The Chicago Bulls aren’t very good this season, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Bulls’ 2017 off-season was an off-season of a team who is rebuilding, going in a completely new direction. The Bulls as of the All-Star Break were 20-36 and went public with the fact they will sit veteran starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, and play younger players like Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne. Many would call this a “tank” move, which you could argue it is. It is a move decreasing the Bulls chances of winning, which is pretty much what tanking is. Tanking values loses over wins, with the results being a better draft pick and a higher percentage of winning the draft lottery. But what the Bulls have demonstrated since the All-Star break is they are not a team that is tanking, but a team focused on development.
The Bulls have been 2-6 since the All-Star break, both wins coming over teams with worse records in Dallas and Memphis. Not great, but a good record for a tank team. But those two wins were against teams they needed to lose too. I mean if the Bulls are tanking of course. Those two games could have helped the Bulls in draft positioning. The way the Bulls finished those games suggest they aren’t necessarily tanking, but focusing on player development. The Bulls have finished not only those two games, but most of these last 8 games with their best available players. A team that is tanking would likely finish the game with their bench, a line up that would decrease their chances of winning in the most important quarter. The Bulls have chose to play Dunn, Nwaba, Lavine, Markkanen, and Portis to close games. That’s arguably the Bulls best lineup, why would they finish games with those players if they were tanking? It’s because they aren’t tanking.
The front office made it clear to Hoiberg not to play Lopez or Holiday, Hoiberg listened. If the front office wanted Hoiberg to lose games, it would only makes sense they mandate the bench to finish games. But seeing how the Bulls have finished games with their best lineup, it is clear the Bulls aren’t necessarily tanking. The core of Dunn, Lavine, Markkanen must develop chemistry with another. The only way that can happen is if they play. The Bulls made that obvious when they sat other starters Lopez and Holiday, but chose to keep those 3 instead. They want those 3 to get as many minutes as possible with each other the rest of the season. They never played a game together until January 13th. The trio didn’t even train together in training camp. At this point, they have only played 10 games with each other. They are being forced to learn each other on the fly, which is not easy. This to me makes sense as to why the Bulls are wanting these 3 to finish games. They do need as much time as possible to get better playing with each other and finishing games with each other as well. The Bulls still really don’t know how their core trio works together, let alone with the other players. The other young guys are simply playing to show their value to the team moving forward. To see who can work with their current core, who can’t.
I understand this approach, but I also understand the consequences. Playing yourself out of a better chance at a higher pick seems counter productive. The higher the pick, the better chance you have at drafting the players you really value in the draft. You could argue the Bulls could still finish games with their bench; while Lavine, Dunn, and Markkanen would still see around 25 minutes a game. Which is true. But there is also the argument that learning how to close games, and going through the growing pains of that this season could really benefit them moving forward. Experience makes you better, experience is what helps slow the game down. You don’t get experience on the bench or in the off season. The Bulls are valuing the minutes those 3 get together over the possibility of losing the game, and gaining better draft position.
I tend to agree with this way of thinking. The Bulls do have 3 young players who do have potential to be 3 good players. Arguably they can be great as well. It would be different if that were not the case. The Bulls seem to believe they can afford to drop down a few spots in the draft because of this. The Bulls also recognize how bad the bottom 5 really is this season. The Bulls could arguably finish these game with their bench players and still end up with better record than those teams. But a part of me still wants the Bulls to try and give themselves the best chance to lose games, but I don’t mind the approach the Bulls are taking as well. Creating good habits now, over creating a losing culture has it’s benefits. I guess the question is, what do you value more. Do you value player development or do you value draft positioning more? The Bulls seemingly for now value development. Focusing on player development could help you in both development and draft positioning. Just focusing on draft position could delay player development, Bulls at the moment aren’t risking that.