Bulls

How do Bulls evaluate Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine?

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How do Bulls evaluate Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine?

With Monday's expected news that Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn won't play in any more games for the Bulls this season, the coaching staff and front office now have to make an evaluation of their play based on a much smaller sample size than they would have preferred.

Dunn played in 52 games, averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6 assists, while LaVine was limited to just 24 games, averaging 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3 assists. Even more concerning was the lack of extended court time together, with Dunn playing his best basketball while LaVine was still in rehab mode following ACL surgery in February of 2017.

So, as the decision makers look ahead to an important off-season, what do they really know about the two players (along with Lauri Markkanen) acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota last summer? Has Dunn established himself as the long term answer at point guard, and is LaVine worthy of a long-term contract commitment?

The decision on Dunn's future is probably easier to make. He established himself as a high quality defender (fourth in the NBA in steals), with better than expected shooting range. Dunn also showed the willingness to take big shots late in close games and his positional size allowed him to score over smaller point guards in isolation sets. The biggest issue he faces going forward is a high turnover rate (2.9 per game), reducing his assist to turnover ratio to a pedestrian 2.1.

Has Dunn showed enough to let John Paxson and Gar Forman pass on highly regarded college point guard prospects Collin Sexton and Trae Young if one or both are still on the board when the Bulls are on the clock? Again, the answer is probably yes, especially considering the Bulls also have back-up point guards Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract for next season.

At 6'4", Dunn could certainly handle the defensive responsibilities playing alongside a smaller point guard like Sexton or Young, but it's more likely the Bulls would use their top 10 pick on a small forward prospect like Mikal or Miles Bridges.

The LaVine situation is a lot trickier, especially considering he's heading into restricted free agency. Paxson has said consistently the Bulls plan to re-sign LaVine this summer, but at what cost?

Since the Bulls hold LaVine's Bird rights after the trade with Minnesota, LaVine would be eligible for a five year max contract at around $146 million, depending on where the cap is set in July. The Bulls could try to sign LaVine at a lower total package or for fewer years, and they also have the option of letting Zach and his agent shop the market for an offer sheet the Bulls could match.

Washington used that strategy with Otto Porter last summer, and wound up matching a Brooklyn Nets offer sheet for four years at around $106 million. Porter is a good player, but hardly worth that kind of contract, and the Bulls could be in the same position if they let another team set the market. The one advantage the Bulls do have is because so few teams have money available to offer a max contract this summer, it's unlikely any franchise would want to tie up its dollars on a restricted free agent they're unlikely to get.

Still, Paxson and Forman have to evaluate what LaVine's ceiling could be. Will LaVine make a big jump in his second year following knee surgery and become an Eastern Conference All-Star or is he a high volume scorer who needs the ball in his hands to be successful and sometimes drifts on defense?

LaVine showed flashes of his pre-knee injury form during his 24 games this season, especially in his first game against his former team. LaVine scored a season-high 35 points and out-dueled Butler down the stretch in a 114-113 Bulls’ win at the United Center. The explosiveness and leaping ability is still there, and you'd have to expect he'll be a more efficient player next season with a full summer and training camp under his belt.

LaVine admitted as much to me in a recent interview, saying, "You've got to work to improve your game each summer. I think that's where NBA players make the biggest jump is in the off-season. You get your experience through the season, you build on what you want, and you go back and evaluate it. Me personally, that's where I put a lot of my work in. Obviously, last year, I didn't get a summer so I'm really looking forward to it. Me and Kris talk all the time, this is going to be a big summer, we're going to make a big jump, there's not going to be any messin' around. We're going to go to work."

Best guess here is that the Bulls will offer LaVine a long term contract at less than max value, and if the two sides can't reach an agreement, LaVine could sign a two or three year deal and then re-visit the market as an unrestricted free agent with more teams willing and able to join in the bidding.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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With the Bulls winning back to back games against the Magic and Wizards, it looks like they'll need some lottery magic to move up from their current eighth position in the reverse standings. Matter of fact, there's a decent chance the Knicks might catch or pass the Bulls before we hit the finish line.

If the Bulls stay at number eight, their choices will likely come down to one of the point guards we mentioned earlier, Duke big man Wendell Carter or small forwards Mikal Bridges of Villanova and Miles Bridges of Michigan State. Mikal Bridges fits the mold of the "3 & D" small forward that would mesh nicely with the team the Bulls are building. Mikal Bridges is 6"7" with a 7'2" wingspan, and he plays the point on Villanova's trapping defense. It wouldn't be a franchise-changing addition like some of the prospects at the top of the draft, but remember this year's rookie sensation, Donovan Mitchell, was the 13th pick last June.

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Don't look now, but the New Orleans Pelicans are crashing back to earth. Anthony Davis is one of the top five players in the league, but even he can only carry a team so far. New Orleans went 0-for-4 during a brutal stretch of games against Houston, Cleveland, Portland and Oklahoma City. In the process, the Pelicans have dropped to eighth in the West, just one game ahead of Denver.

