Lonzo Ball’s uncertain status prompts a bearish forecast for the Chicago Bulls in 2022-23.

After a hot start to the season, the Chicago Bulls ended a four-year playoff drought, found success in the duo of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, and were at one point at the top of the Eastern Conference. Injuries to LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams, however, derailed what had been a promising season. On the plus side, three of those four players are now fully healthy for the start of the season, but the Bulls will be without Ball for several months after undergoing second knee surgery this year.

Aside from the sobering news about Ball’s status, the Bulls are still expected to make the playoffs this season. However, the team will have to figure out how to get through the season without its starting point guard, especially since nearly everyone else in the East has improved.

The most important thing is to stay afloat in the absence of Ball.

Without a doubt, the most important storyline surrounding the Bulls is Lonzo Ball’s status and how the team will proceed without him for the time being. Ball recently underwent second knee surgery after tearing his meniscus in January, and his rehabilitation has been fraught with setbacks over the last nine months. He’ll be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeks, but the Bulls aren’t putting any timetables on when he’ll be back on the court. With Ball out for the foreseeable future, Chicago must figure out who will fill his spot in the interim.

On media day, head coach Billy Donovan stated that he will wait until training camp to see who will fill the starting point guard void while listing all of the positive qualities that Goran Dragic, Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso, and Coby White bring to the team. Donovan will have four options to fill Ball’s role, and while having options is nice, it doesn’t make the decision any easier. If the defense is the priority, which it should be given how porous Chicago was on the defensive end last season, Caruso should be the obvious choice.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls allowed 8.5 fewer points with Caruso on the floor last season, ranking in the 96th percentile of the league. Putting Caruso in place of Ball ensures a minimal drop-off on defense, but his poor shooting numbers from last season are concerning. If Caruso is to start, the Bulls will need him to hit 3s on offense, otherwise, DeRozan and LaVine will have trouble finding space.

Dragic could be the best option for Donovan if he wants more offensive punch.While the 36-year-old guard was Chicago’s prized free agent signing, his performance for Slovenia during EuroBasket proved The Dragon still has plenty of fire to get downhill and to his midrange spots. Starting Dragic, on the other hand, would be detrimental to the Bulls’ defense. The same can be said for White, who was excellent at making 3-pointers last season but is a liability on the other end of the floor.

Dosunmu gives Chicago a nice balance on both ends of the floor. He’s not the defender Caruso is, and he won’t be able to control a game on offense as Dragic can. However, the second-year guard demonstrated in his rookie season that he can step into the starting line-up when necessary. He was effective enough on offense to keep the defense honest, and his high energy and work ethic were sufficient to keep him from becoming a total liability on defense. Dosunmu’s happy medium may win out for the Bulls in the end as they await Ball’s return, whenever that may be.

Next up: High hopes for Williams.

According to the quotes from media day, the Bulls have high hopes for Williams to make the much-touted third-year jump. At least, that’s what they’re hoping for. Williams stated in exit interviews last season that his goal for his third season was to be more aggressive, but what exactly does that entail? Donovan claims that it has far-reaching implications.

“I think the most difficult thing for a young player when playing with guys like Vooch, Zach, and DeMar and experienced players is deciding when to shoot.” When do I get my test? When am I going to drive? How can I be more assertive? When am I allowed to be aggressive? “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are, and then in his spots, he has to be attacking and being aggressive,” Donovan said during media day. “That could mean running the floor, getting on the offensive glass, coming off a screen, or catching the ball in the pocket.”

Simply having the mindset of trying to create an advantage for the next play. And I believe he can do it; he has shown signs of doing so, but we must continue to push him in that situation.”

Donovan wasn’t the only person at media day who was bullish on Williams. LaVine stated that the third-year forward spent a lot of time this summer working out with his trainer, Drew Hanlen and that the team has “all the confidence in the world” in him. DeRozan revealed that he took Williams under his wing during the offseason, putting him through strenuous workouts and expressing “big” expectations for the promising forward.

Williams has shown flashes of being a capable two-way player, but the Bulls need him to be consistent enough to make an impact on a nightly basis. Given that the Bulls were hesitant to include Williams in a potential trade to acquire Jerami Grant at the deadline last season, it stands to reason that they are banking on him developing into a quality player. However, unlike other prospects who can take their time developing on lottery-bound teams, Williams is on a win-now team that requires him to make that leap if the Bulls are to progress from a playoff team to a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.

Another thing to consider: DeRozan-LaVine 2.0.

At media day, DeRozan was asked what it will be like to have a “healthy Zach” this season after the All-Star guard has been bothered by a knee injury since the break. “Having Zach healthy makes our lives a lot easier,” he said.

“Zach was out for a lot of my lows last year, and we always talked about making things easier on each other, and being so up and down, not having each other made it tough on both of us. So having a healthy Zach and a healthy me going into it just makes our job and the job of everyone else a lot easier.”

DeRozan also issued a warning to other teams in the league, pointing out that LaVine is back healthy and the two have built-in chemistry from last season.

“It can be both exciting and frightening for other people,” DeRozan said. “I can’t tell you how many times I called him this summer, just to check in on him and see if he was okay. I’d prefer to be with a healthy Zach. A whole year of that is something I fantasize about every night.”

We saw last season how effective this duo can be when they’re both healthy and on the same team.

So, imagine how much offensive damage they’ll be able to do after a full season of playing together and with LaVine healthy. That is a terrifying sight.

Important games

The Bulls have a tough start to the season, playing the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics all within their first five games. The Bulls’ home opener against the Cavaliers will be a big test to see if they can hang with a Cleveland team that added offensive firepower by trading for Donovan Mitchell.

It’ll be the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, and it’ll give Chicago a taste of what to expect from Cleveland. Another game to keep an eye out for in the first two months is their first meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks. Chicago lost in five games to the 2021 champions in the first round of the playoffs, and now the Bulls will get their first chance at vengeance.

Given how closely contested most of those meetings were last season, a meeting with the Knicks in mid-December should be entertaining. The Bulls will then face the defending champions in January, with the chance to avenge their worst loss (a 42-point defeat) a year ago. That was also the game in which LaVine injured himself, and it marked the unofficial beginning of Chicago’s decline. That game will almost certainly be circled by the players for a variety of reasons. To round out the schedule, the Bulls will travel to Paris to face the Detroit Pistons.

  1. Oct. 22 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Nov. 23 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Dec. 14 vs. New York Knicks
  4. Jan. 15 vs. Golden State Warriors
  5. Jan. 19 vs. Detroit Pistons (in Paris)