Bulls

Just how versatile are the Bulls guards?

Just how versatile are the Bulls guards?

Position-less basketball might be going too far. Just about every guard has “off-ball capabilities” and can “handle the rock if needed,” and every small forward “can play the 4 in a small-ball lineup.” In reality, just about every player *can* play multiple spots. It’s a matter of whether they should be playing there. Can Shaq Harrison play the point? Yes, he’s 6-foot-4 and can defend the position. Should Harrison play the point? Absolutely not. Can Chandler Hutchison play a small-ball four? Sure, he was forced into that role as a rookie because of injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. Should he be playing there? Absolutely not.

So, when coach Jim Boylen discusses versatility and flexibility, it’s important to distinguish what that really means. The Bulls don’t have eight Giannis Antetokounmpos. They don’t really have a handful of Swiss Army Knives – though they are far more versatile this season. Here’s where the Bulls’ backcourt stands in terms of versatility.

Tomas Satoransky

Satoransky is the closest the Bulls have to a true three-position player. He’s a 6-foot-7 natural point guard who started 54 games for the Wizards last season. He backed up John Wall in 2018 and spent most of his overseas career running the point, too. Despite the Bulls’ lack of wing depth, it’s a safe bet to assume Satoransky is going to be the lead point guard the majority of the regular season.

He’s also pretty good off the ball. His length is the obvious plus here, with Satoransky able to guard either wing spot. Offensively, he’s a perfect off-ball wing for Jim Boylen’s system. He’s going to keep the ball moving and give the Bulls a second ball handler (in addition to whoever is playing point guard) and is also an excellent wing shooter: Over the last two seasons, Satoransky is shooting 105 of 236 (44.4%) on catch-and-shoot triple attempts. Satoransky is going to play everywhere.

Kris Dunn

Dunn might be the anti-Satoransky. This author is a fan of what Dunn is capable of a traditional pass-first point guard. That could play very well on the second unit away from ball-dominant Zach LaVine. But Dunn isn’t going to provide much of anything off the ball. He’s physical enough to defend on the wing, but he simply isn’t capable as a shooter. Dunn does his best work with the ball in his hands, and isn’t much of a threat without it. For his career, Dunn has shot 40.0% on pull-up 3-pointers and just 27.8% on catch-and-shoot triples. Any lineup with Dunn and another point guard will likely mean that other player shifting off-ball, not Dunn.

Coby White

The Bulls drafted Coby White to be their point guard of the future, but he could wind up making a bigger rookie impact as a shooter. White is still incredibly raw – he won’t turn 20 until February and has one year of point-guard experience – and posted outstanding 3-point numbers in his lone season at North Carolina. He’s been a quick learner in training camp, but with good depth at the point, the Bulls could shift White to a wing spot to provide much-needed outside shooting on the second unit. The preseason will tell us plenty about how far he’s come as a lead ball handler, but there’s a spot for White in the rotation because of his scoring abilities. He can play either guard spot.

Ryan Arcidiacono

The beauty of Ryan Arcidiacono is that he’ll play wherever he’s asked. He was essentially a 3-point specialist through the season’s first month, stepped in with a couple high-assist totals in spot starts for Dunn, and then logged critical minutes down the stretch for the injury-riddled Bulls (someone had to play).

Basketball Reference pegged Arcidiacono for 96% of his minutes at point guard. He won’t defend much on the wing – he’s 6-foot-3 – but is certainly an interchangeable part within the offense. Like he did a year ago, Aricidiacono can and will wear different hats within what Boylen wants to do. He’s versatile and valuable.

Zach LaVine

This is an easy one. LaVine will never be a true full-time point guard but is more than capable of being a lead ball handler. He’s so lethal off the dribble, he attracts multiple defenders and is an above-average pull-up shooter. He works as a second ball handler in the multi-ball handler system. The beauty of pairing him with a player like Satoransky is LaVine can still be the lead guard, but Satoransky can still run/initiate the offense. LaVine isn’t going to guard many small forwards, but in an offensive-minded lineup he could work with two other guards.

Denzel Valentine

The preseason will tell us plenty about what Valentine can provide after missing an entire season with an ankle injury. In a best-case scenario, Valentine plays a similar role to Satoransky as a wing passer. We know Valentine can shoot it – the ankle shouldn’t affect much – and he has the size to guard either wing position (the agility is another story). But his passing ability will be just as important for a second unit that needs as many open looks as it can find (there aren’t many shot creators on it). Valentine’s skill set should help in multiple areas, assuming he can stay on the floor.

Shaq Harrison

Harrison can defend three positions, but he needs to be used properly on offense. Harrison had the ball in his hands out of necessity far too often, and it resulted on too many 4-on-5 sets for a Bulls offense that was already outmanned. Harrison is utilized best as a cutter off the ball. He’s pretty athletic around the rim (the finishing is a different story) and obviously has speed, so he could run himself into a few easy buckets a game. Harrison’s defensive worth and versatility should have him in the rotation, but – as tough as it is for this author to admit – he is going to need to show something more on offense. Defense is important, but the Bulls can’t afford to play guys who provide nothing on the other end.

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

 Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.