The 2022-23 Chicago Bulls season is about to get underway and the franchise is looking for its first championship since the Michael Jordan Era. Is this the year for the next Bulls championship? The unfortunate answer for the Chicago faithful is that a Bulls NBA Finals trip is unlikely at the end of this season. From the makeup of the roster to the Lonzo Ball injury, here are the three reasons we won’t see the Bulls in the 2023 NBA Finals.
3. The Lonzo Ball injury
The Chicago Bulls’ championship chances revolve around DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vučević. However, they need more than that to go far in the playoffs.
Lonzo Ball is the next player in the pecking order. When the lead guard was in the lineup last season, he added 13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. His well-rounded stat line led to a 2.2 win share, and he did it all with a low 17.5% usage rate. The Bulls were also +4.5 points with him on the court vs. off.
Ball will start the season on the shelf in 2022. His lingering knee injury from last season cost him all of training camp and will likely cause him to miss a solid chunk of the beginning of the season. He has another surgery on September 28, and the team is planning on re-evaluating him four to six weeks after that.
The Bulls are a team that should have a good regular season in the East regardless, so the Lonzo Ball injury causing him to miss time early isn’t a major issue in and of itself.
However, the big concern is that this is a problem from last season that is still not resolved. Ball might not be crucial to regular season success, but if a Bulls NBA Finals appearance is in the cards, they’ll need the point guard at full strength.
An injury-plagued season from Lonzo Ball that bleeds into the postseason could damper the Bulls’ championship hopes.
2. The Bulls aren’t a 3-and-D team as currently constituted
The NBA has changed dramatically since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were running the triangle offense in the late 1990s. The league now is all about 3-pointers and defense, and the Bulls don’t rank well in either category.
In 2021-22, the Bulls ranked dead last in 3-point attempt rate, with only three players taking more than five per 100 possessions. The team also gave up more points than it scored last season, even with DeRozan, LaVine, and Vučević on the floor together.
There are some signs that the Bulls can improve their 3’s and D this season. Patrick Williams will hopefully be healthy all year and can contribute to those areas. And maybe first-round pick Dalen Terry can help there (especially on D) as well.
However, dovetailing nicely with reason No. 3, Lonzo Ball is the best 3-and-D player on the team, and if he’s out, the team will likely stay toward the bottom of the league in these all-important categories.
1. The Bulls won’t have the best player on the court in the playoffs
There is a good chance that the Bulls will improve on their regular season record from last season and become a 50-win team this year, even with the Lonzo Ball injury. The team has a strong core, improving depth, and veterans who know how to grind for 82 games.
The impediment to a Bulls championship, though, comes in the playoffs.
While the regular season is a war of attrition, the playoffs are shock-and-awe. The ultimate outcomes of nearly every postseason series in the NBA is determined by the best player on the court. And when it comes playoff series time in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls likely won’t ever have distinction after, possibly, the first round.
As good as DeRozan, LaVine, and Vučević are, they will be outshined by individual talents on the other side of the court against the top teams in the East. None of these three can stack up to the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid and James Harden, the Milwuakee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
And those are just the “definitely betters” on the other side. You can make an argument that the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell fall into this category, too.
And if a Bulls NBA Finals run does happen, the West is just as loaded with individual talent.
Unless there is another level the recently re-signed Zach LaVine can get to or a trade to be made that sends Nikola Vučević out and brings a true No. 1 star in, the Bulls’ chances to win the 2023 NBA Finals are probably close to zero.