NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.
How last year went
Chandler Hutchison didn’t have an immediate path to minutes as a rookie, slotted behind both Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine on the wing heading into training camp. But Valentine suffered an ankle injury that cost him the season, the Bulls’ power forward depth was crushed by injury and Justin Holiday was traded in January. That left the door open for Hutchison to average 20.3 minutes per game before a broken toe ended his season in late January.
Hutchison played 44% of his minutes at power forward because of the injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, only moving back to small forward when those two returned and Holiday was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies. He was inconsistent as most rookies are, but he showed some flashes in the lead-up to his broken toe, averaging 9.4 points on 51% shooting, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 30.6 minutes in his final seven games of the season.
Expectations for this year’s role
The Bulls invested a whole lot of money when they traded for Otto Porter at last year’s deadline, so he’s cemented at small forward. Hutchison is the only true small forward option behind Porter – Shaq Harrison could do it, but that makes for an unconventional lineup – which means he could be forced into minutes, whether he’s ready for them or not.
The Bulls will rely on Hutchison to fill minutes behind Porter, and he could see additional time if the Bulls go small and push Porter to the 4 (and Lauri Markkanen to the 5). Expectations are realistically low for Hutchison after a quiet rookie season and a hamstring injury suffered last month. He’s already 23 years old, making this a critical evaluation period to see what the Bulls have. How Hutchison plays in the half court – and whether he can knock down 3-pointers – will go a long way toward figuring that out. The Bulls could also add a wing in training camp to push Hutchison for minutes/a rotation spot.
Where he excels
If the Bulls are truly committed to running more this upcoming season, it could benefit Hutchison. The 6-foot-7 wing has always run the floor well, and he was excellent in transition as a rookie. A team-high 22.4% of his possessions came in transition, and he averaged 1.26 points per possession on the break. Of returning Bulls, only Otto Porter was better (1.40) and that stemmed from his elite 3-point shooting.
Hutchison shot 65.2% on those 57 transition possessions (best among returning Bulls) and committed just four turnovers. That 7.0% turnover frequency was also best among returning Bulls. In all, Hutchison produced points on 61.4% of his transition opportunities which – you guessed it – was the best mark among returning Bulls. He has no problem playing fast, and he showed off impressive athleticism running on the wing in transition.
Hutchison has the makeup to be a plus contributor on the defensive end. The Bulls were 4.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor, and his Defensive RPM (0.14) was 37th of 94 qualifying small forwards. His per-game numbers aren’t anything to write home about (0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 3.5 defensive rebounds) but consider that he was forced to play out of position nearly half his rookie season and those numbers are easier to swallow. He’s not going to challenge Paul George or Kawhi Leonard for the best perimeter defender in the league, but Hutchison has a chance to be a good one. Entering the league at 22 certainly helped him on that end. He had an NBA-ready body from Day 1.
Where he needs work
It’s a small sample size, but Hutchison shot just 28% from beyond the arc on 50 attempts. He was a 29.2% shooter on catch-and-shoot attempts, putting him in the same category as Kris Dunn (29.0%) and Shaq Harrison (28.8%). He never really looked comfortable in halfcourt settings, and he did very little creating on his own (though late in the season he seemed to gain some confidence driving baselines).
He isn’t going to create much – he averaged just 3.1 drives per game, barely above Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 2.5 per game – and averaged fewer assists per 36 minutes than Antonio Blakeney (his 1.4 assists per 36 minutes were worst on the team and tied for 323rd of 351 NBA players who appeared in 41 games).
His worth offensively will be as a niche contributor both in transition and, if he can work on it, a 3-point shooter. He shot 38% and 36%, respectively, his final two years at Boise State. He’ll need to get closer to that number to give the Bulls good minutes.
Best case/worst case
It’s pretty simple for Hutchison. The best-case scenario is he remains healthy, he slows the game down in the halfcourt, improves his 3-point field goal percentage close to league average (35.2%) and continues playing solid defense on the perimeter. If the Bulls truly have playoff aspirations, they’re going to need to get something on the second unit from Hutchison. They’re simply too shallow at the position to rely on Porter for 36-37 minutes per game. Harrison is a fun defensive player but not a rotation guy on a team that wants to play past the second week of April.
In a worst-case scenario, Hutchison can’t stay healthy and the hamstring injury he’s currently dealing with lingers well into the season. The Bulls simply can’t afford it. On-court, Hutchison continues to be more athlete than basketball player and is unable to improve his outside shot. The Bulls need to see something from the 23-year-old sooner than later.
One key stat
Hutchison was perhaps the Bulls’ most efficient transition player, so it’s not surprising that he loves to run. In fact, Hutchison was the 27th fastest offensive player in the NBA last season (min. 41 games) with an average speed of 4.96 miles per hour. That’s noteworthy considering the Bulls were one of the NBA’s slowest teams last season. Also, consider that 15 of those players ahead of him were guards. Hutchison was the 12th fastest forward on the offensive end last season, and his 4.03 mph average on defense was a top-40 mark among forwards. Pretty impressive for the 6-foot-7 wing. As the Bulls continue to run, Hutchison should improve.