The Chicago Bulls have essentially been looking for a starting point guard ever since former league MVP Derrick Rose left town after the 2015-16 season. The Bulls believe they found one in former No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball, who was signed to a four-year, $85 million contract as soon as free agency opened Monday (technically a sign-and-trade). Both the SportsLine Projection Model and SL oddsmakers now favor the Bulls to make the Eastern Conference playoffs next spring.
Chicago hasn't been a playoff team since losing in the first round in 2015-16 when the eminently forgettable Fred Hoiberg was the team's head coach. The Bulls' new front office went all in this past season to make it by acquiring Orlando Magic All-Star center Nikola Vucevic at the Trade Deadline, but Chicago finished 31-41 and missed the East play-in tournament by two games.
A full season of Vucevic alongside All-Star guard Zach LaVine and Ball, as well as some growth from promising young forward Patrick Williams and maybe guard Coby White – plus the free-agent addition of another guard, Alex Caruso, should be enough to get Chicago a postseason spot next year assuming good health.
Ball always has been a good passer since entering the league as the No. 2 pick by the Lakers out of UCLA in 2017, but he couldn't shoot. While Ball won't remind anyone of Steph Curry from the perimeter, Ball averaged career highs in three-point percentage (.378), field goal percentage (.414), free throw percentage (.781), true shooting percentage (.551) and points per game (14.6) this past season with New Orleans. One concern is Ball is a bit injury prone, but he's still only 23.
The Bulls played at a pretty slow pace last year under first-year coach Billy Donovan, but expect that pace to speed up in 2021-22. For one, Donovan's previous Thunder teams always played fast and Ball's teams have consistently played at a Top-10 pace. He's an excellent open-court player.
The SportsLine Projection Model (see below) forecasted Chicago to win 41.1 games next season – remember, it goes back to 82 games. With Ball, that number jumps to 43.0. The biggest boost by far is to the Bulls' playoff chances, which rises from 40.4 percent to 59.2 percent. SportsLine oddsmakers aren't quite that confident.
That Chicago plays in the much weaker Eastern Conference helps matters playoff-wise. Ball has yet to appear in a playoff game in his career. LaVine has finished seven seasons in the NBA without making the playoffs. Caesars Sportsbook lists Chicago as a +5000 long shot to win the East -- that's not happening.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Will the Bulls make the playoffs next season?
- Yes -120
- No Even
|w/ Lonzo Ball||43||59.70%||59.20%||1.27%||0.29%|
| || || || || || |
|w/o Lonzo Ball||38.6||53.60%||22.40%||0.08%||0.02%|
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