Bulls Insider

Bulls mailbag: Can Williams emulate Deng? Best PnR duo?

Bulls Insider

It’s a week until the season opener in Detroit. But your questions already are in midseason form.

If the opportunity presented itself later in the season and Pascal Siakam was available via trade, would you give up Coby White and Patrick Williams to get it done? Would this be enough? Or do you believe in the longer-term potential of White and Williams? --- Vinod G.

Alrighty then. As I said, midseason form. The Bulls haven’t even tipped their 2021-22 season and you’ve got hypotheticals asking them to launch their former No. 4 overall pick — and the apple of Artūras Karnišovas’ eye — in Williams.

Never say never in this league. But by all accounts the Bulls remain extremely high on Williams’ potential and ceiling. Given all the guards they added, White’s situation is tougher to read. Yes, the Bulls value him. And I still think he plays a significant role this season. But the real test will be when he’s up for an extension of his rookie deal. This regime has been here long enough now to analyze previous situations and form evaluations off of them.

Take, for instance, the situation of Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls always publicly supported and praised Markkanen, but they wanted him on their terms. Granted, their proactive extension offer before the 2020-21 season proved prescient for his value. But this past offseason, they told him they wanted him back, but waited to see what the restricted free agent market said. It’s smart business and could apply to White.

 

As for your trade proposal, I wouldn’t do it. I’m probably less moved by Siakam than some, and I do believe Williams can be really good.

Will Patrick Williams, age 20, grow to become a player of, say, Luol Deng quality? Can the shadow of Zach LaVine’s contract not infect the entire season?  (see: Bryant, Kris) Is Nikola Vučević still of All-Star caliber? --- Charley H.

You get three for the price of one.

That’s a great comp for Williams. Here’s why: Deng was one of those steady, not-always flashy players who eventually earned two All-Star berths. But his stats still never wow-ed you. But ask any teammate or coach how valuable he was — logging heavy minutes, guarding the opponent’s best player, hitting big shots — and you’d be listening to the answer for a while.

The questions about Williams’ ability to be aggressive or not are well-documented. So at least early in his career, he projects to be a player whose stats may not always overwhelm you. But his value could rise to the level of Deng. He certainly has the skill set.

One thing he needs to develop — and Billy Donovan has now started publicly acknowledging this — is his stamina and conditioning. Deng was indefatigable. To be an elite two-way player, you have to be.

As for LaVine, I’m confident it won’t be an issue for him. He is as focused on winning and playing team-oriented basketball as they come. He knows how good he is. He knows his big payday is coming. He’s not going to let his pending unrestricted free agency status deter him from his goals.

Now, will there be storylines that pop up occasionally? Almost undoubtedly. If the Bulls hit a rough patch or a team with projected cap space is struggling, LaVine’s pending free agency will be raised. He’ll be mentioned as a target for other teams almost certainly during the season. But I’ve been around LaVine long enough and watched how he operates to know it won’t be coming from him.

Regarding Vučević, there’s a difference between All-Star caliber and making the All-Star team. His skills didn’t go away during the offseason. His numbers may go down. He may not be voted an Eastern Conference reserve by coaches. But anyone who has watched the Bulls’ preseason would know he’s still going to play a significant role for this team this season. His passing and shooting ability are areas defenses have to respect and honor.

Which do you think will be the Bulls’ most lethal pick-and-roll duo this year? Zach & Vuch? Demar & Vuch? Or some other pairing that might surprise us? --- Matt L.

I spell it Vooch. But I digress.

This is a great question. My first, gut reaction was LaVine and Vučević. They formed a decent chemistry last season after LaVine returned from his stint on the health and safety protocols. And LaVine is just such a dynamic scorer, which, coupled with Vučević's pick-and-pop and passing acumen, creates pick-your-poison type of stuff for defenses.

 

But DeRozan gets to the free-throw line more often and has produced better passing statistics during his career. He has posted four straight seasons with five or more assists per game, while LaVine has yet to eclipse that threshold in his career. DeRozan has averaged 6.4 free-throw attempts to LaVine’s four per game over their careers.

Let’s just settle on this: For the first time in a while, the Bulls have made this a tough question to answer.

Do you see any way the Bulls will be able to work Marko Simonović into a reserve role this season?  And do you view him as a stretch 4 or can he be serviceable as a backup 5? --- Marty M.

I view him as a stretch 4 with the ability to possibly play backup 5 as he gets stronger and adjusts to the pace and physicality of the league. I don’t see him as a rotational player this season.

Love your work. Hate seeing you tweet "3-point shooter fouled alert.” LOL.

Do you see the Bulls finishing with the best team chemistry in the NBA? We offloaded the injury-prone players from last year and now have a group of solid healthy guys who normally have complete seasons. --- James N.

I haven’t had to tweet that yet this preseason. And perhaps there’s a correlation there to your question? Actually, no, as I remember savvy vets like Garrett Temple and Thad Young falling prey to that amazing trend last season. Man, did they foul a lot of 3-point shooters.

Last season’s team got along fine. I think your larger point is that this is a more veteran-laden team with accomplished players on it. And one thing I always say about team chemistry: Winning helps.

Everyone in the mainstream sports media world seems to be underestimating just how good this Bulls team can be. Do you think they’re doing this because they want the Bulls to prove themselves? Or because the more they downplay, the bigger the story if the Bulls are a legitimate team?  --- Connor D.R.

(Psssst. Here’s a little secret: We’re just educating guessing from our seat.)

But more broadly: Lumping “mainstream sports media” under one big umbrella is dicey. I can only speak for myself when I say the latter scenario is something no credible journalist I know would do. Even with guesses — I mean, predictions — reporters I know are trying to get it right. Credibility is crucial in this business.

As for why some prominent reporters are not-so-Bullish on the Bulls, it’s instructive to note that Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t yet either. And I do think a lot of it is the unknown, and the Bulls’ recent past, tamping down expectations.

 

The best solution? Let’s play the games.

Billy's 10-man rotation

PG:  Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso SG:  Zach LaVine, Coby White SF:   DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Jones Jr. PF:   Patrick Williams, Alize Johnson C:     Vuc, Tony Bradley

Where do the rest of the pretty good players end up to start the season? --- Kirk S.

Maybe this team has more depth than first believed? You also forgot Troy Brown Jr. and Javonte Green, the first of which I see as a top-eight player. With White sidelined until mid-November at least, does Green stay in rotation to start the season? Donovan clearly is comfortable going nine or 10 deep.

There's also a chance, particularly if Tony Bradley isn't healthy, that Alize Johnson opens the season as the backup center and they go small a bunch with Derrick Jones Jr. or DeRozan playing backup power forward. DeRozan, in that instance, obviously would be in a staggered situation after starting at small forward. Donovan has a lot of flexibility.

Just want your thoughts on Vučević's potential growth on defense this season.

My thoughts are that some people get caught up on the past stats as opposed to the individual changes that often don't get noticed in the present. I predict we're going to see Vučević's defense take a big leap this year. Right away, an observation I've made is he's running the floor with the team on the fast break and keeping up. This can be beneficial for defense on the break if not alone being responsible for the initial turnover himself. I also notice his on-ball defense is a bit more fluid, even if there's an occasional breakdown on the scheme. Stacey King has already spotted cases of players helping the helper, and with Vučević involved more in the system after training camp, plus the shared motivation of the lineup to progress to the next level, I hope I'm on the right track in saying we'll see more blocks and steals from him later in the season — maybe even drawing some charges.

Am I being too optimistic? Before people present the early schedule as an obstacle, I'll note that it's the tougher teams you face that make you grow. --- Kevin A.H.

He does have seven steals in his last two preseason games.

I've always maintained Vučević's defense gets panned a little too harshly. He's not going to switch onto smaller players in space and stop penetration. But he's a solid team defender and very good defensive rebounder. The Bulls have been using him in a soft drop position, and he has done a nice job sealing off the lane.

The Bulls are undersized and lack rim protection. Vučević isn't an elite shotblocker by any means. But he's typically in the right place at the right time and, particularly with the Bulls' improved activity on the perimeter, is being placed in situations where he can succeed.

 

Artūras Karnišovas said during media day that the team wasn’t 100 percent vaccinated. Any change or do we have to wait until games are played in San Francisco, LA or NY to find out? --- William B.

I plan on following up on this in the near future. But I’m answering this now to point out that only home players are impacted by those city ordinances. Visiting players who are unvaccinated can play in games. But as has been widely reported, unvaccinated players face testing and quarantine and social restrictions that are very stringent, while vaccinated players do not.

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