Who Are The Real Chicago Bulls?

Who are the real Chicago Bulls? Are they the mediocrity that’s sitting with an 18-18 record, is costing bettors money and is on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture? Or are they the team that’s twice knocked off LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, including a 106-94 win on Wednesday?

Of course the reality is that they’re both and NBA bettors face the challenge of targeting spots with the Bulls. This is a team with the first prerequisite for NBA success and that’s explosive, superstar talent with experience. Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s best players, averaging 25 points/7 rebounds/5 assists. Dwayne Wade’s resume needs no introduction and he’s showing that at age 35 there’s still gas in the tank. Wade averages a 19/4/4/ line.

What’s more, the supporting pieces around Butler and Wade are well put together. Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic are good rebounders. Doug McDermott is a nice scorer of the bench with the opportunity to get better. The team does have some internal drama going on right now, with the benching of Rajon Rondo in favor of Michael Carter-Williams at the point.

Let’s assume for the moment that this will work out in Chicago’s favor—Rondo was averaging seven assists per game and head coach Fred Hoiberg still had the confidence in Carter-Williams to make the switch, with the latter running the offense in the most recent win over the Cavs.

The record shows though, that this kind of performance isn’t consistent. Chicago ranks 18th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 13th on the defensive side. Both of those are incremental improvements from last year, but last year’s team also finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs. And on the bottom line question of profitability, the Bulls are marginally worse against the spread (ATS) than they are straight-up with a 17-19 ATS performance.

Perhaps more noteworthy is how the ATS record breaks down. The Bulls have not handled the favorite’s role well, going 8-11 when giving points. As an underdog, however, they are 9-7.

One of the factors Hoiberg is going to have to deal with is managing Wade’s minutes through the course of the long season, although if the Bulls can’t get themselves comfortably into the playoff picture, the coach’s leeway here will be limited. It would make sense to assume that Chicago’s strong outings against Cleveland have been due to Wade’s motivation to play well against his friend and old teammate, LeBron. That was true in the first meeting, but on Wednesday, Wade only shot 3-for-9. The common thread in both wins over the Cavs wasn’t D-Wade, but the depth of the team-wide contributions.

What that suggests is that the Bulls may be the kind of team who gets up for certain targeted spots on a schedule, but lacks the consistency to maintain the effort. In particular, teams that have superstar talent, but aren’t great defensively, fit the profile of one what can drive bettors a little crazy.

But not if you pick your spots. Study Chicago carefully. Watch their schedule flow. And circle February 25, when they go to Cleveland for a Saturday night national TV appearance.

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