Have the Bulls underachieved this season? A discussion with analyst Will Perdue
When it comes to expectations for the rebuilding Bulls, I've found myself disagreeing at times with NBC Sports Chicago studio analyst Will Perdue.
Maybe the right thing to do in these situations is unleash a tweetstorm of criticism. I decided to invite Perdue to debate the topic. Here are the results:
McGraw: Let's start by letting you state your case. Do you feel the Bulls are underachievers?
Perdue: Absolutely. In my opinion, even if (John) Paxson and Gar (Forman) and (coach Jim) Boylen had not even mentioned, 'Our goal is the playoffs,' I still feel like they have underachieved. Listen, I understand this team's got plenty of holes, a lot of weaknesses, but they've got too much talent compared to other teams in the East, for them to be where they are.
MM: Maybe I'm jaded by sitting through the Jerry Krause rebuild that you were briefly a part of, but when I look at this roster, teams this young don't win. Zach LaVine's 24 now, but he's never played on a team that won more than 31 games. They're counting on Wendell Carter, second-year pro, one-and-done in college; Lauri Markkanen is a third-year pro, one-and-done.
If they were going to build around those three, they really needed established veterans at point guard and small forward and when Otto Porter got hurt -- I'm sure he was the right guy anyway -- but they need guys who have been winners. What they have going on right now is a formula for losing in the NBA. The only guy on the roster who is an established NBA player is Thad Young and if they play him in crunchtime, they have to sit Lauri or Wendell. Teams built that way they don't win in the NBA and never have, unless maybe you've got a young superstar and they don't have that.
WP: I agree with exactly what you're saying. Historically, you are correct. I thought them saying playoffs was what I wanted to hear, because that means they're making that push, and I agree with exactly what Pax said: 'We need Zach to step it up. We need Lauri to step it up. Guys now have to take that next step.' Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
I feel like Zach has made the next step. We can sit here and talk about defensive rating and all this stuff, but I think we need to accept that his defense is good enough. What he does on the offensive end helps this team win. He's the biggest reason they've been able to stay close enough where they have an opportunity to win, they just haven't been able to do it.
Now you start asking yourself, 'Who is not stepping up?' Well, they need a second scorer to give LaVine some help and Lauri Markkanen was supposed to be that guy. What I wonder is, what do we not see? Because what we see on paper is talent, but why are these guys not getting better? Why are they not making that next step? You look at the teams that are slowly moving upward with young players. Utah Jazz develops players. Miami Heat, they're developing players. Why are these guys not developing at the level or the speed of other players in the league?
MM: I think maybe a good comparison is Charlotte. Similar record, but they've probably done better than people expected. They've got some young talent, they're well-coached, but one difference is Terry Rozier, one of their main guys, has played in the Eastern Conference finals twice with Boston. So they've got a guy on the floor who can lead and show them the way. You see the same thing with Jimmy Butler in Miami. That's why the Bulls should have done things differently and got an established guy who can be their leader on the floor. That's why I look at this roster and say this is a 16-28 team.
WP: I still think they should be four or five games better. I know it's an uphill climb because their schedule only gets harder, But when you think about how they opened up, it was set up perfectly with Cleveland, New York, Charlotte. They got off to such a poor start. I couldn't believe it. They were better than those teams. They got beat by inferior teams. Why are we seeing Memphis win seven in a row, and the Bulls are not doing that?
MM: Well, I like how the Grizzlies have veterans sprinkled around their roster. Jonas Valanciunas is an eighth-year guy, Jae Crowder has been in the playoffs. Solomon Hill and Kyle Anderson have played for good teams. It really helps to have veterans on the floor. The Bulls didn't do that.
WP: Then why do you get rid of Robin Lopez?
MM: Maybe he wanted to be happier playing basketball. He seems like he's having fun in Milwaukee.
WP: I know, but I talked to him. He wanted to stay. He loved Chicago. He didn't necessarily want to leave. To my understanding, they made no offer. So they're thinking we're going to get rid of Lopez, but we're going to bring in Thad Young and that's going to be our leader. But we also have Otto Porter and he's going to be our leader.
This is the problem and I experienced this personally: It's not Porter's fault he's out with an injury, but if your leader is a guy who's hurt and not playing, you're in trouble. Because if you're not playing, guys tune you out. It's just what players do. When you're trying to lead from street clothes, it doesn't work.
MM: Yeah, I think it all comes down to they put too many eggs in the Porter basket and now they're capped out, have a lot of unfriendly contracts and it's going to be tough to make any changes until the end of next season.
WP: As long as the Bulls organization continue to talk about playoffs as the goal, that's how I'm going to measure this team. Some people may say, 'Hey, you're being a little critical.' I think instead of 16 wins, they should at least have 20 or 21. I'm just talking about making the necessary progress from last year to this year.
And this is coming from a player who was fortunate enough to play for two organizations that won multiple championships. In my opinion, there are organizations in the NBA that are held to different standards. San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, you can also say Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, the Lakers. Your standards are different from other teams and it's up to the organization to uphold those standards.
I understand we're going through a rebuild. I applaud the rebuild. Even with Jimmy Butler, we were a playoff team, but not a title contender. I feel like because you hold the Bulls to a different standard, they should be building themselves to be a contender, because of their past and the standards the organization built and former players built. That's how I view this whole thing. Some people may say your standards are too high, your expectations are too big. I disagree.
MM: I agree completely, but would say part of that commitment to excellence is not making fans sit through this rebuild. Too late now.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Monday 4 p.m. at Fiserv Forum
TV: NBCSCH; WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Bucks (38-6) are on pace for 70 wins and well in front of the pack in the Eastern Conference. They're also riding a six-game win streak and are 20-2 at home. The Bulls have lost to the Bucks three times this season, the closest was a 124-115 loss in Milwaukee on Nov. 14. ... Giannis Antetokounmpo is the league's second-leading scorer at an even 30.0 ppg. He's averaging 31.3 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls. SF Khris Middleton is averaging 19.4 points on the season and PG Eric Bledsoe 15.1. ... The Bulls have lost nine in a row against the Bucks.
Next: Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday 7 p.m. at the United Center
-- Mike McGraw