The Bulls own New Orleans' first round pick as a result of the Niko Mirotic trade, so they'll be rooting for the Pelicans to fall into the lottery over the final week of the season. Owning two lottery picks might give Paxson and Forman enough ammunition to move up a few spots in the top 10 if a player they really like starts to slip.

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That player might just be Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who formally applied for the draft on Monday. Jackson Jr. had an inconsistent freshman season because of foul trouble that limited his playing time, but some scouts believe he's the ideal "stretch 5" with his ability to protect the rim and shooting range out to the 3 point line.

In this era of perimeter-oriented play, we could see five players 6'10" or taller go in the top six picks with Jackson Jr., Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba and Michael Porter Jr. joining international prospect Luka Doncic, a 6’8” combo guard.

If a point-guard needy team like Orlando decides to reach for Sexton or Young, one of the elite bigs could fall to the Bulls. At least, that's what Gar and Pax are hoping.

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Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has had issues in the past because of a poor attitude, and he took that to a new level on Saturday after a one point overtime loss to Brooklyn. Whiteside didn't play over the final 21 minutes because Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to go with a smaller line-up. Which led to these comments post-game from Whiteside about Spoelstra choosing to match up, "It's annoying. We shouldn't. Why are we matching up? We've got one of the best centers in the league. Why are we matching up?

A lot of teams don't have a good center. They are going to use their strengths. It's (B.S.). It's really (B.S.) man. There are a lot of teams that can use a center. That's one of them. That's (B.S.)."

The Heat fined Whiteside an undisclosed amount for conduct detrimental to the team. Spoelstra insists the issue is behind them, but he did offer this interesting take on how Whiteside could let him know he's unhappy, "Guys want to throw a few eggs after the game or TP my house, that's actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to [the media] about the frustrations."

Wouldn't you love to see a 7-foot center toilet-papering the head coach's house? Talk about your viral videos!

 

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson discuss the chances of the Bulls signing Paul George in free agency this summer.

Plus, would Jimmy Butler really want to finish his career in Chicago? Also, a look around the NBA playoffs including the surprise performance of Derrick Rose, and you don’t want to miss the offer that Kendall makes Vincent Goodwill – it may be too tough for Vinnie to pass up.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

New blood has injected life into the opening week of the NBA Playoffs as youthful newcomers have found the bright lights just to their fitting.

For those on the outside looking in, half-decade rebuilding plans appear tougher to sell to fan bases and ownership groups watching players on rookie scale deals outperform their contracts.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t expected to lead the Boston Celtics this season, but they’ve been thrust into leading roles after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving’s knee troubles shut him down weeks before the postseason.

But they’ve shown there’s no need to be treated with kid gloves, that redshirting is for the minor leagues. Tatum hasn’t gotten the extra publicity of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but he’s not to be forgotten about in the playoff equation.

Brown had the benefit of being a rookie for the Celtics last season, and was more bystander than active participant.

But he’s still 21 years old, months younger than Mitchell and Simmons.

The two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year are certainly franchise players, and although they have major help on their respective rosters by way of veterans or fellow phenoms, one could argue the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers would have made the playoffs regardless.

The playoffs used to be a place reserved for the veterans, a higher plane of air that young lungs weren’t yet prepared for.

But Simmons is posting numbers that have statisticians scrambling for box scores from the tape-delay era for reference, while Mitchell is showing the teams who passed him up they should check their scouting and decision making.

And even though we could be in store for more of the same in the Finals if LeBron James’ Cavs meet Stephen Curry’s Warriors in June, the road to get there will be filled with so many new faces sure to be more than potholes in the years to come.

Recent NBA history can’t be written without the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder having significant ink. But each is on the verge of going fishing, trailing 3-1 after four games.

Instead, the 76ers are now darlings, the Celtics are chugging along without main cogs and the Jazz aren’t far away from catching the attention of casual fans to become must-see TV.

There’s a shift going on in the NBA, with slow-moving franchises hoping for a traditional clock on a rebuild taking the risk of being passed by those more determined, more opportunistic and unbothered by job security in the pursuit of winning now.

If you have something close to a unicorn, your house better be in order. Of the rising stars who have a level of establishment in the league’s hierarchy, only Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns are sitting on the outside of the playoff party. Porzingis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered midseason, otherwise the Knicks would have likely been in contention for a playoff spot.

The Suns, well, they’re a mess.

And it’s no coincidence both franchises are on the hunt for new coaches.

The talent pool in the NBA is so vast, its players seemingly so prepared for the transition to the professional game that the clock on franchises to wait on its players ticks louder than it ever has.

Factoring in booming salaries with young players poised to cash in on restricted free agency, franchises need answers on its young players—and they need them in the form of impact, in the form of wins.

Short of the Philadelphia 76ers’ sham and scam of the league’s rules by tanking for half a decade, it’s tough to envision a team duplicating the strategy with lottery reform on the horizon.

If done right, turnarounds can happen quicker than saving yourself a seat at the draft lottery four or five years in a row.

A correct mix of scouting, coach selection and veteran influence can put teams back in the playoff hunt quicker than before—as opposed to having similarly talented players making big money without having proven much.

For some fan bases, it represents hope.

For some front offices, you wonder if a shudder of fear is seeping into their buildings, knowing their clock is ticking.