4. Chicago Bulls
On the surface, it appears the Chicago Bulls regressed last year. The team won 22 games, five fewer than the prior season. Former coach Fred Hoiberg was canned before Christmas. Nobody sniffed the All-Star team and first pick Wendell Carter Jr. missed most of the season.
Their biggest loss may have been at the lottery, where the Bulls drew the seventh overall pick after finishing with the fourth-worst record.
Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic in the Windy City. Franchise building blocks Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine progressed, both averaging career highs in points and assists (granted, it was only Markkanen’s second year). Chicago improved a bit under Jim Boylen with a 17-41 record, though certainly nothing to flaunt.
Most significantly, the Bulls went 8-8 when Markkanen, LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. shared the floor. Those eight confidence-boosters included victories over playoff teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Plus, Denzel Valentine and his stingy defense will return after missing last season.
Most importantly, the East lacks depth. The Bulls are a young, high-upside team — at least, with more upside than the veteran-loaded Detroit Pistons or NBA purgatory-bound Orlando Magic. If Chicago’s young talent progresses, it could knock off an experienced, regressing team that made this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.