Bulls at halfway point: Chicago hoping to building momentum for 2019-20
Bulls at halfway point: Chicago hoping to building momentum for 2019-20
The first half of the 2018-19 season was a disaster for the Chicago Bulls, and now their young core will try to build chemistry and momentum for 2019-20.
While most didn't expect the Chicago Bulls to be serious playoff contenders in 2018-19, there was some optimism surrounding their young core. After oddsmakers opened the Bulls with a season win total of 27.5, Chicago was [bet up to 30 wins in about a month](https://www.betchicago.com/chicago-bulls-wins-total), the biggest leap in the NBA. Unfortunately, bettors who hammered that OVER are in for a loss unless Chicago turns things around in a big way after a disastrous first half of the season. The Bulls will reach the halfway point of their season against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, and with a 10-30 record through 40 games, they're on pace for around 20 wins (update: the Bulls lost in Portland, 124-112). Injuries derailed this season before it even began, with [Lauri Markkanen](https://www.betchicago.com/lauri-markkanen-elbow-injury-dampens-optimism-bulls-preseason-opener-promising-signs) and Denzel Valentine getting hurt in training camp. Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis (two different times) have all missed extended time, stripping the Bulls' ability to build chemistry with their young core. Chicago got off to a 5-19 start thanks largely to these injuries, which resulted in the [firing of head coach Fred Hoiberg](https://www.betchicago.com/bulls-fire-fred-hoiberg-nba-odds). Associate head coach Jim Boylen took over, and there has been plenty of drama and controversy since the move. The Bulls lost a game by a [franchise-record 56 points](https://www.betchicago.com/chicago-bulls-terrible-day-dissected) to the Boston Celtics and had a near-mutiny afterward, thanks to Boylen's hard-charging, old-school ways. Chicago stabilized a bit, but a four-game losing streak now has them at 5-11 under Boylen heading into a difficult five-game road trip out on the West Coast. While the Bulls have shown marginal improvement on the defensive end, the offense has been bad, slow and antiquated, leading to much hand-wringing among fans and analysts alike. There have been flashes of brilliance, like during the 119-116 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers last week. Chicago's key youngsters [all showed out](https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/ct-spt-bulls-pacers-20190104-story.html) while pushing pace at times and hitting clutch 3-pointers, giving fans a glimpse of what could come if this rebuild works out as hoped. Unfortunately, that terrific performance was sandwiched between two more ugly losses at home, one a 28-point defeat to the mediocre Orlando Magic and the other a 17-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Under Boylen, the Bulls have lost six games by at least 17 points, with five of those coming at the United Center. The offensive numbers under Boylen are truly heinous. Their offensive rating of 99.5 points per 100 possessions is the worst in the league by over two points, [per NBA.com.](https://stats.nba.com/teams/advanced/?sort=OFF_RATING&dir=-1&Season=2018-19&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&DateFrom=12%2F04%2F2018) They're last in 3-point attempts, free-throw attempts, [fast-break points and second-chance points.](https://stats.nba.com/teams/misc/?sort=PTS_FB&dir=1&Season=2018-19&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&DateFrom=12%2F04%2F2018) They're 29th in the league in pace and turnover percentage. This is all despite getting mostly healthy. The defense being slightly better has kept things from getting *really* ugly, as they're [14th](https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bulls/bulls-improved-defense-will-be-put-test-against-wests-best) in the NBA in defensive rating under Boylen. But that has slipped lately, and things aren't getting any easier as they play some high-powered Western Conference teams. As the Bulls head into the second half of the season with everybody healthy but Valentine, the goal must be building chemistry among the young core and showing any kind of offensive consistency so they can feel good about the development heading into 2019-20. While losses and a high lottery pick (Zion Williamson?!) are still the best outcome for the long-term health of the franchise, Chicago can't keep playing offense at this dismal level. The three-man trio of Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen [has recorded a 101.0 offensive rating and minus-8.0 net rating in 178 minutes.](https://stats.nba.com/team/1610612741/lineups-advanced/?Season=2018-19&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&GroupQuantity=3) The four-man group of Dunn, LaVine, Markkanen and Carter is at just 94.7 points per 100 possessions in 118 minutes, though the defense has been stellar (103.7 defensive rating) and the pace has generally been faster when these young players are together. Boylen needs to let his young guns loose even more. They need to push pace, get easier baskets, shoot more 3-pointers and get to the free-throw line. That doesn't mean they have to abandon Boylen's principles of defense and toughness, but the Bulls have talented offensive players who should be producing a much more efficient offense than the dreck we have seen so far. In addition to the play on the court, the Bulls front office has more work to do during this back half of the season. They already did well to trade [Justin Holiday](https://www.betchicago.com/bulls-trade-justin-holiday-grizzlies) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks (he has since been waived) and two second-round picks, which opened up more playing time for rookie Chandler Hutchison, who will get a chance to shine among the other core players. The Bulls also made a purely financial trade involving the Houston Rockets and Michael Carter-Williams, but it's rather inconsequential and MCW has already been waived. The roster currently stands at 14, so there's an open spot to do with what they like. The front office's attention now turns to [trading Jabari Parker](https://www.betchicago.com/jabari-parker-bulls-trade-block) and Robin Lopez. Parker ($20 million) and Lopez ($14.36 million) have bloated expiring contracts and could be tough to move without taking back salary past this season, and there's no indication the Bulls are prepared to do that and cut into their massive cap space for this summer. If the Bulls can get anything of value in terms of assets, they should reconsider this strategy. If no trades can be found by the Feb. 7 trade deadline, expect buyouts. Lopez may be valuable in terms of leadership, but he doesn't serve much purpose on the court for the Bulls other than being the hub of way too many unnecessary post-ups. The big man can go help a contender in need of frontcourt depth. Meanwhile, the Parker situation has been a disaster. He was recently yanked from the rotation for several weeks before returning for the Pacers game, during which he was awful, and then he went back to being out of the rotation when Portis returned against the Nets. Keeping Parker around to rot on the bench serves no purpose for anybody, so cutting bait as soon as possible needs to happen if he's not going to play. This signing was a bad miss by Chicago. As bad as the Parker deal turned out and as unwatchable as the Bulls have been, the optimism that permeated around the team to start the season could return in 2019. It may not happen right away given this brutal upcoming road trip, and if you're looking for a silver lining, a bad trip would only help the chase for a high draft pick. The Bulls' 10-30 record is fourth-worst in the NBA, and the flattened lottery odds make finishing with a better record than a handful of teams a bit more palatable. If the Bulls get a top pick while also showing meaningful development the rest of the way, this season wouldn't be a lost cause. They could look ahead to 2019-20 with the belief they could take a significant step forward in a weak Eastern Conference. Things could just as easily turn out poorly, but Chicago's young core has a big opportunity to make a positive statement over the next few months. __NBA Daily pick 5 contest:__ [Play for free, win cool merch](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/games/nba-pick-5)2019-01-09T15:08:50.923Z2019-01-09T10:08-05:00