Grading the Bulls' preseason performances

Grading the Bulls' preseason performances

The Bulls' five-game preseason slate is in the books, and their next stop will be in Philadelphia on Thursday.

But first, let's look back at how each of the Bulls fared.

Zach LaVine

The $78 million man couldn’t have had a better preseason. His deficiencies from last year’s injury-riddled, rusty campaign were non-existent in the five-game sample size. He shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep, but most importantly scored in a variety of ways. He showed a quick first step, shot with confidence coming off screens in catch-and-shoot situations, and was physical going to the rim; he led the Bulls with 4.8 free throw attempts per game. His defense was average, much like the rest of his teammates, and the 3.4 turnovers (and 1.4 assists) weren’t great. But given where he was a year ago to what we saw in October, LaVine passes with flying colors. Grade: A

Bobby Portis

The next man in line for a LaVine-like contract, Bobby Portis is well on his way to securing a similar type of deal. He began the preseason behind Jabari Parker but quickly played himself into the starting lineup. His 17.0 points on 54 percent shooting don’t truly do his preseason justice; he looked as comfortable as he’s ever been in the paint, was a defensive standout and had an infectious intensity that spread through the team. He’s a perfect complement to Wendell Carter Jr. and should be in line to start until Lauri Markkanen returns. Grade: A

Kris Dunn

This is going to sound familiar, but you should get used to hearing it: Kris Dunn was a mixed bag. He attempted 6.0 shots per game, which was less than Cameron Payne averaged and Dunn played more minutes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but his 3.4 turnovers and 3.6 assists per game were. Dunn disappeared for good stretches of the preseason, and whether he’s attempting to get an ever-changing rotation more rhythm and consistency by deferring, the Bulls will need more from him. His defense was top-notch, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. He has a serious chance of an All-NBA Defensive Team nod this season. He’s that good. The offense needs work. The defense will earn him 30 minutes a night. Grade: B-

Jabari Parker

At least he’s got Friday to build on. Parker couldn’t have had a worse preseason after signing a two-year, $40 million contract in July. Lauri Markkanen’s injury was supposed to be a silver lining for Parker, who got to move to his natural power forward position. Instead, Parker struggled mightily defensively, took low-percentage shots and didn’t exactly have the best attitude toward moving to the bench. He rebounded well in traffic, and appears to have all his bounce back from ACL surgery last season. And his 2.6 assists were a nice touch, as Hoiberg has mentioned multiple times wanting Parker to be a facilitator. But it was mostly bad, even with his 19-point outing in the preseason finale. He’s got a long way to go. Grade: D

Wendell Carter Jr.

Remind us how this guy is just 19 years old? There was no acclimation to the NBA for the rookie, as he debuted against Anthony Davis and then faced Myles Turner and Nikola Jokic in his first preseason starts. His numbers don’t jump off the page – 7.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.4 blocks – but the story was how comfortable he looks, how he doesn’t back down and isn’t afraid to protect the rim. He ran the floor exceptionally well and fits Fred Hoiberg’s offense to a tee. He’s the clear-cut best option at center. The Bulls hit on the seventh overall pick for the second straight year. Grade: B+

Robin Lopez

Where Carter was impressive, Lopez is very much trending in the opposite direction. He was oftentimes the worst player on the floor, and his numbers tell the story. In 16.9 minutes he averaged 2.0 points and 3.0 rebounds and he shot 5 of 22 (22.7 percent). That’s not to say Lopez won’t have a role this season, and an 11-year vet is certainly allowed to coast through the preseason. But it wasn’t a pretty preseason, and it likely cost him his starting gig. Grade: D-

Antonio Blakeney

You know what you’re getting with Blakeney. Not always instant offense, but certainly instant shot attempts. He attempted 10.2 shots in 21.2 minutes, averaging 12.8 points on 41 percent shooting. But it was also nice to see him affect the game in other areas; he averaged 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists and seemed to slow the game down more than he did in stints last year. He’ll likely have a role while Denzel Valentine, and even Markkanen, are out. Grade: B-

