Chicago Bulls

The Bulls’ breakout player will be…

Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are billed as future all-stars and the foundational faces of the franchise moving forward. That may prove true, but it will be Wendell Carter who will make the leap this season.

Missing half of last season through injury has tempered expectations, but it’s time to remember that no other Bull has more potential in being a two-way force than Carter. On a young, improving team with playoff aspirations, Carter’s rim defense and passing creativity will make him indispensable.

It all goes wrong if…

Putting aside the potential of a full-scale player mutiny against coach Jim Boylen, injuries again will prove to be the deciding factor, as has been the case the past two seasons.

Most assume the Bulls should be better this season, with the playoffs being a real possibility if all goes to plan. There’s real reason for optimism, but there’s also a thin margin of error the Bulls will be dancing around all season. A lengthy injury to one or more of Markkanen, LaVine, Carter and Otto Porter will only compound the problems of an already weak bench unit, which will undeniably cost the team in the win column and, more importantly, an opportunity to evaluate the core group as an on-court collective.

What we’ll be saying about the Bulls at the end of the season…

Even though the team narrowly missed out on landing in the playoffs, the key young players showed signs of growth while playing an exciting brand of basketball. Now attention must turn to working out a new deal with veteran forward Otto Porter, who suddenly marketed himself as one of the prized free agents in the weak class after opting out of the final year of his deal in hope of inking a new nine-figure contract.

Final prediction

Setting the Bulls’ over/under line at 31.5 is logical when hedging against the potential threat of injury, not to mention the relative inexperience of the one of the youngest rosters in the league. But assuming key players make the leap, the Bulls can comfortably clear the over.

In a weak Eastern Conference with a wide open field beyond the top two seeds, the Bulls will amass 36 wins but will ultimately fall short in their pursuit of securing a playoff berth.

Final prediction: 36-46

Mark Karantzoulis (@MKHoops)