These are my predictions for the major figures of the 2020–21 Chicago Bulls season:
Billy Donovan — I think that by the end of the season, he will have established an identity on both sides of the ball. If I were to guess a likely outcome for the team, I would say that a slow-building improvement over the year, possibly culminating in a shot at the play-in tournament, is most likely. To me, having at least one of his young players (White, Markkanen, Carter or Williams) blossom into a star would be enough to consider the season a success, and hopefully his track record with young players will send them in that trajectory.
Coby White — We have to see if the added responsibility as their starting point guard allows him to take a step forward in development. I would expect him to improve in his playmaking and shot selection, especially with Donovan’s success coaching point guards in the past. Then again, he is still raw at that position. Its not an insult to say that he isn’t Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, but he can still be highly effective in the present while developing his strong potential. This season may provide the proof that he is more of a shooting guard than a point guard.
Zach LaVine — The Bulls need him to defend better, especially since he is now paired with Coby White, whose skills also lie more on the offensive side. If he can prove to be an adequate team defender, and keep his offense at the same high level, I would expect him to be widely considered for the All-Star team. I have confidence that he will be deserving, but it is also possible that he won’t be able to beat out the other star guards in the East.
Otto Porter, Jr. — When healthy (which has been a struggle for him recently), he has shown that he can fill his role well next to the other pieces on this roster. He is a free agent after this season, and as a sought-after 3-and-D, he may put himself in line for a good multi-year contract. If he performs up to his ability and plays at least 60 games, I would expect something in the 4yr/80M range. The market will be open next offseason, so something even higher than that wouldn’t shock me. I don’t think it will be with Chicago, but you know some team will take a swing, especially with potential revenue returning as fans are increasingly allowed back in the stands.
Patrick Williams — He and his development wait in the wings as the Bulls’ small forward of the future. He is still raw but has a lot of potential, and if he can flash any of his above-average natural talent, most importantly on the defensive end, then the future is bright in a system where he fits very well next to the other starting four.
Lauri Markkanen — This could go a variety of ways. I have enough confidence in his natural ability, his assertiveness during his rookie year, and Billy Donovan’s development with big men to be hopeful that he will take a step forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls offer him a 4yr/100M contact, and it may be a result of another team handing out an offer sheet. Based off of Markkanen’s potential and skill set (height and an outside shot), his player type will be sought after in the now-less-than-stellar (once-heralded!) 2021 free agent class.
Wendell Carter, Jr. — I am bullish on him this year. Maybe this will end up being a big swing and a miss on my part, but I think the comparison of his skill set to Al Horford’s is justified. I have faith that if he can stay healthy (and he has to prove it), I really like his fit as a jack-of-all trades, fitting in with the rest of the roster. It will improve the floor of the team if he can show consistency in his strengths: interior defense, movement as a screener, good passing as a secondary playmaker, at least a respectable midrange or 3-point shot. His shots from distance in preseason didn’t inspire confidence for the short-term, but the development of that skill is a long-term play that Donovan seems comfortable making in this first season.
If I were to make a guess, the Bulls will finish below .500 in an Eastern Conference that looked much more competitive over the last couple of seasons. They will have a shot at the 10th seed and play-in tournament, but with a couple teams ahead of them, they may fall short. This season has to be considered year one of a rebuild, although Bulls fans don’t want to hear that after the last few years of spinning tires. A steady ship, slow improvement and team chemistry will go a long way for their future, and I have confidence that it will be successful.