The 14-44 Chicago Bulls kick off the remainder of their 2018-19 schedule on Friday night in Orlando. It has been a brutal, fragmented season that finds the franchise third-to-last in the Eastern Conference. However, the post-All-Star Break is the time to forget the past and finish the season strong.
With 24 games remaining, the lottery-bound Bulls can still strive for small benchmarks. Those benchmarks can help them become a playoff team in the long-run, all while snagging a few wins today. Here are three goals that the Chicago Bulls should focus on in the final stretch of the 2018-19 campaign.
Coach to the players’ strengths.
Despite the record, the Bulls front office has apparently been pleased with head coach Jim Boylen’s performance. However, BBall Index’s Coach Optimization Ratings show that he has done a terrible job utilizing his players.
His numbers are among the worst for any NBA coach’s single season since 2013-14. He falls within the 0th percentile when optimizing his offensive gameplan and the 9th percentile when optimizing his defense relative to the talent level of his roster.
Boylen has been an abrasive presence on the Chicago sidelines. However, he is also a smart, experienced basketball lifer that has at least attempted to adjust along the way. Since he is expected to be the head coach of the Bulls moving forward, he needs to continue developing schemes that optimizes the talent and puts them in the best position to succeed.
If we are to see a jump in optimization, it would be coming now, after the long break and relative wealth of practice time to get new sets installed and teach concepts. If we don’t see that growth in this perfect window of opportunity, the odds we will later this season look bleak.
Allow your young, athletic players to run in transition. Give them the confidence to shoot 3-pointers in the flow of the offense. No more forced post-ups! Chicago went 2-2 and had the 12th-best net rating in the NBA in their four games before the Break. The team should continue heading in this direction when the schedule kicks off again.
Develop chemistry and establish roles for the future.
The Otto Porter trade fortified a solid young core that can grow together. The Dunn/LaVine/Porter/Markkanen/Carter starting five is signed through at least next year. Sadly, injuries are keeping the whole gang from being on the court all at once this season. However, it is still a good time to start looking towards next season and preparing roles.
The gameplan should be geared towards emphasizing where they want the players to slot in. What type of plays would Boylen run with the established starting five in the game? What players or type of players will be in the bench rotation moving forward? Now is the time to figure that out. Even if that specific player isn’t around next year, their presence still gives the front office an idea of what they want.
In the absence of Wendell Carter, the Bulls should still develop plays for a player that fits the same skillset. Neither Robin Lopez nor Cristiano Felicio fit the bill, so the team should give out some 10-day deals to fill the gap. Those deals would also serve as auditions for future backups to Carter.
Embrace being the spoiler.
With the playoffs out of reach, many Chicago Bulls fans are “embracing the tank,” preferring for the team to lose games. They think that with each L, they get better odds of drafting Zion Williamson.
However, as The Athletic‘s Stephen Noh notes, the Bulls are pretty much set as the fourth-worst team in the league. They’re too good to beat out the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, or Cleveland Cavaliers for the worst record. They’re also five games behind the Atlanta Hawks, so they can’t push into the upper tier of the standings, either.
Still, 16 of the Bulls’ final 24 games are against squads that are in, or within striking distance of, the playoffs. This gives them a nice, competitive schedule to play and the chance to rain on some parades.
An upset win or two could manipulate playoff seeding in both conferences. Those victories would help in the long-run, boosting morale and building chemistry. In the short-term, it’s also good motivation to get up for each game, even when the playoffs aren’t in the picture for the Chicago Bulls themselves.