Chandler Hutchison got slapped with the ‘injury-prone’ tag early in his career. He’s missed 65 of a possible 135 games in his season-and-a-half NBA tenure with a laundry list of afflictions — a development that undoubtedly had some queasy after the Bulls used a first-round draft choice on him in 2018.
But, back and energized, Hutchison has blossomed with advanced opportunity and availability of late. Since notching a career-high 21 points in Indiana on Jan. 29, the second-year forward is averaging 15.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in a four-game stretch that’s featured his three highest minutes totals of the season. That trend should continue as he slots into the starting lineup for an injured Kris Dunn.
“For me, I just want to be aggressive,” Hutchison said of what’s behind his improvements. “Whether I'm playing 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. The time that I'm out there I'm just gonna be aggressive and try to just put together a streak of going out there, making mistakes and then learning from them and trying to get better.”
There inlies the key to Hutchison’s maturation and development: Resiliency. That goes for bouncing back from the “nicks, bruises and dings” (as he put it) that result from the rigors of an NBA season, and also from in-game errors that can naturally cloud the focus of younger players.
“For me, it's always been a battle — at this level,” Hutchison said of his ability to accept mistakes. “When dealing with injuries, also, it's tough to find a rhythm and have that confidence of the player that you know that you are. Being back on the court, I realized that you never really know how long until the next thing that comes up, you might have to miss some games to just enjoy it while I'm out there.”
To that point, Hutchison’s current 17-game streak of simply playing in games is already the second-longest of his career (the longest being a 20-gamer between Dec. 15 and Jan. 25 of last season). There’s a lot to be said for building momentum day-by-day and his steadily increasing output is evidence. Over time, the blow-by ability off the dribble, pogo-stick hops and galloping speed that made Hutchison such a mesmerizing prospect on the wing have begun to shine through, though his shooting (30.3% from 3, 62.2 from the free throw line) must improve.
“He’s done a good job of being in attack mode,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “He has the ability to get by people, drive the ball, he’s a multi-handler in transition. He’s a coast to coast, one-man fast break threat, which is important. I just think he’s grown.”
“With a couple dribbles and my strides, it's almost impossible to stay in front of me,” Hutchison said.
Both Hutchison and the Bulls still have their sights on ‘defensive stopper’ status, too. Even if he’s not the ghost of Scottie Pippen every night, Hutchison’s length and active hands play well in the Bulls’ defensive schemes, with his innate athleticism giving him a solid base to work from. Hutchison’s 2.2% steal rate is in the 95th percentile for his position, per Cleaning the Glass, and running off steals, the Bulls score 145 points per play with him on the floor (78th percentile). For a team that lives off fastbreak points and points off turnovers, that’s a welcome injection.
Still, the Bulls, losers of four straight, are in the midst of a dire stretch and remain without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Dunn and Otto Porter Jr. for the foreseeable future (plus, Zach LaVine just landed on the injury report). The season is approaching a breaking point, but Hutchison’s continued development could mark a salvaging point if this keeps up.
Ask him, and he’s confident it will.
“The more that I'm out there and just playing free-minded, for me, I feel like I'm gonna be more of a positive than I am a negative,” Hutchison said. “I'm not gonna be perfect, I'm gonna make a lot of mistakes and I'm gonna have some duds of games, that just comes with it with me finding my rhythm and continuing to feel comfortable at this level. But I honestly think that the more that I'm just myself and continue to play hard, good things are gonna happen for me and also to help the team.”