Justin Holiday

Holiday entered the starting lineup in the wake of Markkanen’s injury, and though his 3-point shot wasn’t falling (26.5 percent on 6.8 attempts) he’s a solid veteran presence on a team that needs them. He’s a help defensively on the wing for LaVine and an outlet on the wing for cutting ball handlers. He didn’t need to prove much in the preseason. Grade: B-

Chandler Hutchison

For all the promise Wendell Carter showed in the preseason, it was a quieter five-game stretch for the other first round pick. Hutchison showed off his length at times on the defensive end, and his athleticism is apparent. He seems comfortable pushing the ball in transition, which could pay off down the line. But right now the game seems too fast for him, and he’ll likely need some seasoning before truly contributing. The tools are there, but all told it was a disappointing start for the No. 22 pick. Grade: C-

Cameron Payne

The Bulls rolled the dice in choosing Payne over Jerian Grant this summer. And that hasn’t looked like a promising decision thus far. Payne struggled with his shot and his decision making was subpar the entire preseason. He pushes the ball well in transition and has the ability to find open shooters. But as a whole he really struggles, and his defense is non-existent. He’s got work to do, and Denzel Valentine may need to shoulder some point-guard load when he returns to the second unit. Grade: D

Ryan Arcidiacano

He played sparingly but looked more comfortable than he did a year ago. He’ll be a nice two-way player to have at their disposal, but nothing more. Grade: C

Cristiano Felicio

He’s buried on the depth chart behind Carter and Lopez. His foot speed and athleticism just simply haven’t gotten better. He’ll be an expensive cheerleader this season. Grade: F

Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls


Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls

The Washington Wizards are having a fire sale and their star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall stand as their most attractive trade assets. The Bulls have their 2019 offseason plan of picking up a max-contract caliber player to add to their young and exciting core, but acquiring a player via trade is the best way to get an asset that is under a control long-term.

Obviously, the Wizards aren’t giving up Beal or Wall without a solid long-term asset coming back, and that is when the question becomes is it worth it for Chicago to give up a blue-chip prospect to add Wall to the core? And do the Wizards consider the Bulls with Wall a  playoff team in the short term?

The proposed trade would be:

Wizards receive: Bobby Portis (restricted free agent) Robin Lopez (expiring contract), Justin Holiday (expiring contract), Denzel Valentine, 2019 1st round pick, 2021 1st round pick

Bulls receive: John Wall

For the Bulls the rationale is that they are still years away from being a playoff contender but making this trade makes them a legitimate playoff contender through the duration of Wall’s deal, a playoff hopeful with the ability to be much more with a few rotation pieces sprinkled in.

Wall is under contract through the 2022-23 season and has a 15 percent trade kicker that would make his yearly contract more than the $42 million a year he is due now. The contract is massive but the payoff would be worth it if Wall’s playmaking prowess could take the games of Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine to an even higher level.

As of now, LaVine has a usage rate (32 percent) on par with that of James Harden (34 percent) but the difference is that LaVine doesn’t have that secondary, high-usage player that can allow LaVine to take a few possessions off on offense.

Antonio Blakeney and Jabari Parker have failed in that role in the absence of Markkanen. Dunn is capable of controlling the offense but doesn’t provide the same upside as Wall in terms of driving to the rim. Wall is third in the league in drives per game (16.9) and fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game off of drives. In Hoiberg’s offense, his ability to get downhill would open up opportunities for Markkanen, Portis and Carter, all who offer more in terms of pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop ability than anyone currently in the Wizards big man rotation.

The offense would have a bit of a my turn, your turn-feel to it. But it could work if the Bulls as long as they continue to pick up shooters to space the floor for inevitable Wall-Markkanen pick-and-pops (or PnR).

