Can Robin Lopez bring value to a struggling team?

Can Robin Lopez bring value to a struggling team?

Robin Lopez has entered a situation that many Bulls fans did not see playing out this season, or at least so early in the 2018-19 season. After starting 64 games last season, Lopez has shifted to an off the bench role during his third season in Chicago. And with the reports of the Bulls veteran players being made available in trade offers, it will be intriguing to see how the Lopez situation plays out. He is a great locker room guy by all accounts and he is on an expiring contract, a special type of NBA currency due to the sheer amount of teams looking for salary cap relief. But if the Bulls can get anything of value in return for Lopez--especially draft picks--they would take it rather than see him (possibly) walk in free agency.

Lopez has only played 56 minutes through nine games, so while his 2018-19 statistics do offer some valuable insight--especially in terms of his ability to protect the rim--his 2017-18 numbers paint a much more complete picture of what Lopez can bring to an NBA team in 2019.

NBA trends move fast and Lopez is a relic of a bygone era. He is a traditional rim-protecting center, incapable of switching onto smaller players and providing much in the way of resistance. And with the Bulls newfound emphasis on switching on defense, it makes little sense to just let Lopez sit on the bench when there are teams that use him. It just becomes a matter of the Bulls not setting their asking price too high and thoroughly exploring what will likely be a thin market in terms of suitors.

While switching is not in Lopez’s toolbox, he is still proficient when it comes to dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage. Lopez uses his huge frame well to shield off the basket long enough for his guards to get back in a good defensive position. But therein lies the issue, for Lopez to thrive he needs to play with guards that are actually doing their best to fight through screens.

Opponents have shot worse when defended by Lopez in the past two seasons and any large fluctuation in those figures are a byproduct of playing for a Bulls franchise that has had decent amounts of roster turnover year-to-year.

On offense Lopez is still a good finisher at the rim, hitting over 55 percent of his shots at the rim over the last three seasons. But due to his effectiveness as a screener and passer--especially in dribble handoff actions--Lopez spends most of his time stationed around the free throw line. He has long been an effective mid-range shooter (42 percent on long 2-point jumpers for his career) and could likely become at least a small threat from 3-point line if given the green light.

Overall Lopez provides the best value to a winning team (or team that wants to be a playoff contender) that lets their centers drop back in pick and roll coverage, while creating a decent amount of offense from dribble handoff plays. There are several teams that come to mind when searching for potential Lopez suitors:

Phoenix Suns:

The Suns obviously feel like they have found their long-term center in No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, but they have little in the way of insurance. Phoenix is dead-last in the league in terms of opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim at 70.9 percent. And they just bought out veteran center Tyson Chandler, leaving Richaun Holmes as the only option in the event of an injury. Lopez could give the Sun a solid 15-to-20 minutes a night, or at worst provide that emergency option as a solid backup big man. He would be an excellent option to tutor rookie center Ayton on the finer points of defense (an area Wendell Carter doesn’t need much help in) and he already has a sense of familiarity with the Suns community, with Phoenix being the team that drafted Lopez in 2008.

Los Angeles Lakers:

The Lakers have a two-pronged issue with their inside defense.

Not only are they allowing opponents to shoot over 60 percent at the rim, but they are giving up more attempts at the rim (less than 5 feet from the basket) than any team in the league. The fact that they just acquired Tyson Chandler means they won’t be desperate for a center but the LeBron James acquisition put them in win-now mode, and they have their own first-round picks along with a second-round pick from the Bulls.

The Lakers are using to a lot of small-ball lineups early in games but if they want to keep James and Kyle Kuzma fresh for a possible playoff appearance, adding an additional big would help a lot. On top of keeping James and other forwards well rested, adding Lopez to the Lakers would provide a safety in case JaVale McGee has to miss any significant time.

Detroit Pistons:

Under new head coach Dwane Casey, the Pistons have an offense that features a lot of dribble handoffs and a generall high number of 3-point attempts. Detroit had already started to shift towards this philosophy last season, but their commitment to the play style has led to a very hot start for Blake Griffin in his first full season as a Piston.

Zaza Pachulia is the only big man in the rotation hind Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, and he is playing a very limited 15 minutes per game. He is also adept in dribble handoff plays but offers far less in terms of inside scoring and mid-range shot-making ability. Lopez has averaged near or over 10 points per game every year since the 2011-12 season. The last time Pachulia hit double-digit scoring averages was 2007. This is of course partly due to their slightly different roles and skill sets, but in terms of insurance for Drummond--and to a lesser extent Pachulia--Lopez is a solid option, and his superior ability when it comes to boxing out would allow Griffin to snag even more rebounds than the 10.6  per game he is averaging now. Detroit is currently 25th in the league in rebounds per game after being 16th in total rebounds last season.

Detroit has their first-round picks for the foreseeable future and a larger amount of second round picks from various trades over the years. The fact they can do a trade structured around multiple second-rounder picks makes them one of the better candidates listed in terms of Bulls trade partners. They look like a clear playoff team in the new-look East, and additional bodies will always benefit teams as injury-prone as Detroit in recent years,.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Concern over Lauri Markkanen


Bulls Talk Podcast: Concern over Lauri Markkanen

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff, Kendall Gill, and Dave Watson react to the Bulls loss in Milwaukee and where the team is after 12 games.

