Big man Luke Kornet out to show he's more than a shooter for the Bulls

USA Today

Big man Luke Kornet out to show he's more than a shooter for the Bulls

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.

2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking Chicago's two-year host run

2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking Chicago's two-year host run

It’s felt pre-ordained for months now. Now, it appears it’s decided.

No, the Bulls didn’t draw the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA Draft (yet). But The Athletic’s Shams Charania did report Monday afternoon that the lottery scheduled for Aug. 20 will take place virtually. All 14 teams ‘in attendance’ will be allowed to ‘send’ remote representatives. The event will presumably be televised, but details haven’t emerged on that front yet.

It’s a logical gameplan given the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing nature, and the acclaim received by virtual draft showcases broadcast by the WNBA and NFL while live sports in the United States were effectively paused.

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The news also sends a few ripples in Bulls world. For one, who will rep the team, in this, its third consecutive lottery appearance? Michael Reinsdorf and Horace Grant manned the post in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But for this year? Benny the Bull would be sure to bring the energy. On the heels of the summer of “The Last Dance,” perhaps a dynasty-era contributor could get the call. Or maybe a newly-minted front office face instead? Time will tell.

And, as our K.C. Johnson pointed out on Twitter, this development also marks the end of a two-year streak of Chicago hosting the lottery in 2018 and 2019. The city has long housed the combine.

Here’s what Adam Silver told NBC Sports Chicago in February when asked his impressions of Chicago as a host-city for the lottery:

We have been very pleased in Chicago. Our community comes together in Chicago for our predraft camp and combine. It made perfect sense to also conduct the draft lottery there. And that was something that Mayor Emanuel never stopped reminding me of. Things can potentially change over time. We are enjoying being in Chicago. Because of the geographic location, it’s more convenient for our teams to be in a more central location. And Chicago, for the same reasons that makes it a fantastic All-Star host, has all the accommodations you need for our teams when they come together for our combine. My anticipation is we’ll be in Chicago for a while. And the city has been terrific to work with.

Silver made that comment before All-Star weekend in Chicago, but all of the above virtues translated. Though Bulls representation was limited, no one would deny Chicago played a splendid host for the festivities.

The Bulls enter this year’s lottery locked into the seventh-best odds (7.5%) at nabbing the No. 1 pick, and a 32% chance of vaulting into the top four. 

Slots No. 1 through No. 8 in the lottery standings are set with the teams excluded from the NBA’s restart. Slots No. 9 through 14 will populate at the end of the play-in round, when postseason seeding is officially set. Teams that started the restart as a top-eight seed in either conference can fall into the lottery if they miss the playoffs, but the ultimate order of the lottery odds will be decided by pre-hiatus record (meaning, for example, that if the current standings hold and the Phoenix Suns finish with a better record than the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, but miss the postseason, the Suns would own better lottery odds than the Pels and Kings by virtues of each team’s pre-hiatus record).

All of which is to say, clear your calendars for next Thursday. After that, rumor and speculation are sure to swirl until the draft itself, which, as of right now, is reportedly scheduled for Oct. 16. The status of the combine remains up in the air, though ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported July 23 that the league is polling teams on which players should be invited to the combine if one takes place.

For the Bulls, helmed by a new front office regime and facing a moment of reckoning in the current rebuild, this year’s draft process is an especially crucial one.


Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

NBC Sports Chicago is counting down the top 10 Bulls at each position in franchise history.

We've hit the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. And last, but certainly not least, the men in the middle. The centers.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bulls news and analysis.

Defensive anchors, multi-skilled hubs and blue-collar tenacity abound in these rankings. And plenty of hardware — both of the championship and individual variety.

We hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Without further adieu...

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history