For just a moment, divorce your mind from the land of sign-and-trades, tampering investigations and nebulous free-agent linkage.
The Chicago Bulls play their first Summer League game Monday afternoon.
And, despite not owning a 2021 first-round pick and massively overhauling their roster during free agency, there will be plenty to watch.
If you’re wise, you’ll stop short of taking too much away from individual performances in this exhibition, especially for rookies seeing their first NBA-adjacent action. But there are still subtleties to glean, and a heck of a lot to be entertained by.
Here’s a refresh of the team’s roster:
Current Bulls assistant coach, and former Windy City Bulls head coach, Damian Cotter will lead them. Included on Cotter's staff for the showcase are Bulls assistant head coach Paul Miller, player development coordinators Henry Domercant, Ty Abbott and Max Rothschild, and video coordinators Chris Kent and Billy Donovan III.
This will be Patrick Williams’ first observable basketball action since the end of his rookie season back in May — a season that, while promising, had its share of ups and downs.
But the Bulls need a Year 2 jump from the 2020 fourth overall pick to climb where they want to climb in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. Williams made clear he knows this at his end-of-season exit interview with reporters, calling this offseason a “huge” one “for me and this organization.”
Now comes a chance to show what he's been working on. We know that Williams, even at age 19, stacks up well physically on an NBA floor, and possesses a feel for positioning and rotations that belies his age. The area to watch will be his offensive assertiveness and inventiveness. In Williams' rookie season, there were elusive flashes on that end — as a passer, pick-and-roll ball-handler, pull-up mid-range artist and slasher — but strung together, it amounted to 9.2 points and 7.4 shot-attempts per game. He should be able to experiment a bit more in this environment.
It’s worth remembering that during the training camp between Team USA and the Select Team in Las Vegas, Erik Spoelstra noted, among other compliments, that Williams' offensive game had already “really grown.” Don’t overreact if Williams’ efficiency dips as he tries stuff out. But the process will be worth tracking.
Contrary to Williams, who has 71 games of experience under his belt, 2020 second-round pick Marko Simonović and 2021 second-round pick Ayo Dosunmu are taking their first dip into NBA action this week.
Simonović, 21, has at least played professionally overseas since 2017-18. In 35 appearances with KK Mega Bemax of the Adriatic League last season, the 6-foot-11 big man averaged 15.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, shooting 32.2 percent from 3-point range.
Dosunmu, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout season at the University of Illinois in which he bumped his scoring, efficiency and distributing — and national stature by taking home All-American and Bob Cousy Award honors for the Illini.
More than poring over pure statistics for these two will be monitoring how they acquit themselves physically, and mentally, on both ends of the court. While no performance, productive or not, will decide their NBA futures, if they’re consistently in the right places and not overmatched, it could bode well for eventually carving out a role.
Devon Dotson, who split last season between the pros and G League bubble after surprisingly going undrafted in 2020, will also be out there for the Bulls. While not signed with the team through 2021-22 as of this writing, Dotson averaged 13 points, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals (but shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range) in 10 bubble appearances with the Canton Charge last season, and is worth keeping an eye on.
Omari Spellman: Had separate cups of coffee in the NBA with the Hawks (2018-19) and Warriors (2019-20). A 6-foot-8 power forward/center, Spellman is known for his hustle, wherewithal (he’s a Villanova product after all) and shooting touch from the outside. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact.
Tyler Bey: The 36th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Bey is without an NBA home after the Mavericks declined to tender a qualifying offer at the start of free agency. The 23-year-old played three years at Colorado, where he won Pac-12 Most Improved Player in 2018-19, then Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20. He's a big, athletic wing (6-foot-7 with a 7-1 wingspan) with intriguing potential switching on the perimeter, protecting the paint and finishing above the rim. Averaged 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds in 13 G League games last season.
Simi Shittu: Has been around the block in Chicago, having played the 2019-20 season with the Windy City Bulls, then impressed in 2021 preseason action with the big-league team. He didn’t stick after the latter experience, but went on to average 14.5 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Knicks’ affiliate in the G League bubble last season. With the Bulls thin up front as of this writing, all frontcourt players are worth special attention, especially the 6-foot-10, 21-year-old Shittu.
- Aug. 9: vs. Pelicans, 2 p.m. CT on ESPN2
- Aug. 10: vs. Spurs, 7 p.m. CT on NBA TV
- Aug. 12: vs. Timberwolves, 3 p.m. CT on NBA TV
- Aug. 15: vs. Grizzlies, 9 p.m. CT on NBA TV
- Playoffs: TBD