Bulls

John Paxson says Bulls happy with PG depth, hints at looking elsewhere in NBA Draft

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USA TODAY

John Paxson says Bulls happy with PG depth, hints at looking elsewhere in NBA Draft

End-of-year press conferences typically have the kind of optimism John Paxson displayed Thursday at the Advocate Center. For 31 minutes Paxson discussed how the Bulls are in a better place than they were a year ago, and how there were multiple factors that played a role in the team winning just 27 games in this the first year of their rebuild.

But past the rose-colored outlook Paxson had of the team he did offer three declarations. Two were expected, that Fred Hoiberg will be back as head coach next season, and that the Bulls consider rookie Lauri Markkanen a foundation piece for the future. But Paxson also delved into where the Bulls stand at point guard – a position that’s been as much a revolving door as any other since Derrick Rose’s departure in 2015.

“I feel really good about going into next season with Kris Dunn as our starter and Cameron Payne as our backup,” Paxson admitted.

It’s an interesting comment from Paxson on multiple levels. Let’s break down the layers.

Dunn as the starter isn’t a surprise. While Paxson didn’t directly mention that the Bulls see him as the point guard of the future – instead opting to discuss how he needs to improve at the rim next season – it’s clear the front office and coaching staff is interested to see how Dunn, Zach LaVine and Markkanen can perform when all three are healthy: the three played together in 12 of 82 games this year.

Dunn battled through three different injuries in his first year with the Bulls, including a finger injury in the preseason, a concussion stemming from a nasty fall against the Warriors, and turf toe that ended his second season prematurely. His raw numbers – 13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals – were encouraging, though his .423/.321/.730 shooting numbers and 2.9 turnovers were less than efficient.

“We saw a lot of really good things from Kris,” Paxson said. “I think Kris has an opportunity to be one of the better defensive guards in the league. He showed that at times this year.”

The declaration of Payne being the backup, which Paxson actually brought up unprovoked, is more interesting. Thrust into a larger role post-All-Star Break, Payne actually exceeded expectations in the final 25 games. After returning from broken foot rehab, he averaged 8.8 points and 4.5 assists in 23.3 minutes, while playing in some seriously ugly lineups. But Payne also shot 40 percent, went to the line 16 times in 25 games and never wowed for a player two years removed from being a Lottery pick.

Perhaps the Bulls are still trying to justify last year’s Taj Gibson-to-the-Thunder trade, but Paxson seemed content with what Payne showed in his first real run with the Bulls, last year’s sporadic minutes not included.

“Cameron showed a competitiveness to him,” Paxson said. “He showed an ability to push the ball probably better than any guard we’ve had in a while and he showed a defensive edge to him that I think will help us going forward.”

It’s clear the Bulls are moving on from Jerian Grant, while Denzel Valentine has been an above-average distributor on the second unit (3.2 assists in 27.2 minutes) and Ryan Arcidiacano is a two-way roster filler. That leaves Dunn and Payne on the depth chart…unless the Bulls were to address the position in the draft.

And that’s what makes Paxson’s comments regarding the Bulls filling the holes in their roster via the NBA Draft.

“I think we need to look at the wing position. That would be an ideal spot. Size and length at the wing as a shooting component, a defensive component, would be something that, if you’re looking at an area we would like to improve, that would be it,” Paxson said.

He also added that “it’s hard to overlook talent even when you’re looking at a specific need,” meaning the Bulls may go best player available if a player drops, but combined with the Dunn/Payne comment it appears the Bulls won’t be targeting point guards with either of their first-round picks.

That would include, in the Lottery, Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With the Pelicans pick, which will fall somewhere between 20 and 23, that includes Shake Milton, Aaron Holiday, Tre Duval and Anfernee Simons, among others.

Of course anything can and will happen between now and the draft, and Paxson could simply have been posturing in an attempt to not give away any draft leanings. But win Dunn looking at the very least like a rotation piece for the future, and the Bulls happy with what Payne showed in his 25-game audition, the likelihood of the Bulls adding a point guard seems far less likely than it did 24 hours ago.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

Mark Carman, Hub Arkush, Phil Rogers and Will Perdue join Kap on the SportsTalk Live Podcast.

The guys start by discussing Brandon Morrow's injury that he sustained while taking off his pants... what's the craziest cause for an injury the guys can remember?

Plus, should the Bulls move up or down in Thursday's NBA Draft? Does it make sense to take on a bad contract in a potential deal?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.