During the dynasty days, the United Center faithful used to bellow “Luuuuuuuc” when center Luc Longley impacted the game.
Is it time for Luke Kornet to be serenaded with chants of “Luuuuke”?
If that sounds like hyperbole, well, listen to what Jim Boylen said before Kornet successfully sprinkled the box score of his Bulls debut with nine points, four assists and two rebounds in 16 impactful minutes.
“He was as big a piece as Thad and Sato for what we’re trying to build and what we’re trying to do,” Boylen said, comparing Kornet’s unheralded free-agent signing to the acquisitions of Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky.
Kornet, who played against the Pelicans after missing the first week with turf toe, agreed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal on July 2. At the time, the move seemed more of a flier on a relatively unproven 7-foot-1-inch novelty, a “stretch 5” who shot a career-best 36.3 percent on 193 3-point attempts in just 784 minutes with the Knicks.
But Kornet, who also blocked 0.9 shots in 17 minutes over 46 games, displayed a high basketball IQ in his debut. He set screens effectively. His passing included a no-look feed to Satoransky. His rim protection displayed agile footwork.
“A couple teams contacted me but I was able to talk to Coach Boylen for awhile and I got the feel they value what I do and understand the value of it,” Kornet said of his free agency process. “That got me excited. And then with the players already here, you could see all the pieces of something good building. I wanted to be a part of a group that’s improving and grow and get better and make the playoffs.
“I feel a lot of what I do doesn’t translate necessarily to statistical stuff, in terms of working to space and moving the ball and getting guys open shots and defensively making shots harder. I’ll block some shots. But I’m not always trying to block shots but alter them. They took note of that and it was great to hear they value that.”
Kornet posted two of his best games last season against the Bulls and Wizards, who at the time employed Satoransky and Otto Porter Jr.
“I was familiar with him because actually he killed us (the Wizards) one game,” Satoransky said. “He scored like 20 on us the first half when we played a London game against New York last season.
“He’s not only a shooter, but he can really read the game well. He’s really tall. And I think that’s great defensively because he can help on a lot of drives. So you have a presence (inside). And he’s a very smart guy, so he really surprised me in that sense.”
Kornet’s father, Frank, played with NBC Sports Chicago analyst Will Perdue at Vanderbilt and two seasons with the Bucks. Kornet followed his father to Vanderbilt but said his older sister, Nicole, proved just as big an influence on his career.
“My sister was a really good basketball player,” Kornet said of the woman who played at Oklahoma and UCLA. “So I’m sure that had some sort of side effect on me mentally that I can’t really understand.”
Kornet laughed after saying this, a light-hearted reference to sibling rivalry. But he grew up in a close family and doesn’t consider himself a novelty as a 7-foot-1 shooter who experienced a growth spurt between his junior and senior seasons of high school.
“I always was a shooter,” he said. “I wasn’t super, super tall. My sister, brother and I would shoot in the driveway. When you grow up and play basketball, you learn how to shoot. I’m just playing basketball. I understand shooting is a primary thing. But I don’t really understand why people make such a big deal of it.”
Well, Boylen still will.
“I think he can play with anybody,” the Bulls coach said. “He can play 4. He can play 5. He can play out. He can play in. He’s smart. From our evaluation from the film I watched when I studied him to him playing against us to his raw numbers, he’s one of the top defenders in the league at rim protection. He works at defense. He cares about it. For guys playing at center, he was the least turnover guy in the league. He can handle the ball and make decisions. He can dribble handoff. He can help us.”
It seemed that way in his debut.