Contract Extensions, a Backup Center, and Missed Opportunities: The Chicago Bulls’ 2022 Season Preview

Does a less-than-stellar offseason mean the Bulls are headed for the play-in tournament?

By Austin Zeglis, Sports Reporter

The Chicago Bulls took a giant step forward in the 2021–22 season, finishing with a 46–36 record and making the playoffs as the number six seed after four straight seasons of missing the postseason entirely. Now, as the offseason wraps up, relative inaction on the part of the Bulls calls into question whether last year’s accomplishments will translate to an equally successful 2022–23 season.  

Free agency season saw the Bulls bring in Andre Drummond and Goran Dragić as veteran bench pieces. That didn’t hurt, but what did was the sight of other teams making much bigger moves. Two teams who finished below the Bulls in the Eastern Conference last year made blockbuster trades in free agency. The Atlanta Hawks traded forward Danilo Gallinari, three unprotected first round picks, and a 2026 pick swap to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded a package including Collin Sexton, former Bull Lauri Markkanen, and three unprotected picks to pair Darius Garland with guard Donovan Mitchell in their backcourt. After these moves, the league could see Cleveland and Atlanta leapfrogging Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings this year, calling into question whether the Bulls will be able to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in tournament reserved for the seventh through tenth seeds. 

Zach LaVine has been an integral piece of the Bulls system for four years now, and another great season from him would be a huge step towards a potential playoff run for the Bulls this year. Averaging 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game on 48% shooting from the field and 39% from the three-point line, LaVine’s dynamic athleticism and proficient shooting earned him a five-year contract worth around $37 million this year and over $215 million overall.  

In the 2022 NBA draft, the Bulls selected Arizona guard Dalen Terry with the 18th overall pick, adding to the collection of guards the Bulls have been accumulating seemingly as an insurance policy for the injured Lonzo Ball. Terry, along with some combination of Goran Dragić, Alex Caruso, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmu, will have to pick up some of the slack next to Zach LaVine in the backcourt. The 6’7” guard made some great winning plays and showed a lot of potential in the Summer League. While he may need some time to develop his long-range shooting, Terry is a great athlete who can get to the basket quickly and defend almost any position.  

Ball, who tore his meniscus in January, was a crucial part of the Bulls’ early season success in 2021, adding great perimeter defense and intelligent passing. The Bulls had cruised to a 27–13 record before Ball injured his knee, then tumbled to a 19–23 finish in the second half of the season. Ball is set to undergo surgery on his knee on September 28 in Los Angeles and will be reevaluated in four to six weeks, making it unlikely he will be available for the season opener against the Miami Heat on October 19. 

Bulls fans are hoping for a breakout season from 2020 fourth overall pick Patrick Williams, who was poised to take a big step last year before he injured his wrist in an October game against the New Orleans Pelicans. After playing a little on the back end of last season, including a couple of 20-point performances against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, the former Florida State forward should contribute great defense on all levels this year. 

I was unimpressed, to say the least, by center Nikola Vučević last year. While many wanted to see the seven-footer be a strong force in the paint, Vučević played more like a stretch five and left a lot to be desired given the Bulls’ lack of big bodies down low. He wasn’t a fantastic shooter, either—he posted a 51.8% effective field goal percentage, the sixth lowest on the team and his lowest since his 2017–18 season with the Orlando Magic. Unless we see an improvement in Vučević’s performance down low in the paint, the 31-year-old’s future with the team may be called into question.  

Aside from bringing back Zach LaVine, the Bulls’ biggest offseason move was bringing in Andre Drummond as their backup center. The Bulls will be the sixth team in four years for Drummond, who was traded by Detroit in 2020 after six years of service and two All-Star selections for the Pistons.  The 31-year-old has been one of the league’s top rebounders since joining the league, but the Bulls hope that talent won’t fade as Drummond gets older—his 9.3 rebounds per game last year marked his first season averaging less than ten since his rookie year. 

Another All-NBA season from DeMar DeRozan would greatly improve the Bulls’ chances at making a playoff run. DeRozan had a bounce back season last year, even generating some MVP buzz in the middle of the year when he had an eight-game streak of over 35 points on 50% shooting in February. He finished the season with averages of 27.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game on 50% shooting from the field and 35% from three. This came after Bleacher Report named DeRozan the worst free agency signing of the 2021 offseason. This August, Bleacher Report put him on their list of most overrated players of the last ten years, which DeRozan responded to by way of a notorious clip from a Grand Theft Auto cutscene.  Could this be a similar chip on DeRozan’s shoulder that fuels him to another incredible year? 

There are many things that could go wrong for the 2022 Chicago Bulls: Lonzo Ball could miss more time, Patrick Williams could fail to meet expectations, defensive woes from last year could carry over to this season, and more. And compared to the talent that other Eastern Conference teams brought in, Andre Drummond being the marquee move of your offseason is disappointing, to say the least. But maybe I’m selling them short—if Lonzo Ball gets healthy quickly, the trio of DeRozan, LaVine, and Ball could outperform last year’s finish, and Chicago could finish as a top-five team in the East. Even so, as I see it, the most realistically successful scenario is that DeRozan and LaVine power the Bulls to a seventh seed finish in the East, behind the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Toronto Raptors. Otherwise, success from teams like Atlanta and Cleveland may push the Bulls farther down in the play-in tournament or out of the postseason completely.