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Bulls player preview: Ryan Arcidiacono brings ball security and hustle

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USA TODAY

Bulls player preview: Ryan Arcidiacono brings ball security and hustle

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

How last year went

Ryan Arcidiacono went from expected two-way contract player and fourth on the Bulls depth chart – remember Tyler Ulis? – to the team’s games played leader and finished second to Zach LaVine in minutes. The Bulls’ point guard carousel and myriad injuries in the backcourt allowed Arcidiacono an opportunity, but the second-year guard also took advantage of the additional run and become a significant contributor to a team that desperately needed healthy bodies and minutes-eaters.

His hustle and effort – we have stats to back these eye roll-inducing clichés! – was a welcome sight for a Bulls team that was out-talented most nights. Arcidiacono became a reliable floor general and was a solid off-the-ball player despite Basketball-Reference having 96% of his minutes coming at point guard. Simply put, he was an important stopgap for a Bulls team that needed it.

Expectations for this year’s role

Something has gone wrong if Ryan Arcidiacono averages 24.2 minutes again this season. The Bulls invested heavily in the point guard position – Arcidiacono included – in drafting Coby White and signing Tomas Satoransky. Kris Dunn is still around (for now) which pits Arcidiacono fourth on the depth chart – there’s an argument that he’s ahead of Coby White, but that won’t be the case all season.

Arcidiacono’s role is similar to what it was a season ago: an emergency body, a reliable ball handler who can hit the occasional 3-pointer and someone who will push teammates in practice. His production will likely dip but his importance remains similar to what it was a year ago. If Dunn is traded, he could find himself with some additional reserve minutes. They didn’t give him $9 million to ride the bench. He’ll play, just not in as significant a role as last season.

Where he excels

Arcidiacono didn’t exactly have a massive usage rate, but there’s something to be said for taking care of the basketball. 164 guards appeared in 41 or more games last season. Arcidiacono’s 1.2 turnovers per 36 minutes were 16th fewest, and third best among point guards (only Tyus Jones and Monte Morris were better). And he was even better in the 32 games he started, tallying just 1.1 turnovers per 36 minutes – the fewest of any starting point guard. What’s more, his 4.6 assists per 36 minutes as a starter were the third most among all guards who were below 2.0 turnovers – only Patrick Beverley (5.5) and Marcus Smart (5.1) were better.

So it isn’t surprising that Arcidiacono finished third in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio last season (4.3). The two ahead of him were Jones, who set an NBA record at 7.0 in Minnesota, and Morris at 5.7, playing as a reserve for the fifth slowest and seventh most efficient offense…a good recipe for taking care of the ball).

The Bulls were 20th in turnover percentage and 26th in assist-to-turnover ratio, and those marks would have been much worse had it not been for Arcidiacono. True, he wasn’t much of a risk taker, but he also didn’t play out of his comfort zone. Every team needs a steady, by-the-book contributor. The Bulls found theirs in Arcidiacono.

Is Arcidiacono a good shooter? We’ll tentatively say yes. After beginning the season 45.5% from deep through Thanksgiving, he shot 25.9% from December to the All-Star break. He may have saved his NBA career with a strong finish, shooting .497/.420/.840 over the season’s final 23 games. His total numbers: 44.7% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 87.3% FT. Only 70 players made 1.0 or more triples on 37% shooting last season. Arcidiacono isn’t a lights-out shooter, but he’s certainly above average (and league average). He shot 42.0% on catch-and-shoot triples (on 2.0 attempts per game; not much), proving he’s capable of playing off the ball with any of the Bulls’ new point guards in addition to handling the ball.

Then there’s the defense. We’ll dive (we’re not sorry for that pun) into the details later, but Arcidiacono was a solid defender last season. Past his effort, he hounded ball handlers, was vocal with teammates and read passing lanes. He has his shortcomings, namely his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame that doesn’t exactly play that way, but he held his own. The Bulls defense was 2.6 points per 100 possessions better when Arcidiacono was on the floor.

Where he needs work

It’s tough to point out many spots where Arcidiacono needs to improve because his ceiling is rather limited. Despite his solid shooting numbers and ability to take care of the ball, the Bulls’ offense was 2.2 points per 100 possessions better with him OFF the floor. He’d disappear at times – he had three games of two points or fewer in which he played 30+ minutes – and didn’t do much creating. But again, if we’re talking about a fourth string point guard, he plays his role perfectly. He’s dependable, smart and the head coach loves him.

Best case/worst case

Another tough one. The best-case scenario for the Bulls is Arcidiacono rarely sees the floor. That, of course, means that Satoransky has stayed healthy, White’s transition to the NBA goes quickly and Denzel Valentine has returned healthy in an off-ball shooter role. In terms of Arcidiacono’s progress, there’s no reason he can’t flirt with 40 percent from beyond the arc in Year 3. He’s shown he can do it in 20-game stretches. Progress would be doing it over the course of an entire season.

In a worst-case scenario, Arcidiacono regresses or doesn’t improve and becomes a $3 million hit on the books the next two offseasons. Again, it’s tough to have all that big a worst-case scenario for an end-of-the-bench player. He’s high-floor, low-ceiling.

One key stat

We told you we had statistics to back up the claim that Arcidiacono is all heart. It’s not that he’s undersized and white. It’s that he was among the league leaders in both charges drawn and defensive loose balls recovered.

Arcidiacono drew 16 charges last season, 12th most in the NBA and fourth among point guards (Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin had more). Arcidiacono was recovered 1.2 loose balls recovered per game and was the second fastest defensive player on the Bulls (behind Harrison). The man is all about effort, and for that reason he’s going to stay in Boylen’s good graces no matter where he is on the depth chart.

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.

But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.

The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.

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Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:

“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.

“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”

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Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.

Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”

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As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards. 

Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.

“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”

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The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game. 

Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.

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