It may not be finals season just yet, but the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls just wrapped up their last exam of the year Wednesday night in an uninspired 119-87 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.
The focus for management, coaches, and players now turns to this summer, where key development and roster decisions will take place. But until then, there’s plenty to unpack. Let’s break down this rebuilding Bulls roster, evaluating who looks to have staying power, and who might be glad they rented instead of bought.
Presented in alphabetical order, here is your 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls Report Card for forwards and centers.
Omer Asik, C
Acquired for his second stint with the squad late January in the trade for Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls took on Asik’s albatross contract as salary filler to ensure they’d receive the Pelicans’ first-round pick with limited protection.
Asik’s time on the court this season was sparse, and the minutes he did receive demonstrated a serious lack of lateral quickness or agility at this late stage in his career. The Bulls organization is happy to have him around as a locker room presence in the short-term, but look for John Paxson to move him next season, as his contract will be expiring and teams will be seeking to create cap space.
After signing a 4-year, $32 million contract last summer, expectations were high for Felicio this season. But with big men Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and Lauri Markkanen all playing heavy minutes to start the season, Felicio found himself boxed out of the rotation.
After Mirotic was traded and Felicio worked his way back into the lineup, he often looked a step slow, frequently out of position, and failing to register a tangible impact on the game. His ability to manufacture offense and play fluidly away from the basket remains severely underdeveloped, but toward the end of the season he began to show off his excellent rim-running and fishing ability.
He logged four double-doubles in the latter months of the season, and registered career highs in points (17) and rebounds (16) in March. It’s on Felicio to continue to develop his game this summer, and he must come back next season ready to play from the get-go.
Robin Lopez, C
Similarly to Holiday, Lopez entered the season as one of the few veteran presences on the rebuilding Bulls roster. Bouts with mascots aside, Lopez’s workmanlike attitude, toughness, and consistency proved invaluable to the young Bulls roster.
Despite constantly being the subject of trade rumors and a late-season demotion, Lopez maintained an upbeat and encouraging attitude. He’s a pro’s pro, and the Bulls should not take his leadership and professionalism for granted. With one year left on his contract, he will likely be shopped again this offseason. Regardless, he’ll make whatever team he finds himself with better.
Lauri Markkanen, PF
Simply put, Markkanen was the Bulls’ best player this season.
While not much was known of the 20-year old Finn when the organization acquired him from Minnesota with the 7th overall pick last year, Markkanen was forced into a starting role after Bobby Portis‘ punch sidelined both Nikola Mirotic and himself for the first eight games of the year. During that time, Markkanen burst onto the scene, demonstrating a nearly complete offensive arsenal, underrated lateral quickness on defense and unusual toughness and composure on a nightly basis.
On Wednesday night against the Pistons, Markkanen broke the Bulls’ franchise rookie three-point record, knocking down his 145th long-ball of the year, and averaged 15 points and nearly 8 rebounds for the season.
Like Dunn, he earned a place in the 2018 Rising Stars Challenge, and will find himself on the 2018 All-Rookie Team as well. Missing several games due to back spasms, he needs to add strength to withstand the grind of the NBA season and become more effective in the post, but Markkanen has all the makings of a future NBA star.
Bobby Portis, PF/C
As you’re probably aware, BP’s season got off to a controversial start to say the least. A scuffle in practice culminated in Portis punching Nikola Mirotic in the face, landing him in the hospital with a concussion and maxillary fracture.
Portis received an eight-game suspension, while Mirotic was sidelined until early December. But to Portis’ credit, he refused to let one bad decision define his season. He returned to average a career-best 13 points and 7 rebounds on the season, finally settled into a role as sixth man, and even seemed to become the emotional leader of the team.
As Sean Kilpatrick and Antonio Blakeney can confirm, Portis serves as a mentor and leader to the young Bulls, and has helped establish a culture through his exemplary work ethic, intensity, and earnest appreciation of the organization and city. Portis’ development on and off the court this season has been so impressive that the Bulls plan to engage Portis in extension negotiations this summer -– a year before his contract even expires.
Noah Vonleh, PF/C
The big man was acquired unceremoniously at the deadline this season from Portland, whose title aspirations prevented Vonleh from meaningful minutes in their rotation. The former 9th overall pick didn’t have much time to gather his bearings in a new environment, but certainly made the most of his opportunity.
Vonleh’s grown-man strength, underrated athleticism, and absurd 7’4″ wingspan served him well on both ends of the floor, as he showed off all the tools required of a big man in today’s NBA. In only 21 games and 19 minutes per game, Vonleh posted five double-digit rebounding efforts, demonstrated the ability to keep up with smaller assignments defensively, and was surprisingly comfortable taking and making threes. He’ll be a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Bulls would be wise to keep the 22-year old around.
Paul Zipser, SF/PF
Zipser kicked off the season penciled in as the starter, but never really did much to earn or keep the role. In 54 games, he averaged a paltry 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds, and failed to make a tangible impact in most of them.
He’s already 24, and has been bothered by nagging feet injuries for much of his professional career. He has excellent size for his position and has shown the ability to space the floor, but doesn’t figure majorly into the Bulls’ long-term plans moving forward. He’ll likely stick around as he’s on a bargain rookie contract for the next two years, but don’t expect much out of the former second round pick in the coming seasons.