Bulls

How do Bulls evaluate Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine?

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USA TODAY

How do Bulls evaluate Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine?

With Monday's expected news that Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn won't play in any more games for the Bulls this season, the coaching staff and front office now have to make an evaluation of their play based on a much smaller sample size than they would have preferred.

Dunn played in 52 games, averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6 assists, while LaVine was limited to just 24 games, averaging 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3 assists. Even more concerning was the lack of extended court time together, with Dunn playing his best basketball while LaVine was still in rehab mode following ACL surgery in February of 2017.

So, as the decision makers look ahead to an important off-season, what do they really know about the two players (along with Lauri Markkanen) acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota last summer? Has Dunn established himself as the long term answer at point guard, and is LaVine worthy of a long-term contract commitment?

The decision on Dunn's future is probably easier to make. He established himself as a high quality defender (fourth in the NBA in steals), with better than expected shooting range. Dunn also showed the willingness to take big shots late in close games and his positional size allowed him to score over smaller point guards in isolation sets. The biggest issue he faces going forward is a high turnover rate (2.9 per game), reducing his assist to turnover ratio to a pedestrian 2.1.

Has Dunn showed enough to let John Paxson and Gar Forman pass on highly regarded college point guard prospects Collin Sexton and Trae Young if one or both are still on the board when the Bulls are on the clock? Again, the answer is probably yes, especially considering the Bulls also have back-up point guards Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract for next season.

At 6'4", Dunn could certainly handle the defensive responsibilities playing alongside a smaller point guard like Sexton or Young, but it's more likely the Bulls would use their top 10 pick on a small forward prospect like Mikal or Miles Bridges.

The LaVine situation is a lot trickier, especially considering he's heading into restricted free agency. Paxson has said consistently the Bulls plan to re-sign LaVine this summer, but at what cost?

Since the Bulls hold LaVine's Bird rights after the trade with Minnesota, LaVine would be eligible for a five year max contract at around $146 million, depending on where the cap is set in July. The Bulls could try to sign LaVine at a lower total package or for fewer years, and they also have the option of letting Zach and his agent shop the market for an offer sheet the Bulls could match.

Washington used that strategy with Otto Porter last summer, and wound up matching a Brooklyn Nets offer sheet for four years at around $106 million. Porter is a good player, but hardly worth that kind of contract, and the Bulls could be in the same position if they let another team set the market. The one advantage the Bulls do have is because so few teams have money available to offer a max contract this summer, it's unlikely any franchise would want to tie up its dollars on a restricted free agent they're unlikely to get.

Still, Paxson and Forman have to evaluate what LaVine's ceiling could be. Will LaVine make a big jump in his second year following knee surgery and become an Eastern Conference All-Star or is he a high volume scorer who needs the ball in his hands to be successful and sometimes drifts on defense?

LaVine showed flashes of his pre-knee injury form during his 24 games this season, especially in his first game against his former team. LaVine scored a season-high 35 points and out-dueled Butler down the stretch in a 114-113 Bulls’ win at the United Center. The explosiveness and leaping ability is still there, and you'd have to expect he'll be a more efficient player next season with a full summer and training camp under his belt.

LaVine admitted as much to me in a recent interview, saying, "You've got to work to improve your game each summer. I think that's where NBA players make the biggest jump is in the off-season. You get your experience through the season, you build on what you want, and you go back and evaluate it. Me personally, that's where I put a lot of my work in. Obviously, last year, I didn't get a summer so I'm really looking forward to it. Me and Kris talk all the time, this is going to be a big summer, we're going to make a big jump, there's not going to be any messin' around. We're going to go to work."

Best guess here is that the Bulls will offer LaVine a long term contract at less than max value, and if the two sides can't reach an agreement, LaVine could sign a two or three year deal and then re-visit the market as an unrestricted free agent with more teams willing and able to join in the bidding.

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With the Bulls winning back to back games against the Magic and Wizards, it looks like they'll need some lottery magic to move up from their current eighth position in the reverse standings. Matter of fact, there's a decent chance the Knicks might catch or pass the Bulls before we hit the finish line.

If the Bulls stay at number eight, their choices will likely come down to one of the point guards we mentioned earlier, Duke big man Wendell Carter or small forwards Mikal Bridges of Villanova and Miles Bridges of Michigan State. Mikal Bridges fits the mold of the "3 & D" small forward that would mesh nicely with the team the Bulls are building. Mikal Bridges is 6"7" with a 7'2" wingspan, and he plays the point on Villanova's trapping defense. It wouldn't be a franchise-changing addition like some of the prospects at the top of the draft, but remember this year's rookie sensation, Donovan Mitchell, was the 13th pick last June.

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Don't look now, but the New Orleans Pelicans are crashing back to earth. Anthony Davis is one of the top five players in the league, but even he can only carry a team so far. New Orleans went 0-for-4 during a brutal stretch of games against Houston, Cleveland, Portland and Oklahoma City. In the process, the Pelicans have dropped to eighth in the West, just one game ahead of Denver.

