Bulls player preview: Chandler Hutchison needs to give Bulls wing production

Bulls player preview: Chandler Hutchison needs to give Bulls wing production

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio | Tomas Satoransky

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.

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

USA Today

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

Lauri Markkanen is 7-feet tall.  Cristiano Felício is 6-feet-10. It’s safe to say they’re big guys, which would lead you to believe they wouldn’t be scared by much.

In a preseason outing to 13th Floor Haunted House in Chicago, Lauri and Felício showed that height doesn’t mean you’re immune to spooks (especially when Benny the Bull is let loose in the haunted house control room).  

Watch them try to maneuver their tall frames through cobwebs and zombies in the video posted to the Bulls’ Twitter here.

Viewers beware, ghastly ghouls and frightened NBA stars await you.

Despite all the screaming, the Bulls players sounded like they had a fun night. Lauri even responded to video on Twitter saying that while maybe he got scared a little, he ultimately had a good time.

Hey, if they can face-off against monsters and chainsaw mascot maniacs, taking on the other teams in NBA won’t seem so bad!

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