in no way meant to insinuate the Bulls’ fortunes would have changed drastically with Porter in tow all season long. They were just 5-9 with him in the lineup. But his net positive impact makes sense. Injuries up and down the roster aside, Porter’s size, defensive versatility and reliable jump shooting (he’s a career 40.4% 3-point shooter on 3.3 attempts per game) were sorely missing qualities on the wing for the Bulls all season — especially considering his and Chandler Hutchison’s replacements ranged from Kris Dunn to Tomas Satoransky to Ryan Arcidiacono to Shaq Harrison. At 27 and a seven-year NBA veteran, his veteran competence was missed, as well.
But (and it’s a big but) that “when he’s on the floor” phrase is entirely operative. Porter missed 51 consecutive games this season from Nov. 6 to March 2 with a sprained left foot that’s recovery timetable seemed to permute with the wind. Despite being on a gradually increasing minutes restriction, Porter was effective upon returning, averaging 13.2 points on 48.2% shooting (36.4% from 3-point range) in five games before the pause while playing just 21 minutes per. He enjoyed a similarly positive-trending stretch in the games leading up to his injury in November.
The point: Porter is the Bulls’ highest paid and, theoretically, most well-rounded player, but he couldn’t stay on the court this year. That’s a problem — not the problem, but a problem — that’s resolution remains open-ended until Porter inevitably exercises his lofty player option for 2020-21 and we see what he can bring to the Bulls next season. If what he promises on paper ever fully comes to fruition on the hardwood, he’ll help the team immensely.
Porter checks in with an average, passing grade, with one tick up for positive individual play in his time out there.
28 G, 18.8 MPG | 7.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.9 APG | 45.7% FG, 31.6% 3P, 59% FT | 2020-21 contract: $2,443,440
On Feb. 8, I wrote the following about Chandler Hutchison. At the time, Hutchison was in the midst of a miniscule four-game stretch in which he averaged 15.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals:
Hutchison’s current 17-game streak of simply playing in games is already the second-longest of his career (the longest being a 20-gamer between Dec. 15 and Jan. 25 of last season). There’s a lot to be said for building momentum day-by-day and his steadily increasing output is evidence.
Two games later, the All-Star break hit. What we didn’t know until returning to the Advocate Center the following Monday was that a shoulder injury that had cost him 17 games between November and January had flared up again in the Bulls’ final game before the break. Hutchison missed the team’s final ten games of the season. He’s played 72 of a possible 147 games in the first two years of his NBA career.
Unfortunately, Hutchison’s injury history must be addressed at the top of any assessment of his play and progress to this point. Any statistical evaluation (e.g. his 2.1% steal rate this season being in the 91st percentile for his position) is inevitably based on too small a sample size to take much appreciable away from — other than that his outside shooting (49.2% eFG, 59.5% FT for his career) must improve. He still brings great positional size at 6-foot-7, rare bounce and the tools to be a rangy, versatile defender at both forward spots.
There were flashes, but he comes out with a flat grade. It’s simply not going to all come together until he can get consistent reps. And he’s already 24.
36 G, 13.6 MPG | 6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 APG | 40.9% FG, 33.6% 3P, 75% FT | 2020-21 contract: RFA
Valentine followed up an encouraging second season in 2017-18 by missing all of 2018-19 with ankle reconstruction surgery. Recovered a rearing to go, though, he didn’t crack the Bulls’ 2019-20 rotation until injuries paved a path in late November.
He then spent the year oscillating in and out of Jim Boylen’s rotation, despite profiling as the exact type of player the Bulls might want to execute their preferred style of play — a savvy playmaker, perhaps the most skilled passer on the team and a dead-eye long range shooter when open.
Valentine was never suited to the Bulls’ aggressive defensive schemes, and occasional bouts of irrational confidence don’t inspire trust. But with the Bulls’ perpetually strapped on the wing, that he only played more than 20 minutes eight times this season is confounding.
By the end of the campaign, his counting stats and shooting percentages aren’t reflective of the lottery pick he once was. Checkered utilization undeniably played a role there. If his next contract (as he enters restricted free agency this summer) isn’t with the Bulls, it would hardly come as a surprise as of this writing — though it’s unclear how new management may view him.
43 G, 11.3 MPG | 4.9 PPG, 2 RPG, 1.1 APG | 46.7% FG, 38.1% 3P, 78% FT | 2020-21 contract: RFA
Harrison is what he is, a relentless, energetic defender best suited to a deep reserve spot. His ever-ready attitude in spite of wildly fluctuant playing time was admirable and evident in a few spot starts for the Bulls this season — among them, a 15-point, 11-rebound, three-steal outing in an early season drubbing of the Pistons, and a five 3-pointer night against the Pacers a week before the season froze. That Pacers game capped a four-game stretch in which Harrison shot 9-for-11 from 3-point range, a departure from his regular jump shooting woes.
Relative to expectations coming into the season, Harrison did about all you could ask of him. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason; if Kris Dunn moves on, might he be a discount alternative for a hard-nosed defense at the guard spot?
Adam Mokoka / Max Strus
The two-way squad! Mokoka had two shining moments this season. On the night of the trade deadline, he spruced up a bad loss to the New Orleans Pelicans by scoring 15 points in 5:07 minutes of garbage-time action — the first time in the shot-clock era a player has scored 15 or more points in as little playing time. On March 2, he keyed the Bulls’ second win against a team at or above-.500 at time of contest by pestering Luka Doncic down the stretch of a home victory over the Dallas Mavericks (without Zach LaVine). He’s got a nice shooting stroke (40% from 3-point range on 15 total NBA attempts) and displayed shades of a useful perimeter defender, but logged just 112 minutes of NBA action season.
That was still more than Strus, who appeared in just two games with the Bulls this year. In one of them, he scored five points in a flurry to push a blowout loss to the Heat back towards respectability (the Bulls have a knack for that huh?). But that was the extent of his NBA contribution. He tore his ACL on Dec. 23, with an expected eight-to-12 month recovery timetable at the time of injury.
Either could find themselves back with the Bulls on two-way deals once again in 2020-21, though Strus’ rehab could take him to the doorstep of even next year’s delayed start date. Mokoka got a bit more run — and I personally wouldn't mind seeing more — but having a definitive take on either one of these two (or prescribing them a long-term role with the team) feels hasty.