Bulls player preview: Luke Kornet brings a unique skill set to bench


Bulls player preview: Luke Kornet brings a unique skill set to bench

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.

How last year went

Luke Kornet had multiple stints with the Knicks last season, shuttling between New York and Westchester with the team's G-League affiliate. He wound up playing 46 games for the Knicks, averaging 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in 17.0 minutes (in 11 games with Westchester, he averaged 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 32.5 minutes). It's hard to extract much from Kornet's 2019 based on how dysfunctional the Knicks were, but he put together a solid stretch to close the year, averaging 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 28.7 minutes over the final seven games of the season. One of those games came against the Bulls - 12 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 blocks - which certainly didn't hurt his cause in free agency with the Bulls showing interest.

Expectations for this year's role

One of Daniel Gafford or Kornet will receive the non-Wendell Carter center minutes. While Kornet is probably a better fit with Thaddeus Young, Gafford is probably the better player of the two and the Bulls have more invested in the second-round pick. Kornet's job when he enters games will be simple: Stretch the floor, hit a couple 3-pointers and defend well. We'll have a clearer picture of his role as the preseason rolls along. Outside of point guard, this is the biggest position battle to watch.

Where he excels

Kornet is unusual in that he's a 3-point shooting big who is really talented on the defensive end. He's not Channing Frye, Dirk Nowitzki or Kelly Olynyk. We'll get to the 3-point shooting later, but consider for now that the Knicks were 6.8 points per 100 possession better defensively with Kornet on the floor. His 0.9 blocks per game won't jump out, but he also accumulated those swats in just 17.0 minutes per game. His 4.5% block rate was equal to Wendell Carter's and he had seven games of three or more blocks. His Defensive RPM was 6th in the NBA among power forwards (2.27) and ahead of names such as Jaren Jackson and Pascal Siakam. Kornet isn't a stiff. He's going to give Jim Boylen options on the second unit on whether the Bulls want to emphasize offense (Daniel Gafford) or defense (Luke Kornet).

He's also going to stretch the floor. Kornet isn't an elite 3-point shooter, but his 36.3% from deep on 42 attempts was above league average and seventh best among 7-footers last season. All but one of Kornet's 70 3-pointers were assisted last season, so he won't do too much creating on his own. But the Bulls know they have a center to stretch the floor for the first time in a long time. He'll give defenses a different look and should be able to open up some space on the inside for Thaddeus Young on the second unit. We'll also add here that he's got some versatility. Per Basketball Reference, he played 33% of his minutes at power forward, spending 218 minutes next to Mitchell Robinson. That's good news if the Bulls want to space the floor but also keep one of Gafford or Carter in. Kornet can move around.

Where he needs work

Kornet is who he is. He's a catch-and-shoot floor spacer and a long defender who uses his 250-pound frame well. The Bulls don't need him to be much more given their center depth and investment in Wendell Carter. If there's one area he hopefully will improve in it's his shooting from inside the arc. Kornet made just 41.1% of his 2-point attempts last season; that was the worst 2-point field goal percentage among 34 7-footers last season, and the worst mark for a 7-footer since 31-year-old Channing Frye shot 39.0% on twos for the Orlando Magic in 2015 (Frye incredibly shot better from 3 than 2 that season). It'd need a deep dive to see why Kornet hasn't been successful inside despite his frame, but the Bulls won't necessarily need that from him. He's a floor spacer and rim protector.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Kornet beats out Daniel Gafford for the backup center job and becomes an inside-out threat with Thaddeus Young on the second unit. He gives the Bulls another floor spacer and creates a nice pick-and-pop tandem with rookie Coby White. He also gives the Bulls some defensive consistency when Wendell Carter leaves the floor - last year that job was given to Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio, who aren't exactly Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green on that end of the floor.

Kornet was a solid addition because he gives the Bulls a player with traits they were lacking. Kornet made 70 3-pointers and blocked 42 shots last season. The only other players to reach those thresholds? Jokic, Towns, Vucevic, Embiid, B. Lopez, M. Gasol, Dedmon and Len. The Bulls haven't had a player like Kornet, maybe ever. Again, his ceiling is rather limited. He's an end-of-the-rotation player. But his skill set is a nice one to have.

Worst-case? Kornet continues to hover around league average from beyond the arc and is outplayed by Daniel Gafford, rendering him a bench warmer next to Felicio. There's not too much downside with the Kornet signing, similar to the Ryan Arcidiacono signing in a crowded Bulls backcourt.

One key stat

If you can't stop 'em, sign 'em. Kornet dominated the Bulls last season in two appearances.

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Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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