With the 2nd half of the season beginning Thursday, the Bulls find themselves 9.5 games back of the playoffs with a record of 20-37. The Bulls to little surprise, have a slim chance to make the playoffs at this point. But the Bulls still have a lot to play for the last 25 games. What they do these next 25 games will be a factor in where they will draft. The goals for the last few months should clearly be two things, player development and draft positioning.
The rotation moving forward should be focused more on player developing and draft positioning over winning. By this, I mean the Bulls need to value playing younger players over veteran players with little upside. Let’s cover the starting lineup. Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen, Robin Lopez will likely be the starting lineup moving forward, if healthy of course. This line up is fine if the minute distribution is divided properly. There are two players in that lineup whose minutes should be cut dramatically. I’m speaking of Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez. Lopez the first half of the season averaged 28 minutes a game. That needs to be cut to no more than 20 minutes a game, then Felicio and Vonleh should be given more minutes. At this point we know exactly who Lopez is, and will be 30 by the end of the season. If the focus is player developing and draft positioning, playing Lopez more could hurt those two things. Felicio was given 32 million guaranteed over 4 seasons this past off season but has only played in 31 out of 57 games. Also, in those 31 games has only played 12.8 minutes a game and isn’t even top 10 in total minutes played this season for the Bulls. He hasn’t played well, but at this point moving forward Felicio should be given 18-20 minutes a game. Giving the 25-year-old center every opportunity to succeed with the current goals makes sense. Vonleh also only 22 years old and former lottery pick should be given some minutes as well. 10-12 minutes a game also makes sense if again you are focusing on player developing and draft positioning.
Justin Holiday as well should see a dramatic minute cut. Holiday is currently playing 34 minutes a game. Which I could argue never made sense but going into the 2nd half makes even less sense. Again at this point we know who the soon to be 29 year old Holiday is, and like Lopez their future’s with the team moving forward aren’t high when their contracts end. Players like David Nwaba and Denzel Valentine need to be given more opportunity to play in the 2nd half. David Nwaba is heading into possible restricted free agency this off season. Nwaba has shown he can make your team defense better, but has shown he has work to do offensively. Giving him more minutes the last 25 games again just makes sense in the current state the Bulls are in. The Bulls also invested a 2016 first round pick in Denzel Valentine. Having Holiday playing more minutes than Valentine is just counter productive.
Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and Lauri Markkanen should be locks in most starting lineups. Those 3 will likely be the core of next year’s team. Giving them as much opportunity to grow together only makes sense. I wouldn’t mind if they give those players a few rest games moving forward, especially if it is clearly helping draft position. But with 25 games remaining, those 3 should play in at least 20 of them.
As for the bench, there are some more changes that should be made there as well. Besides allowing Vonleh to play about 12 minutes a game, Cameron Payne should be given more playing time as well. I think I speak for most Bulls fans as I have seen enough of Jerian Grant this season. Grant has had plenty of opportunity to shine and has mostly been a disappointment. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been average either. I am mainly disappointed in the lack of development. Look at how much Kris Dunn developed in one off season, now look at Grant. The Bulls traded for Cameron Payne last deadline, and he hasn’t had much time to play due to injury. The 2nd half of the season is a perfect showcase for Cameron Payne and for the Bulls to see what they have in their young point guard. Another player I like to see more is Antonio Blakeney. I admittedly don’t know where he is in terms of his 45-day limit on the NBA team, but I do know once the GLeague season ends that limit no longer exist and Blakeney can be on the team the rest of the season. That date is March 24th, which at that point the Bulls should give the young guard some playing time while decreasing Holiday’s minutes more.
The Bulls are in position to develop their young players, while helping their chances at a better pick in this upcoming draft. If the Bulls do all this and still win, you can’t be mad. If anything could be a great thing because that means their younger talent played well. But if the Bulls continue to play their veterans all to squeak out a few more wins while worsening their draft position, it would be a mistake in my opinion. This could be the best draft pick the Bulls see in a while, while playing the younger players to help them get that great pick. Hopefully they don’t screw it up.