The preseason schedule concludes Thursday night. It’s less than a week until the regular-season opener. Judging from your questions, you’re juiced and jacked for Bulls basketball.
Q: Can Coach Boylen coach these guys well enough to the playoffs? - Matt B.
A: We don’t typically publish last names but since you claimed to be his nephew last week and sound like you’re on a first-name basis with him — Coach Boylen or Jim —perhaps we should be asking you.
Boylen has a plan for improvement. It started with management and him working in tandem on targeting personnel they wanted. He got guys he wanted to coach. So, yes, a lot of this is on him and his staff now. He wanted roster redundancy, as he calls it. He got it. He wanted more shooting. He got it. He wanted tough-minded professionals. He got it.
There’s this perception with some in the fan base that reach out to me that Boylen is some throwback coach, spouting football-isms. If anyone ever talked to the guy about basketball, methinks they’d have a different impression. He knows the game. He owns two decades of NBA experience.
I think everyone would agree the Bulls are playing a more aesthetically pleasing style of offensive basketball. From this seat, it appears they have a lot of work to do defensively. But Boylen and his staff are challenging guys in that regard. Everything comes up roses in the preseason. It’s time to continue the good vibes during the regular season.
My question is about Chandler Hutchison. Though he didn’t look tremendous as an offensive player last season or in summer league (besides when the ball is being pushed), his defense has always looked positive to me. Almost like a reverse Zach LaVine---he has one side down pat, but the other not so much. He has the physical tools on that side to be a very good wing defender for a long while should he stay healthy. With Denzel Valentine back, someone who’s almost the opposite of Hutch in every way, will his current offensive limitations keep him on the bench when he returns? Or does his defensive ability compensate? - KJ T.
He’s still on the team? Ah, I digress.
The Bulls are thin at wing. Hutchison indeed drips with defensive potential. The problem is, similarly to Valentine, you don’t know what you can count on. At his best, Valentine is a solid rotational player because of his shooting and playmaking ability. But can he stay healthy or get enough playing time to produce? He is very much a rhythm player.
As for Hutchison, he needs to show at least something at the offensive end to play or the Bulls are going 4-on-5. And at this point, he’s behind because of his hamstring injury. Wing minutes are there for the taking. It’s up to him to grab them.
With our extreme point guard depth, do you think the second unit combo with Kris Dunn and Coby White works or do you think Dunn should be moved to get someone like Valentine or Hutchinson (when healthy) in the future? - Thomas B.
Well, those to me are two separate questions. You absolutely deal Dunn for wing depth if that trade materializes. White could play with Ryan Arcidiacono, or you could stagger Zach LaVine’s minutes so that he’s running some with the second unit and playing off White. Don’t forget Shaq Harrison is an option as well. Until then, Dunn and White almost certainly will be the reserve guards to start the regular-season rotation. In this case, White is more effective playing off the ball than Dunn.
Who has the highest ceiling on this team and can that person be a three- or four-time All-Star? - @Ewardjr69, via Twitter
This is a hard one, similar to the co-worker who asked me today if Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich had a better Bulls career. (It’s Hinrich. He disagrees.) It’s tempting to say Lauri Markkanen has the highest ceiling because of his age and nightmare matchup potential. But LaVine is still only 24 and certainly has the feel of someone poised to be a multiple-time All-Star. He’s such an effortless scorer. I’m going with LaVine and a three-time All-Star, and it’s time for me to put the Kool-Aid down.
Daniel Gafford looks good. What do you think his ceiling is? - @poptrot, via Twitter
Lotta ceiling questions this week. I think there will be situational minutes for him. I’m not sure if he’ll have a permanently set role. His skills of running the floor hard, playing with energy and trying to dunk everything translate no matter the level and time. However, it’s pretty clear that Boylen will try to play small some this season. Thaddeus Young at power forward and Lauri Markkanen at center is a lineup I think will be used often. Also, Cristiano Felicio played some solid defense in the preseason. I know Felicio has become a punch line to many amongst the fan base. However, if he can recapture the role he played three seasons ago — basically, what Gafford is doing now — he may be out there some as well. And this all assumes Wendell Carter Jr. is healthy, which apparently no longer is a safe assumption.
Who’s the biggest x-factor this season on the roster? I’m thinking Wendell Carter Jr. or Coby White. - @benjamminwatson, via Twitter
X-factors, ceilings . . . what the heck is going on? But I’ll bite: Valentine. He shot 38 percent from 3-point range in 2017-18. He could carve out an important reserve role if he stays healthy and connects at that rate or higher again. In fact, I’ll bite twice: Luke Kornet has a chance to be a really intriguing rotation player for this team. With his ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim, he will get minutes. And in those minutes, he’ll show his basketball IQ and ability to make little plays — proper screening angles, court vision — that can go a long way.
Are you seeing any encouraging trends during the preseason that will translate over to the regular season or is it too small of a sample size, being that some analytic experts says it takes 10 games to see any developing trends? - Donald W.
Well, the style of play is encouraging. Pace is up. 3-point attempts are too. Ball movement has improved. Boylen has set a “point-5” rule as his goal — making an action with the ball within .5 seconds. All of this can and should translate to the regular season.
I’ve watched some preseason games and was really shocked by the ball movement and team-first mentality of every player, even Zach. Same story with shots beyond the arc. They took 30+ every game. Seems like Boylen did a great job this offseason. Could you tell us which surprises are due this upcoming season in your opinion? - С уважением
Beyond Markkanen showing his hilarious sense of humor more in his public comments? I think some may be surprised at Otto Porter Jr.’s impact. He’s one of those players who just makes the players around him better, at both ends. He’s a low-key guy and isn’t a go-to guy for reporters, so I don’t think he draws enough attention for what he does. But he’s greatly valued by coaches and teammates.
The starters looked good in the Raptors game, but the second unit in the fourth quarter was terrible. It looked like our bench is trying to play like the starters instead of having solid plays and focus on defense and stops. What do you think the Bulls need to improve the bench? Do you see them making any moves? Felipe S.
As mentioned several times, a trade of Dunn for wing depth makes sense. Getting healthy would help. But, yes, for as many positive vibes that surround this team, staying healthy and reliable depth remain to me the biggest question marks. The starting unit is very solid on paper. Thad Young is a proven commodity off the bench. Luke Kornet and Coby White are tantalizing prospects. Dunn can be a defensive force if his mental state stays right. Beyond that, there are question marks.
I believe that this new NBA is hurting some young players’ development, especially Lauri’s. He’s an excellent spot-up shooter, but I wish he could learn how to operate in the post, around the free-throw line, kinda like Dirk Nowitzki did. He can shoot over almost any defender or pump fake and get to the basket with one dribble. Pick up a couple of moves with the back to the basket and he can be truly special. He’s more athletic than Dirk was too, and I just wish he was coached differently. Watching him in preseason he looks confident taking 3s, but looked uncomfortable with a pull-up jumper inside the 3 point line. Also, not once did they ran a post up play for him in preseason. I wonder what you think about all of this. – Bobby G.
This was one of my observations in a recent piece that ran on this very website. Over half of Markkanen’s shots during the preseason came from beyond the arc. He shot 44.4 percent on those, so it’s obvious he can be effective from there. But, yes, to best utilize his skills and ability to cause matchup problems, he shouldn’t just be a spot-up shooter. He certainly wasn’t during his dominant stretch last February.
Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.