The Bulls own New Orleans' first round pick as a result of the Niko Mirotic trade, so they'll be rooting for the Pelicans to fall into the lottery over the final week of the season. Owning two lottery picks might give Paxson and Forman enough ammunition to move up a few spots in the top 10 if a player they really like starts to slip.

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That player might just be Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who formally applied for the draft on Monday. Jackson Jr. had an inconsistent freshman season because of foul trouble that limited his playing time, but some scouts believe he's the ideal "stretch 5" with his ability to protect the rim and shooting range out to the 3 point line.

In this era of perimeter-oriented play, we could see five players 6'10" or taller go in the top six picks with Jackson Jr., Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba and Michael Porter Jr. joining international prospect Luka Doncic, a 6’8” combo guard.

If a point-guard needy team like Orlando decides to reach for Sexton or Young, one of the elite bigs could fall to the Bulls. At least, that's what Gar and Pax are hoping.

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Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has had issues in the past because of a poor attitude, and he took that to a new level on Saturday after a one point overtime loss to Brooklyn. Whiteside didn't play over the final 21 minutes because Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to go with a smaller line-up. Which led to these comments post-game from Whiteside about Spoelstra choosing to match up, "It's annoying. We shouldn't. Why are we matching up? We've got one of the best centers in the league. Why are we matching up?

A lot of teams don't have a good center. They are going to use their strengths. It's (B.S.). It's really (B.S.) man. There are a lot of teams that can use a center. That's one of them. That's (B.S.)."

The Heat fined Whiteside an undisclosed amount for conduct detrimental to the team. Spoelstra insists the issue is behind them, but he did offer this interesting take on how Whiteside could let him know he's unhappy, "Guys want to throw a few eggs after the game or TP my house, that's actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to [the media] about the frustrations."

Wouldn't you love to see a 7-foot center toilet-papering the head coach's house? Talk about your viral videos!

 

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

Bulls' public address announcer Tommy Edwards is already getting his familiar introduction ready for next season. "Froooooom CHICAGO, a 6'8" forward, Jabari Parker!

Not sure if Parker has the resume to be introduced last for Bulls' home games this season, but there will be plenty of fanfare regardless of where he falls among the starting five. After all, Parker was a part of four straight state championship teams at Chicago's Simeon H.S., earning national prep player of the year honors along the way. And, he's been recognized for his tireless charitable work, including an essay in the Player's Tribune proclaiming his desire to be a factor in creating a safer environment in his hometown. 

Parker is articulate and driven to succeed, which will make him a go-to guy for members of the Chicago media during the upcoming season. Question is, can he succeed where so many other Chicago prep stars have failed? You know the names. Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Dwyane Wade, Hersey Hawkins, Dave Corzine, Cazzie Russell and even our own Kendall Gill. All Chicago area high school stars looking to replicate that greatness playing for the Bulls. But none of them were part of an NBA championship team in their hometown.

So, what will expectations be like for the 23 year old Parker? The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has already come back from two separate ACL tears in his left knee, which effectively removed him from the list of young players projected as future All-Stars. Still, Parker was averaging over 20 points a game for the Bucks before his second ACL injury in February of 2017, and he came back this past season with his trademark explosiveness at the rim still very much intact.

It's obvious playing for his hometown Bulls has always been a goal for Parker, but will the fit on the court be as good as his fit in the Chicago community?

Parker, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are all at their best with the basketball in their hands, which means the coaching staff will have to be creative in finding ways to feature all three of those players, plus the frontcourt duo of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. 

The best solution will be to push the pace to get early shot clock scoring opportunities. Parker is at his best running the floor for fastbreak lay-ups and dunks, and you can the bet the Bulls’ coaches are excited to see Dunn pushing the ball upcourt with Parker, LaVine and Markkanen running the wings. Fred Hoiberg wants to see his players get into a flow offense coming out of the initial attack in transition and when Carter Jr. is on the floor, the Bulls will have five athletic players, 24 years old or younger to get into secondary actions. 

Defense will be the biggest issue in the upcoming season. Parker and LaVine ranked near the bottom of the league among wing defenders in the analytics breakdowns from last season, and their ability to stay in front of talented shooting guards and small forwards will be a nightly key to the Bulls' success. Carter Jr. showed tremendous potential as a shot-blocker during Summer League games, but he can't be expected to block everything if opposing wings are getting straight line drives to the rim. 

So, where does this new-look Bulls team figure in the East? It's hard to project a win total for a team as young as the Bulls, but it's clear they have enough talent on the roster to see a double-digit increase over last season's 27 victories. 41 wins could be good enough to grab the last playoff spot in the East, so if everything comes together for the Bulls next season, they should be playing meaningful games in March and early April. 

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Did you see LeBron James show up at the Vegas Summer League wearing a $500 pair of Lakers' customized shorts? I guess James wanted to make sure everyone knew he had switched teams this summer, and those shorts are now the hottest items in L.A. sports merchandise shops. 

