How David Nwaba, the shooting guard who doesn't shoot, is thriving with the Bulls


How David Nwaba, the shooting guard who doesn't shoot, is thriving with the Bulls

The Bulls’ offense was a mess on Sunday afternoon, again searching for and failing to find a rhythm or any consistency without Kris Dunn. They did, however, make 12 more 3-pointers and add to their franchise record-breaking pace for triples in a season. Eight of 10 Bulls who played meaningful minutes attempted a 3-pointer. The two who didn’t? Center Robin Lopez, who has attempted 13 3-pointers in 677 career games. The other? David Nwaba, the shooting guard who’s doing everything right for the Bulls except, well, shoot.

It’s probably not fair to label Nwaba a true shooting guard. Though Basketball Reference says the 6-foot-4 NFL linebacker look-a-like has played 93 percent of his minutes at the position, he’s often strategically placed with two wings capable of shooting, plus reserve forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. So he’s really at “the 2” in name only. In an offense that has grown and depended more on the 3-pointer than ever before, Nwaba is bucking that trend … yet still finding significant minutes.

He’s taken just 17 3-pointers all year, and 11 of those came before Christmas — on Nov. 11 James Harden attempted 17 in a single game, to put that number in perspective. Of players averaging at least 20 minutes per game, only Ben Simmons has attempted fewer 3-pointers per game among guards. In fact, 34 centers have attempted more 3-pointers than Nwaba.

Since Dec. 31, in 310 minutes, Nwaba has attempted three 3-pointers. That’s fewer than Andre Drummond’s four attempts in the same span and as many as rookie Heat center Bam Adebayo, who hasn’t made a 3-pointer all year (and didn’t make one at Kentucky, either).

It’s a trend Nwaba has followed going back to his college days. He made four, count them, four 3-pointers in three seasons at Cal Poly. Last year in the D-League he made four 3-pointers on 17 attempts in 1,150 minutes. When the Lakers called him up for the last 20 games of the year he attempted five 3-pointers in almost 400 minutes. You get the picture.

But Nwaba has taken it a step further. Not only is he avoiding 3-pointers, he’s avoiding the midrange too. In addition to the 17 3-pointers he’s attempted, only two others have been jumpers. The rest of Nwaba’s 163 field-goal attempts have come in the paint. The bulldozer is either passing, setting a screen or going toward the basket on a drive, drawing a foul on 10.5 percent of those drives, the highest mark among Bulls guards.

“David knows who he is, and he’s not going to try to play outside that. He’s a guy that understands he’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket,” Hoiberg said. “We need David in attack mode.”

Nwaba draws contact and also finishes well at the basket, shooting 60.7 percent from 5 feet and in — also best among Bulls guards. He’s shooting 54 percent on 5.1 attempts per game. He’s also helping the Bulls push the pace, with Hoiberg joking that when the Bulls’ top rebounding guard (4.5 per game) grabs a board the other four “need to run with him” better.

“You have to be aggressive going to the basket, so it’s important that I play off my teammates,” Nwaba said. “That’s what I like to bring: looking to score in transition, bringing energy and going to the basket.”

But with no real outside shot to speak of, good decision making and finishing at the rim alone can’t justify 22.7 minutes per game. Hoiberg’s Bulls have five players averaging 4.7 3-point attempts per game. In Hoiberg’s first two seasons only Nikola Mirotic eclipsed that mark. It’s clear 3-pointers are valued in this system, and Nwaba doesn’t bring even a threat from the outside — he’s made 6 of those 22 career 3-pointers. So where are these minutes earned?

“David’s the most versatile defender we have on our team,” Hoiberg said. “Whether he’s shooting the ball or not, whether he’s making shots or not, he’s still going to have a positive impact on the game. First and foremost because of his effort, which is a skill, to go out and play with that type of effort. And the other thing is defensively he’s always going to go out and battle.”

Added Denzel Valentine, who’s played more on the second unit with Nwaba since Zach LaVine returned: “He’s physical, he knows how to push the pace on offense and he’s a good energy guy. He gets you amped up to play.”

The numbers on Nwaba’s defense do him justice. Entering Sunday’s game against the Bucks his 103.4 defensive rating was the best on the team by 2.5 points (a considerable margin, for you non-statheads). The Bulls defense is more than five points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (also a considerable margin).

And if it feels like Nwaba never stops moving, it’s because he doesn’t. Of players averaging at least 22 minutes per game, Nwaba’s average defensive speed is 4.38 miles per hour, third fastest in the NBA. He trails only OKC’s Andre Roberson, a candidate for the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, and Indiana’s Cory Joseph. His overall average speed is seventh in the league. Hustle and energy can be dubbed clichés, but it’s exactly what Nwaba brings.

“It’s just important that I bring energy when I get out there,” he said, “and do what I do on the defensive end and try to get stops as best as I can.”

There’s another overused cliché about apt defenders being able to defend all five positions: Nwaba does it in one game.

He followed Giannis Antetokounmpo to the scorer’s table late in the first quarter Sunday, and mirrored his minutes for most of his 16 minutes — he would have played more, but the Bulls were lacking for offense and trailing most of the afternoon. He saw time on Eric Bledsoe, helping weak side on an Antetokounmpo drive and blocking the All Star’s attempt off the glass. He also ripped the ball away from Bledsoe in transition that led to a Bulls transition opportunity. He also guarded wing Khris Middleton in the first half, rounding out his well-balanced coverage.

Antetokounmpo got the best of Nwaba — like he does most defenders — for a pair of buckets in the second half, including a tense back-and-forth on the block. The two hammered each other three times before Antetokounmpo faded away and hit a jumper as the shot clock expired. Nwaba had fared well in the first two contests, and the fact that Hoiberg allowed the 25-year-old a third chance to limit a 28 point-per-game scorer speaks volumes.

