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

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."