Just when you think the Chicago Bulls are headed for lost-season territory, the team punches two Eastern rivals with legitimate title hopes in the stomach. Sure, they lost a game to OKC on Friday, but victories over the Celtics and Bucks (No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, respectively) earlier in the week speak volumes about the team’s potential.
However, Chicago’s ability to win games on a consistent basis and deliver a true playoff push likely still depends on starting point man Lonzo Ball’s ability to get back on the court.
With that in mind, a fan reached out to longtime Bulls insider and Beat writer Sam Smith for answers on when/if the team could see the former No. 2 overall in the lineup and contribute.
In Smith’s latest Mailbag feature for Bulls.com, the well-known Hoops writer was asked to weigh the possibility of Ball returning before the calendar change. And while he confessed that he has no top-secret information on the subject, his response was not overly optimistic about the Veteran Guard’s schedule.
Asked whether or not he could reveal anything Lonzo-related that would have fans “looking forward to Christmas,” Smith essentially dashed any remaining hopes of a sooner-than-expected Hardwood return.
“Christmas Miracle? I would stop doing it,” Smith wrote in his latest column. “…The common rumor surrounding the Bulls is that he may be able to play in January, maybe until the All-Star break.”
This timeline is consistent with statements recently made by Billy Donovan. After weeks of radio silence on the PR front, the Bulls coach recently reported that Ball “still isn’t running,” adding “until he runs, jumps or cuts,” there’s no real way of knowing when he’ll play again can.
Smith also warned that all the back channel chatter and fan speculation about the status of Ball’s knee was beginning to reflect an infamous chapter in the team’s history.
“I’m concerned about Derrick Rose Syndrome,” Smith wrote. “For those who remember, in the season following Derrick’s injury in the 2012 playoffs, the media and fans obsessed over Rose’s return to the point where he was accused of not returning and soon the media and the community with the belief against him he didn’t want to play. Which was as wrong as could be…”
Make no mistake, the Bulls are doing as well as one could hope given Ball’s prolonged absence. For his part, free-agent signee and former All-Star Goran Dragic was a revelation as a backup point. And second-grader Ayo Dosunmu continues to play as a substitute for the first team.
But they don’t come close to matching the positive effects ball has on games.
Last season, Chicago was 5.1 points per 100 possessions better when the ball was on the ground, and its 107.0 defensive record ranked No. 2 on the entire team among rotational regulars. And while Dragic’s 2022-23 net swing of 11.6 is greater than Ball’s, he only plays 18.1mpg, most of which comes in against other backups.
Also, any positive influence Dragic has has been negated by Dosunmu, whose net rating checks in at minus 16.7.