“Trying to do the little things to help my team win, and if it means guarding their best guy I’ll do the best that I can and try to get stops,” Nwaba said. “Defense is what I like to do. I’m trying to get stops.”

So while 3-pointers continue to gain relevance and almost become a non-starter for gaining relevance in the NBA, Nwaba is going to continue doing what he wants. And nothing else. He’s a restrictive free agent at season’s end, and some team — perhaps the Bulls — will take a chance on the shooting guard who won’t shoot. He’s the kind of player every championship team needs. He might never top 20 points in a game, but somewhere down the line he’s going to cause a 30-point scorer to go for an inefficient 22, and it’s going to win his team a quarter, a game or even a playoff series.

“We love David and hope he’s here for a long time,” Hoiberg said before Friday’s Lakers game. Nwaba had eight points and five rebounds (and no threes) against his former team. “There’s just not a lot of guys that have that defensive versatility.”

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?


Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

The Bulls are in a dire spot in terms of their wing depth and that was something that was true before Otto Porter Jr. suffered another injury setback

Chandler Hutchison and the then returning from injury-Denzel Valentine served as the Bulls only real small forwards behind Porter on the depth chart, and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen did not make Valentine a significant part of the rotation until early December. Now, with Porter out and Hutchison still out nursing his persistent shoulder injury, the Bulls are starting guard Kris Dunn at the three with Valentine as his backup. 

Starting the 6-foot-3 Dunn at small forward is quite a tough ask for a Bulls team that has struggled heavily rebounding all season long (Bulls currently rank 29th in the league in rebound percentage). So with the 8-17 Bulls looking nothing like the Eastern Conference playoff contender that they expected themselves to be, they will need to string together a sustained stretch of good basketball to prevent themselves from becoming a clear-cut lottery-bound team (yet again).

The Bulls haven't announced any intentions to make a roster move, but with the buyers and sellers starting to become clear, who are some wings that could potentially help the Bulls and are reportedly available?:

Robert Covington 

Robert Covington is the least likely option for the Bulls in terms of available wing help. It was reported by The Ringer's Kevin O' Connor that title-contending NBA teams have been monitoring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Covington, who has long been one of the league's premier 3-and-D forwards. This season Covington is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range. Covington is shooting 5.5 attempts per game from 3-point range and is hitting a career-best 90.2% of his free throws. 

Covington has been heavily linked to the Houston Rockets which makes a ton of sense considering that he started his career there and would be able to play a familiar role, acting as a catch-and-shoot specialist next to James Harden. Though Covington makes the most sense on a contending team, he would have value to the Bulls. Covington's contract has two more seasons on it at a reasonable amount (around $11 to $12 million per year) and even once Porter returns, he would be an amazing addition to a Bulls bench that has already been outperforming the starters on a regular basis

Danilo Gallinari 

It was correctly assumed that when the Oklahoma City Thunder made their franchise-changing trades for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari, they would be open to moving the players for the right trade offer. It has been reported that the Thunder are indeed open to trading Gallinari (and others).

The Bulls aren't in desperation mode, but that is OK in regards to Gallinari, as he is an asset that may be able to be acquired at a reasonable price. The Thunder came into Tuesday with an 11-12 record, good for the No. 7 seed in the West, but they may not care as much about making the postseason considering their long-term goal is to collect as many valuable assets as possible.

The Thunder may not necessarily enter "tank mode" but if the 31-year old Gallinari—who is on an expiring deal—is not a part of their plans for next season or beyond, he could be had for a reasonable price despite currently averaging a solid 18.3 points per game. The Bulls have their own draft picks, plus the Thunder reportedly are open to taking back salary, so any combination of Bulls players could work to get a deal done. 

DeMar DeRozan

Despite being in clear need of help on the wings, DeMar DeRozan doesn't exactly fit this year's Bulls but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Bulls would be lucky to an All-Star talent to their roster in a buy-low move, and DeRozan potentially presents the opportunity to do just that. 

The four-time All-Star has a 2020 player option, which is likely to be accepted and represents the last year on his deal. Depending on who the Bulls gave up in a potential deal for DeRozan, they would be able to pair his proficiency as a scorer (especially in the pick-and-roll, where he is averaging 0.92 points per possession) with Lauri Markkanen and/or  Zach LaVine's abilities as 3-point shooters. 

The Spurs look to be on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and could be more open to making an in-season trade than they have in the past. He is by no means a great fit in Chicago but there are a few things he does well that could make a difference. DeRozan's 5.8 free throw attempts per game would lead the Bulls and his 57.1% true shooting would be better than any Chicago wing outside of Valentine. If the Spurs and Bulls both continue to slide in the standings, even starting discussions on such a trade could become more of a reality.

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The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback


The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback

The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues---and continues to lengthen.

Porter, who has been out since Nov. 6, now will be reassessed in four weeks after visiting Dr. Bob Anderson, a noted foot and ankle specialist, Monday in Green Bay, Wis. In a release, the Bulls said Anderson confirmed Porter’s bone injury in his left foot. The team also said the “healing response (is) consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

Porter will remain in his walking boot for now. And the Bulls’ depth at small forward, which also currently features Chandler Hutchison out with a bruised shoulder, will continue to be tested.

Kris Dunn will remain in a starting role until Hutchison returns. Denzel Valentine also has taken advantage of his opportunity created by these injuries.

However, Porter’s absence is significant. He's a reliable two-way player who adds shooting, leadership and versatility at both ends. Though he got off to a slow start this season, he had started to play impactful minutes just before he got injured.

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