1:10 - On Coby White and becoming a major scoring threat off the bench

2:30 - Should Coby start?

4:00 - On Lauri Markkanen’s inconsistent play

10:10 - Do the Bulls need more 2-man game with Lauri and Zach?

14:00 - Do we need to change our expectations for this team and the players?

20:30 - Kendall on how the cavalry isn’t coming to help the Bulls

21:45 - Is Wendell Carter the ‘future’ of the Bulls and impact on team veterans?

25:30 - On the Bulls’ evolving rotations

30:15 - On Daniel Gafford’s lack of playing time

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: 

Bulls Talk Podcast


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The Pecking Order: Coby White's break out game

NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: Coby White's break out game

What’s up, Bulls fans? Now that we’ve seen a couple of wins – and I had a delightful sojourn down to Houston to spend time with my adorable nieces – I’m in a much better place than I was after that disappointing loss to the Lakers last week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still livid about that one. But I’ll do my best to follow Pumba’s advice and put my behind in the past.

So, for the sake of my blood pressure, I figured I’d ride with the happiest story in Bulls Nation this week: Coby “Don’t Call Me Alec” White.

Here are some thoughts I have on the Bulls’ 2019 lottery pick after his second electrifying performance of the season sealed a win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Thank you, Coby.

Bulls fans needed this. As my fellow Outsider John Sabine said in our episode following Tuesday’s win, “We didn’t just need the win. We needed a moment and a memory.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

As I watched the final moments of Coby’s dazzling fourth quarter performance – one that set a franchise record for most made three pointers in a single quarter – I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in a long time: this fanbase falling in love. Not to belittle any of the impressive games and runs we’ve witnessed from other Bulls players in recent years, but can you remember the last time fans at the United Center serenaded a player with loving chants? (Sorry, Kendall and all you Rose Stans out there, but chanting “MVP” to Derrick Rose while he’s wearing a Detroit Pistons jersey doesn’t count.)

I honestly couldn’t recall the last time something like that happened. Hearing chants of “Co-by! Co-by! Co-by!” rain down from the rafters at the Madhouse – on the same night when crowd noise at tipoff was slightly quieter than Mitch Trubisky defenders on Twitter – reminded my heart what it feels like to love something about this team. Because let’s be honest, what has there been to love over the past three or four years?

Bulls fans, especially skeptical grumps like me, needed something to believe in and something to love after another ugly start to what was supposed to be a promising season. Ja(h)coby provides.

2) Speaking of Jacoby, did you see the column our Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson wrote about Coby’s real full name? 

Perhaps because I’m more concerned about his game than this name, I wasn’t even aware that Coby’s full name is Alec Jacoby White. But I don’t feel guilty, because neither did some of his teammates. “Your name is what?!” asked fellow rookie and locker buddy Daniel Gafford.

I like the name Alec, but I think Mr. Baldwin already owns the tag of “most famous Alec.” Even Coby’s dagger threes aren’t colder than the icy delivery of Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy as he puts down various subordinates on “30 Rock.” Shoutout NBC sitcoms! You’re the best! (wink wink)

The nickname “Sub-Zero” is a good one, and Coby certainly proved he has ice in his veins during his shooting barrage against the Knicks. On the other hand, John thinks the nickname is counterintuitive for someone on a hot shooting streak. How can you be on fire and sub-zero at the same time? Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist.

Personally, I think we need to adopt Coby’s full middle name and call him Jacoby. Why? Because it’s a great way to remind everyone that the Bulls got the better Ja among guards drafted in the 2019 lottery! We’ve already seen Coby outperform Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who went #2 overall, in the Bulls’ victory over Memphis. I think we should take the Ja away from Morant and give it to Coby. If Coby ever gets a start, the announcer at the United Center could introduce him as “JAAAAAAcoby White!” And it would be awesome. Just don’t tell my guy Big Dave. He’s a huge Morant fan.

3) About that whole “Coby should start” idea…

I’m still not sold. I think his best role is as a bench scorer, at least for now. He still needs to mature as a decision-maker with the ball. We see him make mistakes in transition – he made two early in the Knicks game before his shooting spree – as well as overdribble and ignore mismatches in the post. He’ll get better in that department as he develops.

Coby also isn’t a reliable shooter yet. Sure, the seven bombs in one quarter was fun, but it was the exception to the rule in the early season returns of his shooting numbers. If you remove Coby’s two best shooting performances of the season (against Memphis and New York) he’s shooting just 15.9% from downtown in the other nine games. Yikes.

I believe that Coby’s skill and work ethic have him on track to be a starter in the NBA someday — and maybe sooner than later — but he’s not ready yet. And given the scoring struggles of Bulls’ second unit in most games thus far, he needs to stay where he is.

4) How crazy is it that my fellow Outsiders and I were the first “members” of Chicago sports media to interview Coby after the Bulls selected him on draft night?

