Bulls

What we can take away from Luke Kornet’s fraught first season with Bulls

Bulls

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Luke Kornet.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky | Kris Dunn | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter Jr. | Chandler Hutchison | Denzel Valentine | Shaq Harrison | Thad Young | Lauri Markkanen | Wendell Carter Jr. | Daniel Gafford

2019-20 Stats

6.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 BPG | 43.9% FG, 28.7% 3P, 71.4% FT | 16.3% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 25

July 2019: Signed 2-year, $4.5 million contract

2020-21: $2.25 million | 2021-22: UFA

Strengths

Kornet came on last summer in an under-the-radar but widely praised signing. Hampered by a nasal ailment early in the season, his tenure got off to a rocky start, and he fell out of the rotation after a sinus operation in November sidelined him five games and Daniel Gafford proved more worthy of minutes at backup center. Though Kornet eventually found his way back into the mix in light of widespread injuries — he made 14 starts in place of Carter and Gafford from Jan. 17 to Feb. 20 and averaged 10.1 points on 49.1% shooting — his campaign ended after 36 games with a severe ankle sprain sustained in practice.

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His season-long numbers belie the capabilities that led the Bulls to bring him in. Kornet canned 36% of a not-insignificant 272 3-point attempts through the first two seasons of his career and posted stellar block (2.5%, 80th percentile) and steal (1.6% 86th percentile) rates in 722 non-garbage time minutes in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass; statistically speaking, he was pound-for-pound one of the rim-protectors in the league in 2018-19. Eye-roll, I know. But all of the above cast the image of a shot-blocking, sharp-shooting 7-footer that could buoy the Bulls on both ends in spot minutes off the bench.

That obviously didn’t pan out, which we’ll get to. But as far as strengths go, Kornet showed the ability to be a big, soft-handed target on rolls, and actually proved an adept finisher on low volume when not launching 3s (he shot 72.6% inside of five feet in 2019-20). In that stretch as a starter, he had a few games where he got hot from long-range, but most were meaningless contests in the grand scale.

 

Areas to Improve

As mentioned, Kornet’s promise didn’t track into his first season with the Bulls. Injuries are at least partly to blame. But his jumper betrayed him even when he was healthy; in 2018-19, when Kornet shot a career-high 36.3% from 3 with the Knicks, he converted 13 of 27 corner 3-pointers (48.1%). This year? Four of 25 (16%). His field goal percentage on above-the-break 3s regressed, too (from 34.5% to 32.5%), but the corners are what dragged him down, along with just a 34.4% success rate on NBA.com-defined “wide open” long-balls. It reeks of a guy who never found his rhythm in an offense that languished the entire season.

And on the other end, Kornet struggled in space in the Bulls’ trap-heavy defensive system. More of a pure shot-blocker, and not fleet of foot, blitzing simply isn’t a style suited to Kornet’s strengths. His already poor defensive rebounding figures also didn’t benefit from being pulled up and away from the basket.

Achieving consistency with his jumper is the key to Kornet rediscovering some NBA value on the back-end of his current two-year deal. The Bulls playing more drop coverages in pick-and-roll situations next season — according to Krishna Narsu, they were the only team in the NBA that blitzed more than they dropped defending PnR in 2019-20 — would highlight some of defensive virtues, as well. Because put simply: This is a guy who chucks (57.8% of his attempts in 2019-20 came from deep and that was a career-low) and blocks shots. If the jumper isn’t falling, and he isn’t in a position to contest looks at the rim, what is he?

Ceiling Projection

In the right setting, Kornet’s skills could make him a steady fourth big in the league for some years to come. Shooting and rim protection are highly valued in the league right now. It’s just a matter of if he can be consistent in those areas.

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