Bulls Lead

Lack of Wing Depth to Blame for Bulls’ Struggles?

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Fans and professionals alike have spent plenty of time discussing the problems the Bulls have encountered in 2019. Lauri Markkanen’s fall from grace, consistently letting leads slip away, head coach Jim Boylen and Zach LaVine trading passive-aggressive barbs — it’s all been talked about.

What people have been quick to forget is the talk before the season. Entering this season, the Bulls were hopeful about making a trip to the playoffs. However, an 11-19 start after one of the easier schedules is not how many expected Chicago to start the year. The Bulls look less like playoff contenders and more like a team headed toward its fourth straight No. 7 selection in the draft.

Blame can be assigned almost anywhere. However, one aspect of this team that hasn’t been discussed much is the lack of depth on the wing.

The Injuries

Otto Porter Jr., whose arrival in Feb. last season helped the Bulls look adequate, hasn’t played since Nov. 9. In the games he did play this season, his impact was minimal. He averaged 11.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 25 minutes per game. Then, news broke that Porter may be out another four weeks (at least) with a fracture in his left foot. This presented the Bulls with a troubling predicament.

Porter’s primary backup, second-year player Chandler Hutchison, has also been hit with the injury bug. Last season, Hutchison played in just 44 games due to an acute injury to a sesamoid bone in his right foot. This season, he sat the first seven games, and has missed 13 more since. Of the Bulls’ 30 games this season, Hutchison has managed to appear in just nine.

Inadequate Replacements

The inconvenience of Porter and Hutchison’s injuries has forced Boylen to shift around his lineups. He’s made some strange decisions, like starting 6-foot-4 guards Shaquille Harrison and Kris Dunn at small forward some games.

Running Dunn and Harrison at small forward for long stretches does not fare well for Boylen. Sure, they are two of the better defenders on the team, but their lack of size and offensive abilities may harm the Bulls more than it helps them. In Dunn’s first seven starts, he averaged over four fouls per game, and the Bulls went a lowly 3-4 during that stretch.

The decision to start Dunn at the three has also given Denzel Valentine meaningful minutes off the bench. Having missed the entirety of the 2018-19 season, Valentine missed 14 of the first 17 games this season. In the three games in which he did make an appearance, he never once surpasses five minutes of playing time.

Recently, he’s begun to play into Boylen’s good graces. In December, he’s averaging 10.1 PPG and 2.7 RPG per game on 45.8% shooting from the field, 45.4% from three. He’s added firepower to a team that’s been lacking it, and should continue to get meaningful minutes when the regulars return.

Uncertain Future

No one seems to know when those regulars will return, though. Porter remains out until at least 2020, while Hutchison, as of December 16, has not returned from his shoulder injury. The Bulls have had plenty of issues over the course of the season that have resulted in the poor start, issues that may not be fixed by simply placing a small forward in the starting lineup. Yet, one can only wonder how different things might be had there been both quality wing play and depth in Chicago.

Is a trade in the works? Should Boylen continue shifting his line-ups, perhaps moving Valentine or Thaddeus Young into the starting small forward spot? Does Chicago look for free agents like Iman Shumpert, who was recently waived by the Brooklyn Nets, or do they sit and wait for Porter and Hutchison to return? Nothing is known as of now, but for these young Bulls to really start flying, they need wings.

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