Bulls

Why the Bulls should take Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell with the No. 38 pick

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell does a ton of positive things on the court and it showed in the team’s win-loss record over his two years in Spokane. The Zags went 65-9 over Norvell’s two seasons on the roster. In his senior season of high school, he lead the Simeon Wolverines to a 30-4 record, and has consistently proven to be a winning player throughout his career.

Strengths:

Norvell’s hard-working attitude has helped him this far and he has made improvements in all facets of his game over his two seasons working with Mark Few and staff. From year one to year two at Gonzaga, his defensive rating improved from 98 to 94 points allowed per 100 possessions, his offensive rating from 120.6 to 126.7 and he improved his assist and turnover ratings despite taking on a slightly larger role on offense.

The biggest part of his appeal is ability as a floor spacer. Norvell is a skilled scorer and averaged 27.1 points per 100 possessions for his career at Gonzaga.

In the 2018-19 season he shot 37.8 percent on 2-point jumpers, 37 percent on 3-pointers (per Hoop-Math.com) and 42.1 percent on short midrange shots per The Stepien. He shot over 80 percent from the free throw line in both seasons, including a career-best 86.7 percent from the FT line in ‘18-’19. His career true shooting percentage of 59.2 percent would be above average for an NBA wing player and he figures to be a solid NBA scorer, even his 2-point shooting efficiency suffers against more athletic NBA defenders.

Despite having an average wingspan for his height, Norvell will succeed as a shooter in the league because of his ability to create separation from defenders with stepbacks and hard dribble pull ups.

Grabbing Zach Norvell in the second round would be a huge net positive for a Bulls roster that is very thin on bench scoring. His college numbers compare favorably to those of Klay Thompson. He also possesses the Thompson-esque ability to score with ease from the low post when he gets a smaller guard on him via a switch.

Norvell is not quite the shooter Thompson was in college in terms of accuracy but he was slightly ahead of college Klay in terms of volume. Norvell attempted a whopping 60.9 percent of his shots from 3-point range for his career, compared to 43.8 percent of Thompson’s shots being 3-pointers at Washington State.

This lack of diversity in Norvell’s shot profile is why he projects as a strong role player, rather than an primary initiator on offense. But Norvell is a fine player even without a spectacular dribble-drive game. He has shown the ability to shoot off the dribble, in the post and has strong flashes of developing into a crafty finisher when attacking closeouts.

He is a decent decision-maker and has a solid feel for the game. In 2018-19 he averaged 3.1 assists and 1.4 turnovers per game while functioning as the primary scoring guard on offense.

Weaknesses:

As with many prospects that will be projected to go in the second round, a lack of elite burst/athleticism lowers Norvell’s stock a bit. He has the shiftiness/handle to get past the first line of defense, but he will struggle to finish over NBA centers. Per Hoop-Math.com, