Bulls

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

On Wednesday night the Bulls fell 96-93 to the Brooklyn Nets in a game dominated by point guard play. In the matchup, Kris Dunn—acquired by the Bulls in the ‘17 NBA Draft night trade of Jimmy Butler—had 24 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and only one turnover. But he was outplayed by Spencer Dinwiddie—he of the new three-year, $34 million contract—who turned in 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the win.

Dinwiddie’s emergence can be attributed to his perseverance over several G League stints—including a stint with the Bulls G League affiliate— that saw him get a little bit better each year.

And the fact that the Nets didn’t blink at signing him to his new deal hints at the idea that he is a player who is very dedicated to putting in the work to seriously improve his game. The Bulls are hoping Dunn is the same way—and he has shown every indication of that this season—but they definitely missed out on Dinwiddie considering that he played for their G League affiliate Windy City Bulls in their inaugural season.

And that is why Dinwiddie is a perfect example of just how important G League scouting—especially of your affiliate—is so vital.

The standard line from many fans of a team when a player like Dinwiddie starts to turn into the best-case version of themselves on another squad is: “There was no way to see this coming.”

Or you will see a simple, congratulatory response like head coach Jim Boylen delivered on Tuesday night, “We’re happy for Dinwiddie.” And the Bulls should be happy, as no matter how big or small of a role played in his development, they definitely contributed to his formation to some extent. But the fact that he wasn’t on a two-way contract with the Bulls means that they would’ve had to act fast in giving him a look, lest another NBA team call him up, and that is exactly what happened when the Nets decided to sign Dinwiddie on December 8, 2016.

At the time Dinwiddie got his first opportunity with the Nets, the Bulls point guard rotation was Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant. So yeah, no exactly a “who’s who” of NBA point guards.

Chicago had Dinwiddie for the 2016-17 preseason, where despite not putting up big numbers in limited minutes, he played solidly. Over five preseason games he shot 58 percent from the field and showed a willingness to defend, posting solid steal and block rates. His numbers didn’t jump off the page but at 6-foot 6 it was safe to assume he could become a serviceable NBA player in some regard with some refinement on his jump shot.

Dinwiddie’s time on the Windy City Bulls was a brief nine-game stretch but in that time he played like a player who was ready to have a breakout season.

Over those nine games he averaged 19 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting. The biggest error on the Bulls end of things was not taking those numbers seriously. NBA-quality players put up great numbers in the G League because of their (obvious) higher physicality and/or skill level. And if you compare his numbers with the Windy City Bulls to his statistics during his other G League stints, it is obvious that he was an improving player with room to grow:

G League stats:

2014-15: 12 PPG, 5 APG, 3 RPG, 2 FTA per game

2015-16: 14 PPG, 6 APG, 3 RPG, 4 FTA per game

2016-17: 19 PPG, 8 APG, 3 RPG, 6 FTA per game

Dinwiddie’s development in the counting stats showed a player getting more comfortable with his shot and role on a team. But the free throw attempts are just as important--if not more--because they show a player who is becoming more aggressive, and in Dinwiddie’s case, becoming confident in their game.

And so fittingly, there was Dinwiddie, nailing 50 percent of his eight 3-point attempts and getting the game-winning steal and free throws to seal the win over the Bulls.


This all to say, the hope is that the Bulls front office is looking at the Windy City Bulls as a legitimate talent-pool, and not just a way to train coaches and/or additional staff. This is not the lone case of talent developing up in Hoffman Estates.

Chicago-native Alfonzo McKinnie plays about 15 minutes per game for the Warriors. He averaged 9 RPG for the Windy City Bulls in the 2016-17 season and showed signs of being able to extend his range, shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line after shooting 35 percent from 3-point range in college. He played in all 50 games for the Windy City Bulls in his lone season.

Jake Layman is playing about 15 MPG for the Trail Blazers and is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line. He played on the 2016-17 Windy City Bulls team and scored 17 PPG over an eight game stretch with the team.

Neither McKinnie or Layman are going to develop into superstars. They may never carry a scoring load for their respective teams or even get to start more than a couple times in a season, but that isn’t that the point.

The (Chicago) Bulls are have historically built through the draft, with few free agent success stories sprinkled in. And in terms of recent history, the Bulls took a great first step in the right direction in their (latest) rebuild by getting a great return in the Jimmy Butler trade.

The next steps are going to be identifying and acquiring—whether it be through developing someone currently on the roster, the draft or free agency—a superstar and finding good role players to fit around those central figures. And the G League has emerged as perhaps the best (and most cost effective way) of doing finding latter.

And in the case of Dinwiddie, he is going to be a lot more than a good role player. So while it didn’t cost the Bulls anything to lose him, it still represents an opportunity missed on a guard who has yet to hit his prime.

