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Realistic Ceiling for the Chicago Bulls This Season

Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah (13) dribbles next to Golden State Warriors' Jermaine O'Neal (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

With Derrick Rose injured, Luol Deng traded and the Chicago Bulls clearly having no intentions of tanking, it’s time for Bulls fans to pick their eyes up off the floor, look toward the ceiling and consider the realistic expectations of what the Bulls can accomplish this year.

Whatever the hopes are, they are going to be a far sight from the legitimate championship hopes from the start of the year. But, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to root for or enjoy from the remainder of this season. What’s the most the Bulls can do?

Bear in mind that the discussion here is not a “prediction” as much as a ceiling. It’s not saying this is what the Bulls will do as much as what they realistically can do. And they can still give the fans something to get excited about during the playoffs.

 

The Bulls' Remaining Schedule

The Bulls have shown they will continue to fight and play defense, and that means they’re going to have a chance in most games, especially when you look at their remaining schedule.

GDateColumn1OpponentWLWinning %
50Sun, Feb 9, 2014@Los Angeles Lakers1832 0.360
51Tue, Feb 11, 2014Atlanta Hawks2523 0.521
52Thu, Feb 13, 2014Brooklyn Nets2226 0.458
53Wed, Feb 19, 2014@Toronto Raptors2624 0.520
54Fri, Feb 21, 2014Denver Nuggets2424 0.500
55Sun, Feb 23, 2014@Miami Heat3513 0.729
56Tue, Feb 25, 2014@Atlanta Hawks2523 0.521
57Wed, Feb 26, 2014Golden State Warriors3020 0.600
58Fri, Feb 28, 2014@Dallas Mavericks3021 0.588
59Sun, Mar 2, 2014New York Knicks2030 0.400
60Mon, Mar 3, 2014@Brooklyn Nets2226 0.458
61Wed, Mar 5, 2014@Detroit Pistons2029 0.408
62Fri, Mar 7, 2014Memphis Grizzlies2622 0.542
63Sun, Mar 9, 2014Miami Heat3513 0.729
64Tue, Mar 11, 2014San Antonio Spurs3614 0.720
65Thu, Mar 13, 2014Houston Rockets3317 0.660
66Sat, Mar 15, 2014Sacramento Kings1733 0.340
67Mon, Mar 17, 2014Oklahoma City Thunder4012 0.769
68Wed, Mar 19, 2014@Philadelphia 76ers1536 0.294
69Fri, Mar 21, 2014@Indiana Pacers3910 0.796
70Sat, Mar 22, 2014Philadelphia 76ers1536 0.294
71Mon, Mar 24, 2014Indiana Pacers3910 0.796
72Fri, Mar 28, 2014Portland Trail Blazers3515 0.700
73Sun, Mar 30, 2014@Boston Celtics1833 0.353
74Mon, Mar 31, 2014Boston Celtics1833 0.353
75Wed, Apr 2, 2014@Atlanta Hawks2523 0.521
76Fri, Apr 4, 2014Milwaukee Bucks940 0.184
77Sat, Apr 5, 2014@Washington Wizards2425 0.490
78Wed, Apr 9, 2014@Minnesota Timberwolves2426 0.480
79Fri, Apr 11, 2014Detroit Pistons2029 0.408
80Sun, Apr 13, 2014@New York Knicks2030 0.400
81Mon, Apr 14, 2014Orlando Magic1537 0.288
82Wed, Apr 16, 2014@Charlotte Bobcats2228 0.440
Basketball-Reference.com

The aggregate winning percentage of their remaining opponents is .503. Seventeen of their 33 opponents have losing records. Of the teams with winning records, only nine have a winning percentage over .600.

On the other end, 10 have a record below .400.

Furthermore they’ve had the hardest stretches of their schedule behind them. They’ve had two prolonged and problematic West Coast road trips. First their annual, “Circus Trip” was a disaster. They lost all four of their games and Rose (ironically in the stadium formerly known as the Rose Garden.)

