NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in R.J. Barrett


NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in R.J. Barrett

R.J. Barrett is an enigma. There’s no question he’s talented. The No. 1 high school prospect in the country – yes, ahead of Zion Williamson – averaged an ACC-best 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 38 games. He was a first-team All-American for a 32-6 Duke team, has off-the-charts athleticism and length at the shooting guard position that has NBA scouts gushing.

But his freshman season with the Blue Devils still felt underwhelming. Beyond the raw numbers – helped in part because of the load he was asked to carry – was a ball-dominant, inefficient scorer who oftentimes struggled within the flow of a game and became too isolation-heavy. He struggled from beyond the arc, was turnover-prone (he had four or more turnovers in 17 games) and likely benefitted some from playing with the country’s best player. It’s what makes him such a mystery as he heads into the pre-draft process needing to answer serious questions about how his game will translate at the next level.

We’ll begin with the good. Barrett displayed a knack for attacking the basket with an excellent first step and a strong left-handed dribble. He took a whopping 173 non-transition shots at the rim, getting there either off a dribble drive or cut to the basket. Barrett has also shown an ability to read offenses and distribute, fitting passes in small windows that lead to dunks or kickouts for open 3-pointers. Keep this in mind later in the scouting report, but Barrett has excellent court vision when he’s not shot-happy.

Barrett’s frame will allow him to compete from Day 1. He’s a true 6-foot-7 and is already pretty filled out – he’s listed at 202 pounds – allowing him to battle inside and defend multiple positions. He’s always been a high-motor player and has potential on the defensive end of the floor. It’s a real positive to his game, though it went overlooked because of how much was asked of him as an offensive player/scorer in Durham. He’s also lightning-quick in transition, which should help him early in his NBA career. Because…

Goodness, Barrett was inefficient. Injuries to Tre Jones and Williamson put Barrett front and center for good portions of the season, but his numbers are ugly. Barrett shot just 45.4 percent from the field, made fewer than 31 percent of his 3-point attempts and was below 67 percent from the charity stripe on nearly 6 attempts per game. This came on 18.5 field goal attempts per game, and too often Barrett tried to take over instead of using the talent around him. It may have been amplified because one of those talents was Williamson, but Barrett’s mentality got him into trouble. He showed little improvement over the course of the season.

Because of this, there are real concerns about Barrett playing off the ball at the next level. Duke ran its offense through Williamson at times, and Jones improved at the point as the year went on, but Barrett was at his best with the ball in his hands. He’s an above-average cutter and showed some ability in pick-and-roll action from the wing, but his lack of a reliable outside jumper – he shot just 33.7 percent on all jump shots – limited him to simply overpowering defenders simply because he was more athletic. That won’t be the case at the next level. Barrett is at his best in a high-usage role, but in the NBA he simply isn’t efficient enough to play it. Something’s gotta give.

His game is tailored to being high-usage, but that’s a tough ask in the NBA. And it’s an incredibly tough ask for a Bulls team that already struggled a year ago to get Lauri Markkanen the touches he needed consistently. Of the projected top-5 picks, Barrett probably makes the least sense in terms of fit. Now, there’s still a very good argument to be made that Barrett is the second most talented basketball player in the class, and drafting best player available has never, ever been a bad idea. But they’ll need to rework Barrett’s game, or at least his mentality. At this point in Barrett’s career he wouldn’t be able to play many minutes alongside Zach LaVine, who’s proven to be effective with the ball in his hands.

The best-case scenario for taking Barrett would be re-working his game in a reserve role in each of the next two seasons. Improving his jump shot, his decision making and activity off the ball seems like a lot for a team that made a proactive deal at last year’s trade deadline. Plus, a second unit arguably needs to be more effective than the first unit because they have fewer isolation scorers. The ball needs to keep moving on a second unit that can't create for itself. That's not Barrett right now.

That’s not to say the Bulls need an immediate contributor or even a starter with their first round pick this June, but they need someone that fits. Fitting a round Barrett peg into a square Bulls hole doesn’t seem ideal.

Still, if the Bulls think his shortcomings are fixable – he’s 18 years old, lest we forget – then there’s little argument against taking him. He’s still a top-3 talent in the class and has potential despite a freshman season that had some hidden ugliness to it. But he's got a long way to go. We don't often think of players who put up huge numbers in college as projects, but it's what Barrett would be if he winds up in Chicago.

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth


Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet

How last year went

There might have been a path to significant minutes for Cristiano Felicio, but the Bulls wound up drafting Wendell Carter with the seventh pick and keeping Robin Lopez through the duration of his contract. Felicio saw an uptick in minutes after Carter suffered a season-ending thumb injury in January, but he didn’t do much with it.

His best stretch came over the final 11 games of the season when Felicio averaged a modest 7.0 points on 51.7% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 21.9 minutes. He’s still a liability defensively, doesn’t have great hands, and 89 of his 95 made field goals were inside 10 feet.