True story. We couldn’t believe it when our boss told us we’d get a few minutes on the line with Coby after he got off the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Utter nonsense. But I’ll tell my grandkids about that when I’m old and grey and Coby’s number 0 hangs in the United Center rafters along with a few more championship banners he helped deliver. (Aside No. 1: Uh oh, did I just sound too much like See Red Fred there? Aside No. 2: Yes, Ma, I know I need a wife before I have grandkids. I’m working on it. Kind of.)

5) Roy Williams needs to come to more Bulls games.

Coby said so. Honestly, though, it is interesting that the two best performances of Coby’s young NBA career have come on nights with extra motivation. As previously mentioned, he outdueled Ja Morant in the Grizzlies game. Perhaps there was a chip on Coby’s shoulder, stemming from so many draft pundits declaring with complete certainty that Ja was the best backcourt prospect in the 2019 class? Then, he pours in 23 of his career-high 27 points in the 4th quarter of a big win with his college coach and mentor in attendance.

Somebody needs to make cardboard cutouts of Ja Morant and Roy Williams and put them in courtside seats of every Bulls game. So stupid it just might work!

6) I do believe that Coby still needs to develop his decision-making skills on the floor, but... 

My favorite play of his impressive fourth quarter against New York demonstrated that his basketball IQ is on its way. Late in the quarter, after already drilling six three pointers, Coby got the ball on the right side of the court well behind the three-point line. Instead of relying on his hot streak and jacking up another three, he recognized that the oversized Julius Randle was guarding him on the perimeter. Coby sprinted past the slower Randle and finished at the rim with a beautiful scoop layup off the glass. Smart balling from a kid whose coach describes him as a “baller.” Indeed.

7) If he can improve the consistency of his long ball and continue to play with this level of aggressiveness on offense, Coby is going to get lots of votes for Rookie of the Year. 

And might be a dark horse to win it. We’re still waiting on the regular season debut of Zion Williamson, currently sidelined with a knee injury. He was crowned the odds-on favorite to win the award as soon as the Pelicans drafted him No. 1 last summer. But if he misses a third of the season…

Many rookies have impressed early in Zion’s absence, notably Morant, No. 3 overall pick R.J. Barrett, Miami’s Kendrick Nunn (who saw that coming?) and Washington’s Rui Hachimura. But if Coby’s strong games keep leading to Bulls wins – as his two best games so far have done – then those who get to vote won’t be able to ignore his impact. His averages of 12.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 24 minutes per game are respectable. The shooting percentages (36.8 FG%, 28.6 3P%) must get better for Coby to steal ROY honors. It would also help if the Bulls won more games than their current pace of a 29-53 record.

8) Coby won’t turn 20 until February 16, 2020.

He wasn’t born until after the Y2K scare. If you asked him, he probably wouldn’t even know what Y2K means. Oh gross, that makes me feel old. But it’s a good reminder for some impatient Bulls fans (can those clamoring for Zach LaVine and/or Lauri Markkanen to be traded take a chill pill or twelve?) that this is still a VERY young team. At a median age of 24.4, the Bulls are the second youngest team in the league behind Phoenix. Sure, the Suns stunned everyone with their hot start, but they’ll likely level off. Young teams tend not to win in the NBA and that will almost assuredly continue to be the norm.

Wendell Carter Jr. can’t legally drink until next April. Lauri won’t turn 23 until sometime around the draft lottery next spring. (Hopefully he won’t be there representing the Bulls for another disappointing seventh pick.) Zach seems older, perhaps because this is his sixth NBA season, but he’s still only 24. None of the Bulls’ core players have reached their prime. Rebuilds take time.

Random thought: It would be hard for Coby to find a convincing fake I.D. with that hairdo. But he’s too busy punching Jim Boylen’s clock to go to the clubs anyway, right?

9) Going back to the “should Coby start?” conundrum from earlier... 

It’s not necessarily about starting. It’s about putting Coby in the best possible situations to succeed and allowing him to get his touches. Think about this: Coby’s usage rate so far this season (25.2%) is higher than the rookie season usage rates of his teammates LaVine (22.0%), Markkanen (21.9%) and Carter (19.1%). LaVine started 40 of 77 games his rookie year. Lauri started all 68 of his rookie appearances. Wendell started all 44 of his. Would Coby’s usage rate be that high – i.e., would he be as involved in the offense – if he were sharing the ball with other starters? Not likely. For now, at least, Coby getting the bulk of opportunities with secondary units is a good thing for his development.

10) Coby & Shaq > Kobe & Shaq.

You can’t convince me or Boylen otherwise. Although Shaq Harrison hasn’t managed to crack Jim’s rotation – we’ve only seen him in garbage time so far – I think it’s safe to say we’ll see him get into that rotation long before Denzel Valentine ever does. Why? Because I said so. *shrug emoji*

Thanks for reading. Here’s to many more nights of shouting “Co-by! Co-by!” at the UC. It sounded weird the first time, so we should probably do it several more times until we’re used to it. Go get ’em, kid. And don’t worry, Y2K wasn’t even a thing. Hakuna Matata.

Till next time. See red, be good. - Peck

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