The Detroit Pistons hope to return to the playoffs, but they will have plenty of competition throughout the Eastern Conference. This series takes a look at the prime competitors to one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference.
Offensive Rating: 104.8 (29th)
Defensive Rating: 113.2 (25th)
Major Additions: Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet, Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Better Health
Major Subtractions: Robin Lopez
The Chicago Bulls have been a punchline for years, and after the firing of Fred Hoiberg and elevation of Jim Boylen, it seemed like you mentally check them off and not think about the franchise until further notice.
Then, a funny thing happened — they started to make good moves. Really good moves. They had already selected Wendell Carter Jr. who looked so skilled right away people were already talking about him as potentially one of the next really good big men in the NBA.
Then, things really got moving in February when the team took two players it had no use for — Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis — and traded them to a Washington Wizards team reeling from the John Wall fiasco and desperate to cut salary.
Talent Infusion Through Trades
In return they got a slightly overpaid (but incredibly useful) offensive player named Otto Porter Jr. It cost them nothing but the willingness to pay him the rest of last year’s salary and $27 million this season and $28.5 million next season.
Feeling so good after that move, this July the Bulls poached the Wizards of talent a second time when they were able to orchestrate a trade for restricted free agent Tomas Satoransky, signing him to a tidy three-year $30 million deal, which might be one of the best deals of the offseason.
Suddenly, a team lacking scoring punch and years without a reliable point guard now had both. To top it off, they lured Thaddeus Young as a quality all-around player and took a flyer on the intriguing 7-foot shooter Luke Kornet.
This allowed Chicago’s existing talent to fit more naturally into the roles befitting their talent level and all of sudden this team not only makes a lot more sense, it is downright dangerous.
A Suddenly Dangerous Starting Five
Lauri Markkanen looks like he could develop into an extremely dangerous scorer at multiple levels. He might not reach fabled “unicorn” status, as his defense doesn’t look like it’ll get there, but if you give me a few drinks and start tossing the name Dirk around, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
Combine that kind of deep-threat scoring punch at the power forward position with the all-around scoring ability of Otto Porter Jr. and you’re cooking. Seriously, as an avowed Porter Jr. stan, let me take a brief digression to talk about how underappreciated he is.
Porter is a career 69% shooter from within three feet. He’s a career 40% three-point shooter. He’s a career 45% shooter from 3-to-10 feet, 10-to-16 feet and 16-to-three-point line. He’s extremely dangerous everywhere. That is an incredibly valuable tool to have when you’re not relying on him to be the alpha scorer. He will fit into any gap and take advantage of any opportunity his teammates can find for him. Otto rant over.
Carter is a young, intriguing combination of scoring and defense that could anchor the frontline in Chicago for the next decade. And Satoransky is the first point guard with legitimate offensive ability in forever. A career 40% three-point shooter, he also plays defense, and at 6-foot-7 can switch on the perimeter with ease. And Thaddeus Young is a multi-positional defender, capable scorer and veteran who should be able to bolster Chicago’s wing depth and play any role he’s asked.
Are you worried yet?
Bench Still a Concern
Well, I might be able to walk you back from the brink by mentioning they’re still letting Zach LaVine soak up a lot of possessions, waiting for that fabled day where it’s all going to click for him, and I just don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s not as bad on the offensive end as some people say but his defense is as dreadful as advertised.
Then you have his polar opposite in Kris Dunn, who is a legit NBA defender without legit point guard or scoring skills. Still, that plays a lot better off the bench than it does in a starting lineup.
My next trick is to mention that last year the Bulls won only 22 games. Even with a massive talent infusion and better health, it’s hard for a team to essentially double their win total from one year to the next. They also lost Robin Lopez, who is a really good player, I swear!
But that team last season is nothing like this season. They had 12 players play over 800 minutes last season. Five of those players are off the team and several more are more suited to end of the rotation roles, such as Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison and Chandler Hutchison.
Arcidiacono played the second most minutes on the team last season at 1,961. When those minutes are replaced by the likes of Satoransky, and Hutchison’s replaced by Porter and Young, things start falling into place.
Satoransky, LaVine, Porter, Markkanen and Carter is a playoff caliber starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. The question will be if the depth is there yet. Thaddeus Young helps but after that, Chicago will be relying on Dunn, the oft-injured and ineffective Denzel Valentine and players like Kornet and Hutchison.
Maybe it’s too much to ask Chicago to take such a big leap in one year, but anything can happen in the Eastern Conference, and Detroit will not be able to take the Bulls for granted as an opponent or a playoff competitor.