Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Against All Odds, The Chicago Bulls Are Back In The NBA Playoffs


Despite the fans and media urging the Chicago Bulls to chase their top four protected draft selection by effectively tanking after the trade deadline, the team has done quite the opposite. Obviously, players don’t ever agree to partake in a real effort to tank, but with the youth on the roster and the expiring contracts of the older talent, choosing to play more of the young players and develop them while their position in the standings dropped was the wisest choice as of March 1st. In a last-ditch attempt to save their season, the front office brought in veteran guard Patrick Beverley off the buyout market, and the aftermath is something no one could have predicted. In a shocking turn of events, the Bulls now find themselves in the playoff picture and in control of their destiny the rest of the way.

Roller Coaster Of Emotions

Before Beverley joined the Bulls, they held a 30% chance of retaining their top-four selection in this year’s upcoming draft and a less than 15% chance of making the playoffs. After losing three of their first six since his addition to the roster, those analytics only worsened. At one point, the chances of drawing the number one overall selection were higher than their chances of making the 2023 playoffs.

Staring down a schedule with four playoff teams in their next five contests, things were looking mightily bleak for the Bulls. Their first was the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets on the road, where the Nuggets had only lost four games this season at home. In arguably their most crucial stretch of the season, Chicago was able to rip off four out of five wins, with their only loss coming at the buzzer against the Sacramento Kings, and re-insert themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They now hold a 1.5-game advantage over the Indiana Pacers for the 10th seed, also known as a ticket into the Play-In Tournament.

The Patrick Beverley Effect

It takes more than one 11-year veteran point guard to turn around an NBA team’s playoff hopes, but Beverley is about as close to a season-saving addition as it gets. Whether fans or media agree with the decision to pursue the postseason this year, they have to admit that thus far, he’s been the difference maker.

Not only did the signing of a true point guard return Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to their more comfortable style of play, being mainly off-ball scorers, but it also brought a new level of intensity on defense. The Bulls have been the best defensive team in the league since he was added to the rotation, and since Jan. 1, they have led the NBA in defensive rating. Being a team that shoots the fewest three-point attempts per game, consistently suffocating opposing offenses drives their success.

March Madness For Chicago

The first question becomes, can they stay in playoff contention?

The Bulls have a dozen games left to finish ahead of Indiana, with a tie resulting in the Pacers in the postseason due to the 3-1 record they own over Chicago in the regular season. The rest of the way, the Bulls have the tenth most challenging schedule in the league, but that hasn’t stopped them lately. Evidenced by their top six offensive and defensive ratings in the last 11 games, they can sometimes play with the NBA’s best teams and win games on both ends of the floor.

Next question is, can they do much even if they make the Play-In tournament?

With a dozen games left, going into specific seeding is premature, as there’s still so much movement that can be made in the final stretch. If Chicago ends in the 9th or 10th spot, they’d need to win two games back-to-back against a combination of the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, or Washington Wizards to earn the 8th seed and meet the top team in the Eastern Conference. If they can claim the 7th or 8th slot, they’d only need to win one game in two chances to advance to the postseason. They own a 12-9 record against those opponents this season.

Their likely first-round opponent would then be the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, or Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls have a 5-4 record against those three this season and have been noted as a team “no one wants to see in the first round.” Realistically though, they don’t have the depth or proven firepower offensively to beat one of the elites in a seven-game series. Lacking three-point shooting or a paint presence defensively will be their demise against the length, depth, and potent shooting ability of the Eastern Conference leaders. It would take a true March Madness type of Cinderella story to make it beyond the first round of this year’s playoffs.

With the organization relentlessly pursuing the postseason, despite the slim odds of success, is it time to get excited again for Bulls basketball? Playoffs, here we come!


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Mar 20, 2023 12:23 am

If they can claim the 7th or 8th slot, they’d only need to win one game in two chances to advance to the postseason….

Mar 20, 2023 12:19 am

Nice post

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