As practices toughen, Bulls eye return of their two most hardened players

As practices toughen, Bulls eye return of their two most hardened players

Time will tell whether the Bulls are better or worse off for it, but there's a different vibe inside the Advocate Center.

Head coach Jim Boylen ran a second straight two-plus hour practice on Wednesday - including a film session before - that he said included suicide sprints and other conditioning drills the day after the Bulls' 96-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

"We're old-school, we get on the line. Then we have certain drills we do within the line for that. But there's no short-cut to conditioning. There's no short cut to getting in shape," he said. "People think there is I think sometimes, or you can do this or you can do that. The only way you get in shape in this game is to get on the floor and do it. That's what we're going to do. We're going to do it every day."

Boylen's comments read more like a coach on the first day of training camp, not one taking over a team already past the one-quarter mark of their regular season. But Boylen, who is now a little more than 48 hours into the gig, is attempting to establish a culture that wasn't there under Fred Hoiberg.

For Boylen, it's about getting back to the basics and walking before you can run, despite all the running the Bulls apparently did on Wednesday.

That's why he and the Bulls had a brief film session immediately after Tuesday's game, their seventh consecutive defeat that made them the first team in the NBA to 20 losses.

The Bulls committed 18 turnovers and shot below 40 percent from the field. They managed just 90 points and dropped their league-worst offensive rating since Nov. 12 to 96.3, nearly 3.0 points worse than 29th-ranked Atlanta.

But Boylen was teaching on the fly in that loss, grabbing a few guys during timeouts to give further instruction and having an early hook on players who failed to execute on either end.

"I learned from (Gregg Popovich), you can show film after the game. We showed five or six clips right after the game, because they're fresh, they're live and that's when you can make the most impact. So yeah, we're going to try to coach our guys on the fly and on the spot," he said. "It's more about them understanding that's the way we're going to do it around here, that's the culture we're trying to build."

The energy and competitive spirit, a trio of buzz words that will remain constants as long as Boylen is in charge, was improved on Tuesday. Even against the slower-paced Pacers the Bulls allowed 96 points and showed a noticeably different effort on that end of the floor.

That attitude should only improve and become more consistent with the impending returns of Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis.

Both players practiced in full with the Bulls again on Wednesday as they had on Monday, in addition to getting in a Tuesday practice with the G-League's Windy City team. Though it doesn't seem likely that either will be ready to make their returns this weekend, they're certainly closing in on it.

Dunn said his knee is "getting there" and that while it isn't 100 percent he hasn't been hindered at all in practice.

"Did everything (Wednesday)," Dunn said. "Just taking it step by step, trying to get my legs and rhythm back, my conditioning back, my feel of the game and just go from there."

Portis, who has been a few days behind in his own MCL sprain rehab, said the knee feels "great" and that he's responded well to the first major injury of his life.

Aside from the talent they'll bring to a Bulls lineup in desparate need of it, Dunn and Portis are the two unquestioned vocal leaders and should infuse more of that energy and competitive spirit that Boylen has preached in his first three days on the job.

"They were spirited, they were competitive. Bobby Portis has the ability to raise the level of your practice, which is something we need," Boylen said. "Raise the competitiveness and determination. He does that. He’s got a great soul, he’s got a great spirit for the game. Kris is a guy that’s so superior athletically, it just changes the way you look right off the bat.

"I'm hoping we can get them back soon."

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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