Defensively this trade offers a ton of upside as well. Hoiberg and the front office would have to go through a bit of a rough patch with the rotation as he figures out how to make up for having one SF after this deal.

Rawle Alkins could be called up from the G League and the free agent market could be explored as Hutchison receives a ton of valuable playing time. Hoiberg would also be able to experiment with three-guard lineups that actually provide some semblance of perimeter defense.

The lineup of Felicio, Parker, Blakeney, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison has a massive 41.2 net rating. That is not truly representative of the effectiveness of the lineup because it comes in such a small sample size. But the reason it’s interesting that lineup did so well is the presence of three-guards and the fact that it was one of the Bulls better lineups in terms of pushing the pace.

Hoiberg has slowly started to ramp the pace back up as he awaits the returns of his top talents but Wall’s arrival would allow his offense to work at warp-speed now.

A lineup including Wall and Dunn on the floor together would allow defenses to shrink the floor, but the issue can be mitigated by the Bulls cluster of 3-point shooting bigs and occasionally playing LaVine at the small forward spot.

Ultimately, this trade would give the Bulls a solid core of Wall, LaVine, Markkanen, Carter--and potentially Dunn and Parker depending on what the front office decides--that could develop into one of the more balanced lineups in the league.

For Washington, this trade allows them to unload the massive contract of Wall, which may make him harder to move than Beal.

There aren’t a ton of point guard-hungry teams in the NBA. And even the guard-needy teams will likely want to wait until the 2019 offseason to see if they have a shot at players like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic or Terry Rozier; all who come with less baggage than Wall. The Suns, Magic and Lakers all could arguably make better cases for Wall trades depending on what assets they were willing to give up. But being willing to give up multiple future 1st round picks and/or their 2019 pick could separate the Bulls from the pack.

The main competitor would be fellow Klutch Sports client LeBron James’ Lakers but the fact they think they have a shot in the Jimmy Butler/Kawhi Leonard/Klay Thompson sweepstakes could make them hesitant to make a long-term commitment to Wall.

There are very few windows when a legitimate All-NBA caliber player is available. While the Bulls may think waiting to the offseason to add talent is the best course of action, their low success rate in recent free agency periods suggests that they definitely should reach out to the Wizards and feel out what type of package they are looking for.

Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months


Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He'll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The surgery stems from what the team is calling "ongoing ankle instability." Valentine was evaluated by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot and ankle specialist in Green Bay, Wis., and will undergo surgery next week. The team said in a press release that Valentine is expected to make a full recovery and will not have any limitations in the offseason or the following training camp.

That is, if he can remain healthy. Valentine's ankle has given him trouble ever since the Bulls made him the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. As a rookie he missed a large portion of the season with two separate sprained ankles, and he had surgery on that ankle the following offseason.

When Valentine suffered the initial sprain on Sept. 28, there was belief that he could potentially return for the season opener on Oct. 17. That never happened, and a few days later a scan revealed a bone bruise in the ankle that shut him down indefinitely. Valentine only got as far as straight-line running in his rehabilitation.

The Bulls picked up his fourth-year team option on Oct. 30, so he's still part of the Bulls' plans for 2019-20. But at this point it remains to be seen if he can be a contributor. Though he shot well from beyond the arc last season, Valentine hasn't been able to replicate the playmaking skills he showed at Michigan State and has struggled defensively. Valentine just turned 25 and will have missed more than a year of game action when he returns to training camp next September.

Since Valentine hasn't played this season the Bulls' rotation shouldn't look all that different going forward. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to log major minutes, moving to the second unit when Kris Dunn (knee) returns to the lineup. Past that, Chandler Hutchison may find himself a bigger role on the second unit without Valentine's floor spacing. Rawle Alkins, a G-Leaguer for Windy City who is practicing with the Bulls on Monday and Tuesday, could potentially see minutes depending on how he plays in Hoffman Estates and how long Dunn is out.