Bulls' offseason begins with productive draft night


Bulls' offseason begins with productive draft night

It’s no secret the Bulls were hoping to add a point guard in Thursday’s NBA Draft. After all, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear since the season ended he planned on bringing in a player or players to compete with Kris Dunn for the starting job.

The Bulls had been rumored to be one of the teams interested in trading up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, but when the cost of making that type of move became too high, Paxson decided to stay at No. 7 and see which player might fall. Both the Hawks and Timberwolves made trades to move ahead of the Bulls, but that actually turned out to be a positive, since Atlanta selected forward De’Andre Hunter (a player the Bulls really weren’t interested in) and Minnesota chose swingman Jarrett Culver at No. 6 when Garland went off the board right ahead of their pick.

That left the fastest player in the draft available to the Bulls at No. 7 in North Carolina point guard Coby White. White’s speed and scoring ability give him the chance to make an impact as a 19-year-old rookie, maybe even beating out Dunn for the starting job. Ironically, White and Dunn are represented by the same agency, but that won’t keep them from battling during training camp to prove which player deserves to start on opening night. And, there’s also the possibility a veteran free agent could be added to the point guard competition, as well as holdovers Shaq Harrison, Walter Lemon Jr. and restricted free agent Ryan Arcidiacono.

What are the Bulls getting in White? Well, in addition to his blazing speed, White can also play off the ball with a solid shooting touch from 3-point-range. In Jim Boylen’s multiple ballhandler system, White, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen will all have the freedom to push the ball in transition with teammates fanning out to the three point line for early offensive opportunities. White also has excellent positional size at 6-foot-5 to be able to defend both guard positions.

The biggest critique of White’s game involves decision-making in running an offense. He averaged almost as many turnovers as assists in his one college season at North Carolina. But given White’s age and lack of experience at the point guard position, you can expect his assist to turnover ratio to improve significantly over time. Whether White starts or not on Day 1, his speed and quick-strike scoring give Boylen a tremendous weapon to add to an offense that struggled through prolonged droughts last season.

The Bulls also made a good pick in Round 2, adding Arkansas center Daniel Gafford, who probably would have been a first round choice last season if he decided to stay in the draft. Gafford has limited shooting range, but excels at rebounding and blocking shots, two other areas where the Bulls could use a boost. Gafford is very mobile, which should enable him to excel in pick and roll coverage. With Robin Lopez unlikely to return next season, Gafford should compete for backup center minutes behind Wendell Carter Jr. in training camp.

The next step for Paxson and his staff is making the right free agent additions to the roster with their $20-23 million in salary cap space. The Bulls were the youngest team in the NBA last season, and Paxson has stressed the importance of adding high quality veterans to the mix.

After drafting White at No. 7, it’s unlikely the Bulls will pursue big ticket free agent point guards like D’Angelo Russell, Malcolm Brogdon or Ricky Rubio. Chicago native Patrick Beverley’s desire for long term security might also price him out of the Bulls’ range. If the Bulls do add a free agent point guard, expect them to consider career backup players like Cory Joseph or Ish Smith. It’s also possible they could find a bargain later in free agency if players like Elfrid Payton, Darren Collison, George Hill and Emmanuel Mudiay don’t find a robust market for their services.

The Bulls are also looking to add a veteran big man who can back up at the power forward and center spots, with old friend Taj Gibson believed to be near the top of their list. Gibson is 34, but still productive coming off a solid season in Minnesota. Brooklyn power forward Ed Davis could be an option as a solid rebounder and defender who could fill in at center in small ball lineups. Warriors backup center Kevon Looney and 26-year-old Lemont native Richaun Holmes are a couple other free agent big men who could fit.

If the Bulls are looking to add some offense on the frontline, veterans like Marcus Morris and Rudy Gay could be options. And if shooting on the wing is more of a priority, moderately priced free agents like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wayne Ellington and Seth Curry might come into play.

Paxson made it clear Thursday night that the Bulls have specific targets in mind when the free agent market opens for business at 5 p.m. CT on June 30. And he understands the Bulls need to add more three point shooting to a roster that ranked near the bottom of the league in that category this past season.

