The Chicago Bulls wasted no time making a splash in free agency and securing their point guard for the foreseeable future. Just moments after the NBA’s free agency period began on August 2nd, the Bulls officially inked a sign-and-trade deal to acquire fifth-year point guard Lonzo Ball from the New Orleans Pelicans.
To facilitate Ball’s signing, the Bulls shipped Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and a future second-round pick to New Orleans. Upon receiving Ball, Chicago inked the former Los Angeles Laker to a four-year, $85 million extension.
Ball joins budding star Zach LaVine in a quest to get Chicago back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Last year, the Bulls finished 31-41; 11th in the Eastern Conference, but just two games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the right to participate in the play-in round of the playoffs.
Chicago didn’t stop with the acquisition of Ball: Shortly after, the Bulls completed a sign-and-trade for DeMar DeRozan. The Bulls sent Thaddeus Young to the San Antonio Spurs in a sign-and-trade deal for the versatile veteran.
With new faces in the starting lineup, the Bulls should be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and have a great chance to return to the postseason.
LaVine will still be the star of the show. Last year, in his seventh NBA season, LaVine was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. With career-highs in points (27.4), assists (4.9), and rebounds (5.0) per game, LaVine was firing on all cylinders for the Bulls. The shooting guard also connected on a career-best 51% of his shots from the field and 42% of his three-pointers for, you guessed it, yet another career-high.
DeRozan primarily played shooting guard for the first 10 years of his career, but listed as 6’6″, he’ll likely slide to small forward in Chicago; a position he played a lot of in San Antonio. DeRozan is an offensive-minded player, putting up at least 20 points per game for each of the last eight seasons. He is not much of an outside shooter, connecting on just 26% of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons. Rather, DeRozan is a slashing scorer, scoring on 50% of his field goal attempts. Last year, DeRozan tallied a career-high 6.9 assists per game to go along with 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game.
LaVine and DeRozan will be an exciting one-two scoring punch in Chicago. In this star-driven league, the best defensive strategy is often minimizing the impact of the opposing team’s stars and forcing the rest of the team to beat you.
Ball isn’t quite a “star” to this point, and not quite on LaVine and DeRozan’s level, but his presence can and should open up even more opportunities for the team’s two top scoring threats, as well as make the Bulls a better all-around team.
In his fourth year in the NBA last season, Ball was also busy posting career-highs in New Orleans. While he’s grabbed more rebounds and dished out more assists in previous seasons, he specifically expanded his offensive impact and efficency.
Ball shot 41% from the field, 38% from three-point range, and 78% from the free-throw line last season; all career-highs. His free-throw connection rate rose the most, jumping up from 57% in his first year with the Pelicans. With the increased shooting percentages, Ball was able to record a career-high 14.6 points per game.
Not only did Ball increase his shooting percentages, but also the amount of shots he took per game. One route to raising your field goal percentage is taking less shots, but making them quality looks. Ball actually took more shot attempts (12.7 per game, up from 10.9), and three-point attempts (8.3 per game, up from 6.3) than he ever had in his career.
Diving into advanced stats, Ball also had the highest usage rate (20.5%), offensive rating (110.2), defensive rating (120.5), and true shooting percentage (55.1%) of his career, all with a career-low turnover rate of 14.5%.
Ball is blossoming into a solid NBA player, and putting him next to LaVine and DeRozan should yield some exciting results.
Ball and LaVine can both shoot the ball and both demand respect from three-point range. DeRozan, 32, can still get his own shot and attack the paint. Down low, 6’11” Nikola Vucevic will be hungry for both boards and buckets. The result of al this could be some beautiful floor spacing for the Bulls.
Ball is also a pesky on-ball defender, and with LaVine also possessing a strong 118.7 defensive rating, the backcourt duo could give opposing guards headaches. His knack for stealing the ball (1.4 or more per game every season) can also lead to some quick transition offense. DeRozan held a defensive rating of 115.1 last season, and can guard multiple positions if necessary.
For this team to reach its full potential, LaVine will have to give up a little bit of ball dominance. LaVine had a high usage rate of 31.0% last season, as well as 4.9 assists per game, and these numbers don’t have to go down drastically. LaVine will still be the clear-cut first option on Chicago’s offense, the only difference will be where the plays start: In Ball’s hands. A large percentage of the offense’s buckets can still end in a LaVine (or DeRozan) shot attempt, just expect to see a lot of those opportunities come from Ball’s passing and above-average court vision.
Almost any team would be better with Ball on their roster, but the Bulls roster and playing next to LaVine and DeRozan seems to be an especially good fit for the fifth-year point guard. Ball is no stranger to sharing the spotlight, playing alongside LeBron James and Zion Williamson in his young career. Ball might slide into an even bigger offensive role in Chicago, and at the end of the day, the more efficient he is on offense, the less pressure there will be on LaVine and DeRozan to carry the load every night.
Ball can be an immeadite contributor and help elevate the Bulls into the playoffs as early as this season.