LAS VEGAS — On one of the strangest nights in the history of the NBA’s annual Las Vegas Summer League, the Bulls saw a glimpse of their future.
On the first play of their first game against NBA competition, the Bulls’ first-round pick, Coby White, connected with their second-round pick, Daniel Gafford, on an alley-oop. With last year’s No. 7 overall pick, Wendell Carter Jr., sidelined after undergoing core muscle surgery this week, the focus of the Bulls’ summer debut, a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, was squarely on this year’s newcomers.
The results were far from perfect but largely positive.
“I couldn’t hit a shot to save my life,” White joked afterward. He shot 6-for-18 from the field and 0-for-7 from three-point range, but saw the floor well and flashed impressive playmaking ability, particularly when it came to his connection with Gafford.
“It’s always good to have a guard who knows how to throw the ball up as high as you want them to,” Gafford said. “Especially coming from a big like me. I always told him, ‘Just throw it up. I’ll go get it.’ That’s what they did. That’s what they tried to do after almost every pick-and-roll. That was our game plan throughout.”
Gafford’s 21 points came on an impressive 9-of-10 from the field, almost all of which came on dunks. The No. 38 overall pick out of Arkansas showcased what his ideal role can be in an NBA rotation, as a high-energy rim-runner who can block shots.
“He was a monster,” White said. “I think he had 21 and 10. He was a monster at the rim, running the floor. When he says he runs the floor like a deer, he really runs the floor like a deer. That's Danny, though. You know what you're going to get from him. He plays hard.”
Gafford was so locked into his Summer League debut that he insisted afterward he didn’t notice LeBron James and Anthony Davis sitting courtside to watch the Lakers and—later—the debut of Zion Williamson with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The arrival of Williamson filled up the Thomas & Mack Center like few Summer League games ever have, with tickets going for triple digits on the secondary market and room to move around in the building hard to come by.
That wasn’t the end of the madness—the end of the Pelicans’ game against the New York Knicks was canceled, along with the remaining Summer League action of the night, when an earthquake that registered at 7.1 on the Richter scale in Los Angeles reverberated into the Nevada desert.
The Bulls were long gone by then, and the Summer League debuts of White and Gafford will be a footnote in one of the most memorable days in the history of the event. But the two rookies showed the beginnings of what could become a consistent on-court connection with the Bulls’ second unit this season.
“I can get [White] open and he can knock it down,” Gafford said. “I can get myself open when it comes to screens and stuff. He’s quick. First move, he’s quick. So wherever he’s going, he’s going to get there fast. Helping him get there, fast will be a big help.”
“I think we're playing great off each other,” White said. “Finding him off the rolls, stuff like that. I feel like we're playing great together. But as rookies, we're still learning and finding our way. We've got to be a long way to go. But Daniel's going to be a great player.”