Bulls

As Bulls continue to evaluate Kris Dunn, it's becoming clear they need an upgrade

usatsi_12082581.jpg
USA TODAY

As Bulls continue to evaluate Kris Dunn, it's becoming clear they need an upgrade

The Bulls had two glaring positional needs when Year 2 of their rebuild began.

Small forward had been a revolving door since the team traded Jimmy Butler, initiating the rebuild in the first place. It was first thought that Jabari Parker might have been able to fill in that role, but that proved to be a square peg in a round hole. Justin Holiday had a solid run early in the season long enough for the Bulls to flip him for two second-round picks, and rookie Chandler Hutchison showed some promise before a broken toe sidelined him.

But the Bulls cemented the small forward position on Wednesday when they acquired Otto Porter Jr. They’ll pay upwards of $56 million to the 25-year-old the following two seasons but that’s the price for a two-way forward who has been one of the league’s best shooters the previous two seasons.

VP of basketball operations John Paxson said during his and Gar Forman’s 26-minute press conference on Thursday that the Bulls feel confident in four positions with Porter at small forward, Zach LaVine at shooting guard and Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. But what about point guard, that second glaring need?

“We still are evaluating Kris Dunn and the rest of this year, for the good or the bad, is letting Kris Dunn play, get experience and keep trying to become the player that he wants to become,” Paxson said. “It’s all about the decisions we’re going to make going forward and what happens the last 27-28 games.”

The Bulls may still be in the evaluation phase, but unless Dunn has a revelation it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bulls are still in need of a point guard.

That’s not to say Dunn doesn’t have value. First of all he’s under contract in the final year of his rookie deal next season, so this isn’t a matter of whether he’ll be here in 2019-20 or not. And he’s still a plus defender and a high energy player. All teams need that, just not in the starting lineup at 30 minutes per game. His raw numbers aren't awful - 12.2 points, 6.3 assists, 1.5 steals - but still leaves plenty to be desired for a guy playing 30+ minutes a night with no real backup behind him.

And some of Dunn’s deeper offensive numbers are seriously troubling. He’s on pace to become the first point guard since Rajon Rondo in 2011 to average 30+ minutes and fewer than 2 free throw attempts and 3-point attempts; and that season Rondo was second in the NBA in assists per game and shot 48 percent for a 56-win Celtics team. Dunn isn’t Rondo.

Nitpicking further, the last player to average 30+ minutes and fewer than Dunn’s 1.8 3-point attempts and 1.7 free throw attempts was Toronto’s Alvin Williams in 2004. Just 40.5 percent of Dunn’s attempts are coming within 3 feet or from beyond the 3-point arc. That’s a woefully small number, and Dunn’s midrange game isn’t what it was earlier in the season.

This has been a troubling trend for Dunn his entire three-year career. He isn’t a 3-point threat and doesn’t get to the free throw line. The Bulls don’t exactly have the Warriors shooters around him, but adding Porter now gives Dunn three legitimate 3-point shooters (LaVine, Porter, Markkanen). This is essentially his last shot to prove he can be a positive distributor since he isn’t bringing much in the scoring department.

“The point guard position is a critical position. It’s a tough one to play. You have to be a leader. You have to be a distributor. You have to be a scorer,” Paxson said. “That’s what the position requires. It will be interesting to see now as we’ve added another legitimate wing in Otto how Kris handles that role with scorers. And we’re excited about that. We’ll see.”

The Bulls have reportedly been linked to veterans like Ricky Rubio and Darren Collison, and a player like Mike Conley could be available for trade this offseason. The Bulls have scouted Murray State point guard Ja Morant multiple times and he could certainly be an option if the Bulls pick in the top-3 and don’t win the Zion Sweepstakes.

Whoever it is – and it certainly could still be Dunn – Paxson is clearly making it clear that the Bulls value the position. On top of that, it’s the one area they still have a glaring weakness.

It was telling that Paxson didn’t include Dunn, part of the Jimmy Butler trade less than two seasons ago, when discussing the core of the team.

Lauri Markkanen has finally made his sophomore jump over the last two weeks. Zach LaVine has proven to be well worth the $78 million investment the Bulls made in him in July. Wendell Carter Jr. performed admirably as a 19-year-old center thrust into the starting lineup. And Otto Porter has proven to be one of the league’s better shooters.

Dunn hasn’t made that jump, or shown any improvement really, and it’s on Paxson to identify where the Bulls can improve as they inch closer to contention in the next year or two.

“We’ve said all along that this process is about learning who fits, who doesn’t. We still like Kris a lot. I mean, he’s had some ups and downs this year in terms of his consistency. And that’s always a challenge for players,” Paxson said.

“Being consistently efficient in your game, at all positions but especially the point guard position, is something that all teams value, and we’re still taking a long look at Kris. But we like him. He’s been competitive. He can still defend. And he’s playing hard. So we’re going to keep evaluating him.”

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

jrue.jpg
USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense.