The Chicago Bulls haven't met expectations this season, for a variety of reasons. The team is currently 14-18 going into Monday's game against the Houston Rockets, and rumors have popped up that internal issues have risen.
However, the Bulls are winners of three straight games, during which their three best players - Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vučević - have all played up to par. In that stretch the trio averaged the following:
DeRozan: 25.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists
Vučević: 23.3 points, 10.0 rebounds
LaVine: 25.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Their production over that winning streak is exactly what the Bulls front office, and decision makers Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley, envisioned when they gathered this core in 2021.
Of course, no Lonzo Ball is still a problem, as no one plays the role of connector better than he does. Ayo Dosunmu was given 21 games as a starter before being replaced by Alex Caruso, but neither offers Ball's offensive versatility, especially as a floor spacer. Caruso does offer elite perimeter defense, but his 5.3 points per game isn't exactly complementary to what the Bulls need.
So, what can the Bulls realistically do to turn their season around, assuming they have no desire to join in on the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes?
We might be seeing a possible solution develop right in front of our eyes, as LaVine's knee is looking increasingly more stable.
The explosive two-guard took a back seat to DeRozan when the latter arrived last year, but the time has come to get back into the front seat along with him. LaVine has been one of the league's most efficient scorers in the last two years, including one of the best high-volume shooters, particularly off the ball.
When LaVine is on, DeRozan seems perfectly content just playing off of the 27-year-old All-Star, picking and choosing his spots to optimize the offensive flow.
During Chicago's road win against the New York Knicks, LaVine poured in 33 points, but it was DeRozan who hit the game-winning jumper with 0.4 seconds left.
There's merit in the idea of turning LaVine and Vučević into the primary offensive options during the vast majority of the game, and turning the keys over to DeRozan in the fourth quarter, where he's routinely won the Bulls games since signing.
Asking DeRozan, the team's best shot-creator, to consistently carry the offense for the vast majority of the game isn't the right move, yet that has been case of several occasions, this season in particular.
DeRozan should basically be able to cherry pick his spots for the first three quarters, making sure he's built some kind of rhythm, only for his advanced footwork to take over down the stretch of close games. At 33, it's unreasonable to ask more of him, even if he does at times defy expectations.
This is also where further improvement from Patrick Williams becomes an outright necessity, so he can play the role of the offensive fourth wheel, flying under the radar of the aforementioned trio, and exploiting the lessened attention on him.
Williams' development is hands-down the biggest swing factor in how this season turns out for Chicago. If he doesn't break out of his seemingly perpetual nine points per game average, the Bulls aren't going anywhere. Williams, who is now in his third NBA season, has to embrace the bigger offensive challenge that's been put in front of him. He's too good a shooter, and too good at separating himself from his defender off the dribble, to not be more assertive.
So, again, it comes back to theoreticals for Chicago if they are to turn their year around, and become a fully-fledged playoff team. That's not exactly encouraging. However, at least they've displayed some level of cohesion between their three stars over their past three games. Now it's all about how they're going to build on that.