Bulls

Trae Young confident in his elite abilities, aware of his detractors: 'My job is to change the narrative'

Trae Young confident in his elite abilities, aware of his detractors: 'My job is to change the narrative'

There isn't a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect in this year's class than Trae Young. There also isn't a player in the class more aware of the scouting reports, perceptions and dectractors of his game.

Wherever Young winds up, the widest spectrum among that team's fan base will be covered. There are those who believe the 6-foot-2 freshman's innate scoring and passing ability wil translate seamlessly at the next level, at a time in the history of the NBA where those traits are as important as ever. Then there are those who believe, rightfully so, that the 175-pound guard will have immense struggles on the defensive end and withstanding the physcality of an 82-game season.

Both positions are correct as the June 21 draft nears, and it's likely that NBA evaluators agree. The task then for Young, who completed his fourth and final private workout Thursday afternoon in Chicago, is to use the abilities that made him an All-American and cover his weaknesses enough to justify what should be a Lottery selection in a week.

"That’s my goal and that’s my job, to change the narrative," Young said.

He's a confident kid, and why wouldn't he be? You've heard already that Young became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both points and assists. But remember, too, that he had the highest usage rate of any player the last decade - and did so as a freshman.

Young raised up the games of those around him, so much so that the previously unranked Sooners got as high as No. 4 in the AP polls this past season. Young went through an ugly stretch in February (and March) after it appeared he'd run away with Player of the Year honors. But those team results - at this stage in his career - don't matter as much as his personal ones do.

And what Young brings to the table is a lights-out shooter and adept playmaker, capable of running an offense with precision. He'll have more freedom, space and talent around him at the next level, which brings us back to his confidence.

"I think just by the spacing alone is going to make my game that much better and that much easier for my teammates," he said. "I just try to make the right play. It led to me leading the country in points and assists. So as long as I’m making the right play and doing the right things something like that could happen. That’s all my mind set is, is making the right play and doing the right thing each and every possession."

That would be a sight for sore eyes in Chicago.

In three seasons Hoiberg’s starting point guards (Derrick Rose in 2015, Rajon Rondo in 2016, Kris Dunn in 2017) combined to shoot 32.8 percent from deep on 417 attempts. Those three players combined to make 137 3-pointers in their respective starting seasons; Young made 118 3-pointers last year alone at Oklahoma.

Hoiberg has had able 3-point shooting point guards off the bench, namely E’Twaun Moore, Jerian Grant and even Cameron Payne, but never one capable of carrying a heavy load.

Hoiberg finally found a semblance of the roster he felt would carry out his offense most efficiently, as the Bulls ranked 6th in 3-point attempts per game and 10th in makes. But volume numbers don’t tell the whole story, as the Bulls were 27th in 3-point field goal percentage and ranked 28th in offensive efficiency. Basketball has become more perimeter-oriented than ever before, but those shots still need to go in. That's where Young comes in.

"I don’t think there’s anybody like me in the draft. I think with the guys and the talent around on (the Bulls) with different abilities – we have athletic wings, shooters, shooting big men who can pick and pop – and then my ability to pass the ball and ability to shoot the ball will make it easier for my teammates and this team. I think it would be a great decision to pick me."

The flip side, of course, is that Young makes a Bulls defense that ranked 28th in efficiency last season even worse. As we wrote earlier this month, there's no sugarcoating Young's defensive issues. There won't be a growth spurt between now and draft night, and even if he has put on some weight (#MuscleWatch) since the Combine, he's undersized and he's going to stay undersized.

Even Young admits as much.

"I think that’s an area of concern for people. My job is to go out there and prove that it’s not," Young said. "That was a concern for people coming into college and I didn’t let that be a factor. I know that’s going to be a concern but my job is to make that not a factor."

Positional need also comes into play. Though the Bulls, a 27-win team with minimal assets for the future, can't be too picky about drafting for need vs. best available, they do like what they saw from point guard Kris Dunn a year ago. While Dunn's defensive prowess might help cover some of Young's deficiencies, Dunn hasn't proven capable of playing off the ball if both were to play together.

Young said the Bulls didn't mention Dunn - in a good or bad sense - during their meetings and that he's comfortable sharing the court with whomever, so long as it improves the team.

There are glaring pros and cons with Young, perhaps magnified more so than other top prospects because of his style. He's aware of everything being said, written about and critiqued about him. He isn't running from his weaknesses and he isn't making excuses.

"I know what I have to work on," he said. "I know what I have to get better at and I know what I have to show and improve as soon as I get on whatever team I go to. That’s my main focus, is just focusing on what I need to get better at and improving in that way."

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

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USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."