But life goes on, and there will be other solid talents finding their way in the NBA G League, possibly on the Windy City Bulls. Hopefully, the (Chicago) Bulls spot them first.

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

The Bulls visit Miami to take on the 16-6 Heat in the wake of a disappointing loss to the Warriors in Chicago on Friday. The game tips off at 5 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago – until then, here's what to watch for:

Heat’s last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 6 — W vs. Wizards: 112-103

  • Dec. 4 — L at Celtics: 112-93

  • Dec. 3 — W at Raptors: 121-110

  • Dec. 1 — W at Nets: 109-106

  • Nov. 29 — W vs. Warriors: 122-105

Storyline(s) for each team

At 16-6, the Heat enter tonight the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and one of the league’s best teams — explosive offensively (second in the NBA in eFG%, per Cleaning the Glass), yet defensively-oriented (top 10 in defensive rating, eFG% against, turnover rate and defensive rebounding rate). Two things that should especially worry the Bulls: This game is in Miami and the Heat are coming off a day of rest after beating the Wizards 112-103 on Friday. The Heat are 9-0 at home this season and four of their six losses have come on the second night of back-to-backs. With fresh legs and their home crowd behind them, they’ll be tough to beat.

The Bulls, for their part, are coming off a momentum-crushing loss to the 5-19 Golden State Warriors on their home floor Friday, and on the first night of a road-and-home back-to-back — they’ll face the Raptors at the United Center on Monday. Both teams have already blown the Bulls out early in the season — the Heat 116-108 (it wasn’t that close) on Nov. 22, the Raptors 108-84 on Oct. 26. Since the start of last season, the Bulls are 7-48 against teams with winning records. To put it diplomatically, the next two nights will be an uphill battle.

Player to watch: Jimmy Butler

It’s the easy answer, but it’s also the right one. The Heat employ a dynamic cast of characters around Butler, but he’s the lifeblood of this team. The offense runs through him, the defense feeds off him (along with, of course, legitimate DPOY candidate Bam Adebayo as the anchor) and you can bet he’ll get up to face his former team. As Miami’s role players have endured up-and-down stretches, here are Butler’s numbers in his last eight games (i.e. since Nov. 22):

Per game: 22.8 points, 7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.3% shooting (14 attempts), 9.5 FTA

And against the Bulls in his career:

Per game: 29 points, 5.3 assists, 5 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 48.1% shooting (18 attempts), 11.7 FTA

Even in a game the Bulls could find themselves overmatched in, perhaps we’ll get a fun Butler-Zach LaVine matchup this time around. Since being traded for each other after the 2016-17 season, the two have had some battles — before the Nov. 22 no-contest (LaVine, remember, was pulled by Jim Boylen early in the first quarter and only tallied 16 points in a blowout), they were each averaging over 30 points per game when facing each other.

LaVine bounced back from that aforementioned pseudo-benching with a 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte; maybe another historic performance is in store after an underwhelming fourth-quarter showing on Friday against Golden State.

Matchup to watch: 3-point shooting

Miami is a heat-check factory. Their movement-based offense is effective at creating a plethora of open long-range looks per game and even though some of their ancillary weapons can be streaky, there’s so many of them that you can bet at least one will burn you on a given night.

For evidence, look no further than that Nov. 22 matchup. Before most Bulls fans had scanned their tickets and found their seats, the Heat ran out to a 15-0 lead in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, buoyed by four early 3-pointers (three from Kendrick Nunn, one from Duncan Robinson). Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat take 36% of their field goals from 3-point range (13th in the NBA) and make 39.2% of those looks (3rd in the NBA). They have five rotation players shooting over 38% on threes, and only one of those is on fewer than 3.9 attempts per (Meyers Leonard, shooting 53.8% on 1.8 attempts). Robinson, notably, is hitting 42.8% of his 3-pointers on 6.6 attempts per game.

The Bulls were 10-for-30 (33.3%) from 3-point range in their last game against the Heat, but four of those came in the final 2:15 of the game in a too-little-too-late comeback bid. They’re feast-or-famine in this department, but will need to keep this matchup close to have a chance tonight. 

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Nothing new here as far as the Bulls are concerned, barring a surprise injury or Chandler Hutchison status upgrade. Boylen has indicated he’s progressing, but hasn’t offered a concrete timetable for return, as of yet. Thad Young rejoins the team tonight.

The Heat will be without Goran Dragic (16 points, seven assists, 3-for-5 from three on Nov. 22), who is currently dealing with a groin issue. Justise Winslow and Adebayo are both currently listed as questionable.

Winslow missed time earlier in the season with a concussion, then returned for five games, but missed Friday’s game with a lower back strain. Adebayo hasn't missed a game since 2018; losing him would severely impact Miami's defensive versatility and rebounding. He had 16 points and 14 rebounds in these teams' first matchup.

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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