Last week two of the most famous NBA personalities ran down the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, detailing from each team who was most likely to be awarded an all-star spot in anticipation of the game itself. Upon arrival at the Chicago Bulls, Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons had some interesting insights regarding who was in or out and how the team will fare overall during the 2022-23′ season. Both agreed that DeMar DeRozan was a surefire all-star selection this year, and they were similarly on the same page that Zach Lavine would be left off of most ballots thanks to his incredibly sluggish start to the year. Nothing surprising there, but when it came to the Chicago Bulls as a team, Simmons made an unexpectedly optimistic statement that will perk the ears of the Windy City faithful.
Sneaking Into The Postseason
As most fans expect, Simmons guessed that Chicago would find themselves in the play-in tournament and that they’d be one of the last teams to creep into the playoffs. What most wouldn’t anticipate was what he said next.
“It’s clear that they should not blow it up, You know who I don’t want to see when I’m the one or two seed in the East in round one, the [expletive] Bulls, no thanks,”…”Lavine’s going again, The last three weeks they’ve figured some stuff out.”Bill Simmons via ‘The Bill Simmons Podcast’
Only time will tell if Simmons is correct in his assessment, but there’s plenty of evidence to back his claim. The Bulls have three guys who have scored 40 or more points in the last month, the same three who have also been all-star selections at least two of the previous three seasons. Having a potent trio of difference-makers only creates more havoc and versatility, forcing the opposition to focus their attention in multiple directions. Another scary sight for Eastern Conference foes is the steadily improving play of Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu, including three games of 18 or more points from Williams and a game-winning buzzer-beater from Dosunmu in the past month.
Chicago owns a 9-3 record against the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, Sixers, and Nets this season, representing the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference plus Miami, a team that’s found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals four of the last five seasons. A complete turnaround from a near-winless record they carried against these same teams a year ago. At 20-24 on the season, the Bulls have yet to prove they’re a top team in the league but have shown they can compete with and dominate the elites when needed.
Bulls’ Keys To Playoff Success
The most underrated Chicago Bull thus far has been Nikola Vucevic. After not living up to the all-star level expectations for the first year and a half of his arrival, the big man has finally found his stride. In the new year, he’s increased his points by four, assists by over one, and rebounds by four per game. His overall shooting percentage has seen an eight percent boost, and his three-point percentage a six percent one. Vucevic’s last outing was one for the record books, and he’ll have to continue the stellar play from the middle if Chicago is going to make a deep playoff push and take down the top teams out East.
Zach Lavine will also be pivotal to the Bulls having a successful postseason. In 2023, he’s the NBA’s leading scorer, has scored 25 or more in six straight games, and is averaging nearly 30 points per contest with a 47/40/87 percentage from the field, three-point range, and free throw line. His shooting will be most influential down the stretch; making four threes a game in January has kept Chicago in most of their games and was a huge component to winning 8 out of 11 over the holidays these past few weeks.
The defensive effort will make or break the Bulls’ 2023 postseason hopes. With a below-league-average defensive rating and two “embarrassing losses” in which they gave up 72 points in the first half of each, Chicago tends to tune out of games for stretches defensively. Veteran Goran Dragic called it a lack of “playing for each other,” while head coach Billy Donovan called it “not enough competing or pride in our defense.” However it’s worded, the message stays constant; lacking heart and effort have exposed the Bulls several times this season.
By all accounts, Bill Simmons seems to be on the right track, and with some tightening of loose screws, Chicago could find themselves on the winning side of a first-round upset. With the impressive record against the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the ability for three different guys to pour in 40 or more points on any given night, and the potential return of the injured Lonzo Ball before the playoffs, this is not the ideal draw for any top-seeded team in the conference. Is Simmons ahead of himself, or would the Bulls truly give fits to the best the East has to offer?