6 practical, not bold, predictions for the 2023-24 Bulls' season

6 practical, not bold, predictions for the 2023-24 Bulls' season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

When a team finishes close to .500 at 40-42 and returns 12 of 14 players, it’s hard to make any bold proclamations or predictions about it.

So in lieu of our annual bold predictions, consider these more practical ones for the 2023-24 Chicago Bulls season. And they all, of course, assume good health.

The Bulls will finish 43-39 and make the playoffs

In 2021-22, the Bulls won 46 games and finished 25-16 in clutch games, defined as any contest within five points with 5 minutes to play or less. That marked the third-most such victories in the NBA.

In 2022-23, the Bulls won 40 games and finished 15-23 in clutch games, tying for the second-fewest such victories.

The law of averages, not to mention the additions of tough-minded players like Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter, would seem to suggest the Bulls won’t be as as poor as they were last season. But it may be hard to top DeMar DeRozan’s heroics from 2021-22.

Thus, this season’s victory total will land directly in the middle of the last two seasons at 43. That projects to be enough to qualify them for at least the play-in tournament or perhaps even the sixth seed.

Regardless, even if it’s the former, the Bulls will advance to a first-round matchup with a higher seed in a parity-filled but tough Eastern Conference. Alas, a more full-formed prediction for their playoff fortunes will land on this website at that point. But at first blush, this season has a one-and-done feel to it.

Zach LaVine will join the vaunted 50/40/90 shooting club

This is rare air, indeed. Only eight players in NBA history have shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line during a season.

They are Larry Bird (twice), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash (four times), Kevin Durant (twice), Stephen Curry, Malcolm Brogdon and Kyrie Irving.

So go ahead: File this prediction under bold.

LaVine’s career highs in the respective categories are 50.7 percent in 2020-21, 41.9 percent in the same season and 85.3 percent in 2021-22. So he’ll need to take a substantial jump in free-throw percentage while flirting with career-bests in the first two categories.

LaVine enters this season looking lively and athletic and talking about how good his body feels. Coach Billy Donovan has talked about the desire to place LaVine in more catch-and-shoot opportunities, where he’s elite, rather than late-clock shots off the dribble.

Everything lines up for LaVine to join this vaunted club.

Coby White will keep his starting point guard spot

Remember, these are practical, not bold, predictions. And while this one may not seem like that big a deal, it is given how much White’s role has fluctuated throughout his young NBA career and how, well, he’s not a true point guard.

White is a combo guard with a gift for scoring who has put the work in to become a better ball-handler and decision-maker. He’s always been about the team, so passing never has been an issue.

But learning how to control tempo, make reads, get guys in their preferred spots, ride hot hands, prop up cold ones . . . there’s a lot for a starting point guard to do. And not only has the organization showed faith in White by signing him to a long-term deal, the coaching staff gave him first shot at starting.

And White displayed continued growth in his ability to run a team during the preseason. He got into the lane frequently, an organizational emphasis. He took care of the ball well in the first three games before faltering in this department in the final two.

So look for White to keep his stranglehold on this position throughout the season.

The Bulls will have a top-10 defense and top-15 offense

Last season, the Bulls finished fifth in defense and 24th in offense. The latter, of course, played a huge role in the Bulls not making the playoffs. And it flew in the face of LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic each authoring strong individual seasons.

The additions of Craig and Carter should bolster the Bulls’ defense. And Donovan, dating to his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, consistently has maxed out his team’s potential at that end. Still, plenty broke right for the Bulls to finish top-five last season and it’s not like a top-10 finish is bad.

Offensively is where the Bulls need to take a jump. And they will but not enough to crack the top 10.

The Bulls showed some preseason potential to get in the paint more, which can lead to more free-throw attempts and kick-out passes for open 3-pointers. They also want to offensive rebound more than last season and have better spacing.

All will be critical since they still lagged in 3-point attempts during the practice games. Another offseason talking point---playing through Vucevic---didn’t occur much, at least not yet.

But with White starting and Carter not afraid to let it fly from the reserve unit, the Bulls have a more offensive-minded rotation.

Alex Caruso will repeat as an All-Defense first-team member

This one doesn’t need much in the way of explanation. Caruso is a savant at this end who plays with such attention to detail and anticipation that if he’s healthy, he’ll land on this team for years to come.

The Bulls won’t make any major trades at the February deadline

Whether this is a good or bad thing is in the eye of the beholder.

There’s a large portion of the fan base that wants to see a reset. And LaVine consistently lands in rumors for a reason; his road to full acceptance as the lead player on a championship-contending team has been a struggle.

But with management re-signing Vucevic this offseason and the Bulls headed to a competitive season, look for the core to remain intact past the February deadline. This is regardless of whether or not DeRozan reaches terms on an extension, something that can happen at any point in the season.

Clip and save. We’ll revisit these later in the season to see how right or wrong they are. I’ll say this: Predictions are one of the sillier aspects to this business.

It’s why they play the games.

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