Expectations for this year's role

Something has gone very wrong if Felicio logs any minutes this season. The Bulls quietly overhauled the position, departing with Lopez, drafting Daniel Gafford in the second round and signing Luke Kornet. It’s suddenly one of the Bulls’ deepest positions – with Wendell Carter Jr. in line for 30+ minutes a night – meaning Felicio is fourth on the depth chart with no real ability to contribute at power forward.

Where he excels

Felicio doesn’t have the surest of hands, but he has always looked comfortable rolling to the rim. It began with lobs from Dwyane Wade and has continued the last two seasons with guards like Ryan Arcidiacono finding him around the rim. Last year Felicio averaged 1.10 points per possession on pick-and-roll possessions, third on the Bulls behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He also scored on 56.5% of those possessions (made field goal or free throws), which edged out Carter for the team lead. Of course, he was limited in not having a perimeter shot to pop out for 3-pointers, but he was a surprisingly nice roll man in his limited minutes.

Where he needs work

Felicio had a Defensive RPM of -1.63 last season, which was the second-worst mark among centers (only Willy Hernangomez was worse). The Bulls were 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Felicio off the floor, and the Brazilian big had just 11 steals and seven blocks in 746 minutes. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the team’s worst defender. It’s tough to see him improving in that area after four seasons.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Felicio shows an improvement on the defensive end and finds some early-season chemistry with Kris Dunn on pick-and-roll action. He’ll be given a chance to compete with Gafford and Kornet for the backup center position. In a worst-case scenario, his deficiencies plague him and he continues to be an $8 million benchwarmer. Most likely, the Bulls continue counting down the days until his salary is off the books.

One key stat

Cristiano Felicio had 7 blocks in 746 minutes last season. How rare is that for a 6-foot-10 player? He’s the only NBA player the last two seasons that tall (or taller) to block seven or fewer shots in at least 740 minutes. The last player to do it was Joffrey Lauvergne in 2017, who blocked just six shots in 980 minutes (he incredibly blocked zero shots for the Bulls in 241 minutes; if you thought the OKC trade couldn’t get worse, you were wrong).

Report: Bulls to add Justin Simon on Exhibit 10 contract

Report: Bulls to add Justin Simon on Exhibit 10 contract

According to reports, the Bulls have signed former St. John's guard Justin Simon to an Exhibit 10 contract.

Simon played three seasons of NCAA basketball, one year with Arizona and two years at St. John's under the tutelage of NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.

The Exhibit 10 contract is a fairly new situation, allowed by the NBA's last Collective Bargaining Agreement. What it means is that a player under this type of contract will get the league's minimum salary on a non-guaranteed deal that can include bonuses up to $50,000. 

The deal will allow Simon to participate in training camp with the Bulls with the goal of making the roster. The most likely scenario in these situations—i.e. when a player does not make the NBA roster— is that the player is waived before the season starts and assigned to that team's NBA G League affiliate.

So in layman's terms, Bulls fans should expect to see Simon in Hoffman Estates with the Windy City Bulls for the 2019-20 season, that is, as long as he doesn't choose to play overseas or elsewhere. With an Exhibit 10 contract, there are two ways a player can guarantee the full amount of their bonus money: spending at least 60 days on the G League affiliate team or getting their Exhibit 10 deal converted into a Two-Way contract (G League+ NBA deal combined, paid based on what league you are playing in at the time).

Simon is an intriguing add for the Bulls. Currently, the Chicago roster doesn't contain any guards shorter than 6-foot-3, and at 6-foot-5 with a massive 6-foot-11 wingspan, Simon certainly fits the mold.

Simon was the 2018-19 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, finishing in the top 10 in the Big East in both blocks and steals. In his junior year, he was also solid offensively, scoring 10.4 points per game while racking up 104 total assists over 34 games.

We all know how Jim Boylen loves players with the "dog" mentality and Simon's aggressive defense surely caught the eye of Boylen and the Bulls front office. 

In the 2019-20 NBA Summer League, Simon played for the Bulls, averaging 6.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Unfortunately, Simon did not make a single 3-point shot over his NBA Summer League stint with the Bulls but he has shown the ability to hit the 3-point shot at times at the NCAA level. For his college career, he was a 35.1 percent 3-point shooter but those figures were helped by his sophomore season in which he hit 15 of his 36 shots from deep (41.7 percent).

Simon is not likely to shoot it well from the outside right away at the professional level but this is an important thing to monitor as his jump shot—as with most highly-skilled defensive players—will be the swing skill that will impact his ability to potentially make the NBA roster. 

The Bulls reportedly start training camp on October 1 and fans will likely get their first chance to see Simon in action at the first preseason game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on October 7 on NBC Sports Chicago.


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