As for the basketball fit, James has already met with Lakers' coach Luke Walton and seems satisfied with the jumbled roster he'll be leading in the upcoming season. James isn't expected to speak publicly on his latest move until the end of the month, but apparently he's been assured the Lakers will be bringing in another superstar at some point, either in the trade market or 2019 free agency. 

Magic Johnson must be confident he can sign Kawhi Leonard next summer, but after watching Paul George state his desire to join the Lakers, then change his mind and re-sign in Oklahoma City, Lakers' fans will be understandably cautious about projecting him as LeBron's running mate for the 2019-20 season. 
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Maybe that other All-Star caliber player is already on the Lakers' roster. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are versatile forwards who have the potential to become 20 points per game scorers in the league, while Lonzo Ball could be an elite facilitator at the point guard position. And, the Lakers' other 1st round pick from the 2017 draft, Josh Hart, was just voted Summer League MVP, an honor that went to Ball a year ago. 

Hart is a 6'5" shooting guard who averaged 7.9 points as a rookie, connecting on 47% of his shots from the field and 40% from the 3 point line. He poured in 37 points Monday night to lead the Lakers to an overtime win over Cleveland in the Summer League semi-finals. The former Villanova star will compete with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson for minutes at the shooting guard position opposite the point guard tandem of Ball and Rajon Rondo.

It's an odd roster put together by Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, but adding James to the mix should almost guarantee 50 wins and a top five seed in the West. 
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Here's a look at the All-NBA Summer League team voted on by media members in Las Vegas.

Wendell Carter Jr.  (BULLS)
Josh Hart                 (Lakers)
Collin Sexton           (Cavs)
Kevin Knox              (Knicks)
Christian Wood       (Bucks)

Top five draft picks Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young were voted to the 2nd team. 

We've already told you about Carter Jr. and Hart, but Sexton impressed all the NBA people on hand in Vegas with his speed in the open court and his ability to get to the rim. There was some discussion in the Bulls' draft room about possibly taking Sexton with the No. 7 overall pick, and he was quickly snapped up by the Cavs after Carter Jr. went to the Bulls.

In the post-Lebron, post-Kyrie era in Cleveland, finding a dynamic point guard to run the show was absolutely crucial for GM Koby Altman and it looks like the Cavs have their man in the ultra-competitive Sexton, who famously almost beat the University of Minnesota by himself when his Alabama team was forced to play three-against-five during a Thanksgiving tournament game last season. 

Cleveland will be looking to shed some of the bad contracts on the roster like Tristan Thompson, George Hill and J.R. Smith, and veterans Kevin Love and Kyle Korver could be on the move as well. Sexton is a quality piece to start the rebuild, but I don't think the Cavs should count on winning the No. 1 overall pick three times in four years like they did the last time LeBron left.
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Finally, don't put too much stock into the Sporting News report listing the Bulls as one of the teams showing interest in free agent center Jahlil Okafor. The former Whitney Young H.S. star worked out for four teams in Las Vegas last week, but the Bulls were not in attendance. Okafor will probably have to sign for the NBA minimum this season to re-establish some value around the league.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft is in great shape and is trying to prove he's more than just a low-post scorer. Okafor played sparingly in Brooklyn after he was acquired in a mid-season trade with Philadelphia. He's averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds over his three-year NBA career. 

The Bulls are already overloaded at the center position with Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and Omer Asik. 

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

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USA TODAY

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

A report via Sporting News writer Sean Deveney surfaced early on Tuesday morning, stating that the Bulls possibly have interest in free agent big man Jahlil Okafor. 

Deveny stated:

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

The Pacers were listed along with the Bulls as teams that could be looking at Okafor, though neither team was at his summer workouts in Las Vegas.

From a public relations standpoint, the Bulls could sell the idea of having a roster with multiple IHSA champions. It would be a feel-good story, with Okafor and Parker joining a young and developing core. But from an on-court perspective, the move makes little sense.

Chicago has a clogged frontcourt rotation that includes Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and No. 7 overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. And while Parker is likely going to play the majority of his minutes on the wing, he will see time at the four and possibly five as well in spot minutes. Okafor has proven to be a capable low-post scorer and little else at this stage in his career.

Okafor has averaged 12.9 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but has only played 131 games over three seasons. He struggled to get minutes last year with the Sixers or the Brooklyn Nets (12.6 minutes per game in 2017-18). His continued poor defense and lack of rebounding prowess were the main reasons why.

He had a 59.3 true shooting percentage in his 26 games with the Nets, as well as 18.2 points per 36 minutes. But his defensive rating of 110 points given up per 100 possessions would do little to help a Bulls team that currently lacks established defensive centers sans Lopez. Even on a minimum contract, an Okafor signing would likely signal a forthcoming trade from the Bulls. In today’s NBA, having four centers on your roster would be ridiculous, no matter how good the narrative is.