Key storylines to watch as Bulls begin training camp with renewed optimism
Key storylines to watch as Bulls begin training camp with renewed optimism
The Chicago Bulls begin training camp for the 2018-19 season with a sense of optimism as they look to take a step forward with their rebuild.
After an [eventful offseason](https://www.betchicago.com/bulls-offseason-grades-chicagos-offseason-mixed-bag), the Chicago Bulls head to Monday's media day and this week's start of training camp with renewed optimism as they look to take the next step in their rebuild. The Bulls added two first-round picks, matched Zach LaVine's sizable offer sheet and nabbed hometown kid Jabari Parker from the Milwaukee Bucks to form an intriguing young core. With Jimmy Butler on his way out of Minnesota after just one season, Chicago [has to be feeling better](https://www.betchicago.com/jimmy-butler-next-team-odds) about its decision to hit the reset button last summer. Bettors have been bullish on the Bulls since their initial win total came in at 27.5. They're up to 30 wins at the Westgate LV SuperBook, marking [the biggest jump in the league](https://www.betchicago.com/chicago-bulls-wins-total). Thirty wins isn't what Chicago fans want, but the move is a sign the betting market believes the Bulls could surprise this season. They still have major question marks and could struggle, [but there's an outside chance things come together](https://www.betchicago.com/how-the-bulls-can-beat-the-odds-and-get-back-to-contention-soon) and they challenge for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference. Let's take a look at some of the key storylines for Chicago heading into an important 2018-19 season. ### 1. Will Lauri Markkanen blossom into a star? Markkanen surprised just about everybody with his rapid development and spot on the All-Rookie first team. He notched 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while knocking down 36.2 percent of his 3-pointers. In the process, he became the fastest player in NBA history to hit 100 triples and finished with a stellar 55.2 true shooting percentage. Expectations are high for Markkanen as he enters his second season. He [put on 14 pounds of muscle](https://www.blogabull.com/2018/8/6/17653568/lauri-markkanen-talks-about-getting-yoked-bulls) over the offseason to better prepare himself for the pounding that comes with playing down low, especially at the center position. The Bulls have a handful of options at the 5, but playing Markkanen there could unlock devastating offense. Increased strength should help Markkanen take advantage of mismatches offensively and better hold his own defensively. He will also look to improve his off-the-dribble game and get to the free-throw line more often, after attempting just 2.4 per game as a rookie. With these improvements, he could challenge for an All-Star spot. However, there are concerns Markkanen's development will be hindered by the other young players on the roster. Markkanen's numbers [took a hit](https://stats.nba.com/impact/#!?LineupIDs=1628374&VsLineupIDs=1627739~203897&TeamID=1610612741&VsTeamID=1610612741&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&PerMode=Per36&Season=2017-18) in his limited minutes alongside Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine last season, so these concerns are warranted. Adding another high-usage player in Jabari Parker could further complicate matters. The Bulls have to figure out how to effectively divvy up the offense and keep Markkanen involved as a focal point. Fred Hoiberg emphasizes pace and ball movement, but it will also be on the players to execute his system and get it to the right people in the right spots. They can't get stuck taking turns trying to play hero. ### 2. Will Kris Dunn stake his claim as point guard of the future? The Bulls have been trying to find a bona fide option at point guard since it became clear Derrick Rose wasn't going to be that guy anymore, and they think Dunn *is* that guy. They loved Dunn coming out of Providence and reportedly would've taken him if they had traded Jimmy Butler in 2016. Instead, they just waited a year to get him. Dunn was awful as a rookie in Minnesota, but he took a clear step forward last year in Chicago. Though injuries contributed to a roller-coaster season, there were promising peaks, including a 32-point effort against the Dallas Mavericks. He took on a role as a de facto closer in some games, showing proficiency in hitting tough jumpers off the dribble. The 24-year-old also projects to be a terrific ball-hawking defender with All-Defensive team potential after racking up 2.0 steals per game. Dunn's offense still comes with major questions, though, and it's why he hasn't secured his position as a legitimate starting point guard just yet. He had an ugly habit last year of following up a strong performance with a dreadful one, thanks largely to a streaky jumper and surprisingly inept finising ability around the basket. He had 13 games in which he attempted double-digit field goals and made a third of those shots or fewer, plus another handful of low-volume dud performances. Add in a poor free-throw rate and you get a woeful 48.8 true shooting percentage. Dunn also isn't the most natural playmaker, and his sloppy handle and questionable decision-making resulted in him being turnover prone. He racked up nearly three turnovers per game last season. Some of Dunn's problems may have been a function of a high usage he wasn't equipped to handle. With more