Make sure to tune in to NBC Sports Chicago at 6:30 p.m. on June 30 for our free agency special. Kendall Gill and Bulls Outsider Matt Peck will join me to go over all the moves around the league in the opening hours of free agency. Until then, have some fun figuring out how to stretch that $20-23 million in cap space to add a couple productive veterans to the Bulls’ roster.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

USA Today

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls win in Cleveland, create their own Bulls Royal Rumble and squash the beef with Mark Giangreco.

1:00 - Jim Boylen's best moment of the season

2:30 - Another All-Star performance from Zach LaVine

4:30 - Luke Kornet had a good game for Luke Kornet

5:45 - Reaction to some criticism of LaVine's game

8:15 - Can one game change a players All-Star chances?

9:00 - The newest edition of "Guess what D-Rose did?"

11:30 - Guys react to viewer comments

14:00 - The Chicago Bulls Royal Rumble 2020

22:30 - Guys react to more viewer comments

25:10 - The guys squash the beef with Mark Giangreco

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


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'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

Entering play, it had all the makings of a dismal affair. Bulls-Cavaliers. One a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference; the other an underachieving squad enduring an injury influenza. 

By game's end, it was anything but. Thank you, Zach LaVine. 

LaVine authored another chapter in what has become a sensational season Saturday night, tallying 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 16-for-30 shooting (3-for-5 on 3-pointers) en route to a 118-106 Bulls victory.

"All-Star performance," head coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I thought he was just unbelievable. Driving it, shooting it, creating. He got backdoor cuts, he got it in all different ways."

This was LaVine's fourth 40-point game of the season (tied for third in the NBA), and with it, he is now averaging 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 48.4/37/81.4 shooting splits in the month of January. If you're not satisfied with that 14-game sample size: Since his record-smashing explosion against Charlotte on Nov. 23 (32 games) that stat line reads 28.2 points (tied for fifth in the NBA), 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 46.1/40.6/83.

Those numbers are phenomenal — especially on supserstar volume — and are made even more impressive by the Bulls' offensive struggles around him. Tonight, in spite of 19 points, six assists and 8-for-11 shooting from Tomas Satoransky and spot buckets all around, the Bulls scored at a rate of just 77.8 points per 100 possessions with LaVine off the floor. With him on: 128.4. 

That differential should knock you out of your chair, and that off-rating is actually improved from the team's 66.3 mark without LaVine in Friday's 99-81 loss to Sacramento. LaVine logged 39 minutes against the Cavaliers one night after saying he was "prepared" for any amount of increase in playing time. 

"He was frustrated after last night [against Sacramento], our team was frustrated, and I thought he responded, and I think that's what good players do," Boylen said.

LaVine's aforementioned 13 3-pointer outburst against the Hornets came one night after being yanked from a blowout loss to the Heat for what Boylen called "three egregious defensive errors." In Cleveland, he nearly amassed his first career triple double the night after — arguably — the Bulls' most lackluster offensive performance of the season.

"We didn’t come out to play the right way [against Sacramento], I just wanted to come out more aggressive," LaVine said. "Different mentality, the whole team, we were upset about the loss, and I took it upon myself to come out there and just be aggressive."

Asked if he was cognizant of his progress towards a triple double, LaVine said he discovered too late.

"I ain’t have one before," he said. "Literally, like, two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists. But the game got out of hand, so I’ll get one eventually."

But even without that milestone, the improvements to LaVine's all-around game are notable. Since Wendell Carter Jr. went down with a high ankle sprain on Jan. 6, LaVine is the Bulls' leading rebounder, averaging six boards per game. Against Cleveland, he amassed five of his eight assists in the third quarter as the Cavaliers threw some aggressive defensive looks at him — including being guarded by Tristan Thompson on multiple occasions. He didn't just facilitate, he adjusted in the flow of the game.

"Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention," LaVine said. "I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

So, for now, the Bulls stay afloat. Wiping out the Cavaliers is no hefty feat, especially for a team that maintains playoff aspirations. But it's a nice response to the Sacramento dud, and LaVine's night gives him another notch in both his All-Star and general supserstar cases.

"He wants to be great," Boylen said.

He could very well be on his way.

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