A surprising Bulls lineup that could play important minutes

The Chicago Bulls are still intent on competing with their veteran core. Billy Donovan could think outside the box to maximize clutch-time minutes.

Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls / John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls are... kind of depressing? That team is stuck in no-man's land, their feet submerged in quick sand with bullets whizzing by on every side. There's no way out with the current core. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic are all productive players, but the roster balance is askew and there's simply not enough top-end talent to genuinely compete with the Eastern Conference powerhouses.

Still, Billy Donovan is a capable head coach who squeezed remarkable defensive proficiency out of a broken roster last season. He can place his players in the best possible position to succeed, plus Chicago was able to make noise in free agency. Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig are quality vets. Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White both re-signed on agreeable deals. It could have been worse.

Chicago finished last season in the No. 10 seed, but a play-in victory over Toronto was enough to keep the front office's vain hope alive. The Bulls almost knocked Miami out of the playoffs in the second play-in game, but a characteristic late-game choke job summed up the season perfectly. The Bulls ended up watching from home as Miami went to the NBA Finals and emerged as Damian Lillard's landing spot of choice.

The Bulls could try to swing a Dame trade, but that appears unlikely. For now, the expected starting lineup is Jevon Carter, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, and Nikola Vucevic. That is probably the lineup that will close most games too.

Do not put it past Donovan to get creative with his lineup combinations late in games, though. The Bulls have a lot of talent in the guard rotation. Alex Caruso is maybe the best sixth man in the NBA. White and Dosunmu both signed eight-figure contracts. Meanwhile, Vucevic and his backup, Andre Drummond, are limited defenders who get easily outclassed in certain matchups.

Perhaps some small-ball is on the docket in 2024.

Surprising Chicago Bulls lineup that could play important minutes

  • Alex Caruso
  • Zach LaVine
  • DeMar DeRozan
  • Torrey Craig
  • Patrick Williams

This lineup does not come without obvious flaws — primarily, a severe lack of rim protection — but it does give the Bulls a semi-switchable group with the speed and offensive flexibility to out-gun more traditional opposing lineups.

Patrick Williams and Torrey Craig are both 6-foot-7, but crucially, both are listed at 215 pounds or more. It takes muscle to defend the interior and both are capable of hanging on an island in the post. On the offensive end, Craig is mostly a spot-up shooter, but Williams presents intriguing mismatch potential in the de facto five spot. He's a competent face-up scorer who could torch slow-footed bigs on drives to the cup.

Between Williams, Craig, and DeRozan, the Bulls would have enough size to keep the perimeter adequately sealed while still gaining the offensive benefits of five-out small ball. Vucevic provides a fair amount of offensive versatility in his own right — Craig is frankly a downgrade in that respect — but the lightness of foot on defense could swing the pendulum in Chicago's favor. Especially with Vooch quickly aging out of his prime at 32 years old.

Alex Caruso is the key element here. He's the most versatile 6-foot-4 defender in the sport. Caruso can suffocate ball-handlers at the point of attack, but he's most effective away from the ball, wreaking havoc with his activity in passing lanes and well-timed rotations. Caruso is a lurking specter, consistantly phasing in and out of view for opposing players. He mucks up the game in a critical way, and he's strong enough to defend up a couple positions despite his relative athletic limitations (6-foot-5 wingspan).

The Bulls essentially place three quality perimeter defenders around LaVine and DeRozan, who serve as the primary offensive engines. Williams and Craig can spot up along the perimeter while Caruso supplies the connective tissue with his constant movement and supplementary passing.

Chicago may be better off sticking with a more traditional lineup built around Vucevic in most settings, but the Bulls' defensive success last season was never derived from elite rim protection. Donovan keeps all the pieces working in harmony while maximizing his high-level perimeter defenders (which he now has more of with Carter and Craig in the mix).

Do not be shocked if the Bulls unleash this lineup or a similar lineup in crunch time next season.

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