offensive support and a lower usage, perhaps he becomes more efficient and can expand even more energy on the defensive end. To make this work, he'll have to prove he can also be an off-ball threat, which comes with its own set of questions. This is going to be a huge season for Dunn's development, and the Bulls' success [could ultimately hinge on how effective the point guard is](https://www.blogabull.com/2018/9/11/17846128/how-kris-dunn-became-the-most-important-player-for-this-bulls-season-to-be-a-success). He's not exactly a young pup at 24, so he could be playing for his Bulls future. ### 3. How will Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker perform after signing lucrative contracts? LaVine and Parker were both shaky last season coming off ACL tears. Shaky, though, is putting it kindly for LaVine, who shot 38.3 percent from the field and played his normal brand of terrible defense in only 24 appearances. But the potential LaVine showed before his injury garnered him a four-year, $78 million offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls matched it to make the 23-year-old a centerpiece of their young core, and now it's on him to prove he's worth that deal. LaVine [says he's 100 percent healthy now](https://www.slamonline.com/nba/rise-zach-lavine/), and at worse he should be a dynamic scoring threat. He's a better shooter than he showed last season, which was marred by rust and poor shot selection. He notched a career-high free-throw rate and is a capable secondary playmaker. The question is whether LaVine can become a bona fide No. 1 or No. 2 offensive option. And, of course, whether his defense can become passable enough that he's not a total liability on that end. There's reason for optimism about his offense, but the same can't be said about his defense, which won't be helped by the fact that Parker will be flanking him on the wing. Parker has played over three-quarters of his minutes at power forward in his career, but the Bulls signed him to a two-year, $40 million deal to be their starting small forward. The contract has a team option on the second year, though, so Parker will essentially be playing for a new contract. Parker and LaVine project as a horrific defensive wing duo, but the Bulls are banking on the Chicago product's talent even after a second torn ACL. He's a talented scorer who has improved his outside shooting after struggling early in his career, getting his 3-point percentage over 38 percent last season. Things didn't end well for Parker in Milwaukee, but perhaps he'll be rejuvenated playing in his hometown. With proper effort and buy-in, the 23-year-old could turn himself into a long-term option in Chicago. But, like LaVine and all these other Bulls youngsters, he has to prove it. ### 4. What kind of role will Wendell Carter Jr. play? The Bulls selected Carter with the seventh pick in June's draft, and he immediately raised expectations for himself [with a terrific showing in the Las Vegas summer league](https://www.betchicago.com/bulls-summer-league-wendell-carter-jr-chandler-hutchison). Chicago has a crowded frontcourt, though, so he may play a smaller role to begin the season. The Bulls will start Markkanen and Robin Lopez, and Bobby Portis is coming off a career year as the primary bench big (Portis is eligible for a contract extension before the season begins). Parker will likely also sop up minutes at the 4. Carter will get minutes as a backup center, but he'll be fighting for those minutes. Lopez could be moved at some point to open up playing time for Carter, who hopes to be the Bulls' defensive anchor for years to come. Defense down low will take on increasing importance with the shoddiness on the wing, so the hope is Carter can help cover for those mistakes. That's a lot to ask a 19-year-old rookie, and growing pains will be evident, but quick development on his part could help the Bulls be better than expected on defense. Offensively, Carter will do dirty work and help stretch the floor as a shooter. He's a nice long-term pairing with Markkanen thanks to his versatility, but we probably won't see that versatility in large doses this season. ### 5. Could Fred Hoiberg find himself on the hot seat? This is an important season for Hoiberg. He's entering the fourth year of his contract and hasn't had much success through the first three, although they featured a lot of weirdness. He inherited a messy situation after Tom Thibodeau was fired, and that was followed up by the ill-fated "Three Alphas" experiment starring Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Then, last season, he was the coach of a team trying to lose for much of the year. Hoiberg's system showed signs of working last year, but the talent wasn't there and there was that whole trying-to-lose thing. Now, with more talent and players theoretically meant to fit his system, he's running out of excuses. The Bulls will push the pace and jack up a lot of 3-pointers, so they should at least be fun to watch. The key will be turning that style into efficient offense, while also exceeding expectations defensively when everybody thinks they're going to be terrible on that end. If the Bulls flop, it's not hard to envision Hoiberg getting canned as he approaches the end of his contract (with GM Gar Forman possibly following him out the door?). But if Hoiberg can coach these kids up, he'll cement his status for 2019-20 and potentially set himself up for a contract extension.2018-09-24T14:33:37.145Z2018-09-24T10:33-04:00