Odds are heavily against Bulls making playoffs despite Vucevic trade
The Chicago Bulls were among the big winners at the NBA trade deadline after acquiring Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic in a splashy six-player deal. The two-time All-Star is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists, and is an enormous upgrade over Wendell Carter Jr., who was sent packing to the Sunshine State after three mostly forgettable seasons.
Vucevic should pair well with Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who has emerged as one of the league’s most lethal scorers. Both players are shooting above 40% from beyond the arc this season, and have the makings of a productive pick and roll tandem.
Although Chicago’s acquisition of Vucevic has been met with nearly universal praise, bookmakers aren’t convinced the 30-year-old center will propel the Bulls into the playoffs. The team’s odds of missing the postseason have been set at -278 at TwinSpires Sports despite the fact the Bulls are just two games behind the eighth-seeded Miami Heat.
Odds to Reach the Playoffs
We appreciate that Vucevic isn’t the second coming of Shaquille O’Neal, but Chicago’s playoff odds reek of pessimism. Here are three good reasons why the Bulls will still be playing in June.
Vucevic isn’t Chicago’s only reinforcement
Vucevic received the lion’s share of headlines on deadline day, but the Bulls also picked up three useful rotation players in Al-Farouq Aminu, Troy Brown Jr., and Daniel Theis. Aminu missed 27 games to begin the season after undergoing knee surgery, but he’s a plus defender and streaky three-point shooter who averaged 17.3 points per game in the 2018 Playoffs for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Brown, meanwhile, is just one season removed from averaging 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game with the Washington Wizards. He failed to find a true niche in D.C., but should provide much-needed depth behind LaVine and rookie forward Patrick Williams.
Theis averaged 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 37 starts with the Boston Celtics this season. At 6'8" he’s woefully undersized for a center, but is as rugged as they come and was developing into a reliable pick-and-pop partner for Kemba Walker. The Bulls will love his tenacity and willingness to keep the ball moving.
Aminu, Brown, and Theis don’t move the needle on their own, but they’re extremely valuable role players who should help stabilize Chicago’s second unit and improve the team’s middle-of-the-pack defensive rating.
Chicago’s remaining schedule is full of cupcakes
Beginning with Monday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors, 10 of Chicago’s remaining 28 games are against teams currently outside of the playoff picture. That includes dates against cellar dwellers like the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves as well as clubs like the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors, both of whom were sellers at the trade deadline. The Bulls also have two games against the Charlotte Hornets, whom they beat by 13 points during their first meeting of the season on Jan. 22.
The Bulls certainly won’t go unbeaten down the home stretch, but they should win more than 50% of their games, which could be enough to allow them to slip past the Boston Celtics, who missed out on Aaron Gordon at the deadline, and the Hornets, who will be without electrifying point guard LaMelo Ball for the remainder of the season after he fractured his wrist.
Lauri Markkanen is finally healthy
Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen was enjoying the best year of his career before spraining the AC joint in his right shoulder in a game against the Magic on Feb. 5. The injury caused him to miss 13 games, but he’s back in the line-up now and has been red hot since his return.
"The Finnisher" scored 20 points or more in three of his first four games back, and the spacing he provides is crucial for opening driving lanes for LaVine. Markkanen's defense remains a work in progress, but the Bulls are a far more dangerous team when he’s on the court.
A bull market
In order to slip into the playoffs the Bulls will need a little help from several teams ahead of them in the standings. The Heat are probably a lock after adding Victor Oladipo on Thursday, but the Hornets, Knicks, and Hawks are all playoff also-rans whose postseason positioning is precarious at best. A three-game skid or an injury to a key player could easily send them into a tailspin, allowing Chicago to snag the eighth seed.
The addition of Vucevic and a soft remaining schedule makes this the perfect time to bank on the Bulls.