Now, with only the game against the Los Angeles Lakers remaining, they have won just two of five on the road trip which started January 29. In those two trips, the Bulls are an aggregate 2-7.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The good news is that they only have one more road game against a Western Conference team: the Dallas Mavericks on February 28.

In fact, overall, the road vs. home splits of their remaining games bode well for the Bulls. They have just 15 road games remaining compared to 18 home games. Their road opponents are also easier than their home ones.

The record of their foes on the road is just .489, with only five more of their road games coming against winning teams.

Their remaining home games are much more difficult, but they will be aided by the United Center crowd. Ten of their guests have winning records. The average winning percentage of their opponents in remaining home games is .514, and five of the teams have won at least 70 percent of their games this year.

They also offset those difficult matchups with five home contests against teams that have won less than 30 percent of their games.

So, putting all that together, their schedule isn’t the easiest in the league, but it’s not the hardest. The worst parts are behind them, and the toughest parts ahead of them are at home.

 

Win Probability

I did a little simple math, assuming the better the opponent is relative to the Bulls’ winning percentage—the worse the Bulls' chances of beating them are.

Since the home team wins about 60 percent of regular-season home games historically, I added in a 10 percent chance for the Bulls to win home games and subtracted 10 percent for road games.

The actual formula is Bulls’ winning percentage *2 - opponent’s winning percentage + location adjustment.

Using that logic, here are the chances of Chicago winning each of their remaining games.

Original Chcart

Obviously that’s an imperfect formula, but it does give us a rough idea of what the Bulls’ chances are for their unplayed games. Adding these percentages together has the Bulls finishing 16-17 over their last 33, a final record of 40-42.

But that’s the middle of the wall. Based on standard deviations, the Bulls could win six more or six less than that. That would put their ceiling at 46-36.

John Hollinger’s projections have them finishing 40-42 with somewhere between 28 and 53 wins.

All these models don’t take into account the injury disaster the Bulls passed through in November, so they slightly undersell the Bulls. A reasonable prediction is that the Bulls finish 41-41.

So the high end of those projections is anywhere from 46 to 53, but those are absolute ceilings, not realistic ones.

Without dreaming, if the Bulls can stay healthy, they could reach 45 wins this year. That would not be a shock to the world. Currently the Toronto Raptors own the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and are on pace to win 45.5 games. The Bulls are 1.5 games behind them.

Certainly, the Raptors are catchable, particularly if they move Kyle Lowry before the trade deadline.

A realistic ceiling for the Bulls during the regular ceiling is 45 wins and a No. 3 seed. The high seeding says more about the conference than the Bulls.

 

Playoffs

MIAMI, FL - MAY 15: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 15, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fl
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

There is little chance the Bulls miss the playoffs entirely, and in all likelihood they’ll finish anywhere between third and sixth in the East. Chicago, Toronto, the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards are clumped together, occupying the four slots with just 1.5 games separating them.

There is a decent chance that the Bulls get the home-court advantage in the first round. They would win it if they have the No. 3, No. 4, or possibly even No. 5 seed. If the Raptors win the Atlantic, but have a worse record than the Bulls, Chicago would still play host.

Additionally, the Bulls' core is the only one to have won a playoff series together. The Atlanta Hawks won a series in 2011, but the team they have now is completely different. Jeff Teague, the only healthy starter who was on that team, was just a role player back then.

While the Bulls could lose to any of those teams in a seven-game series, they’d have a great chance of beating any of them too. Their defense, experience and fortitude could help them to outlast their more talented opponents, even if they can’t outplay them.

However, if they made it to the second round, there is probably one of two solid brick walls to contend with: the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat. The most Chicago could realistically hope for at that point is a similar result to last season—stealing a game in the series and just generally being a pain.

Last year, in the absence of Derrick Rose, the Bulls won 45 games and made it to the second round, swiping a game from the Heat. This year, it looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same. A 45-win regular season and a five-game second-round series seems to be their ceiling.

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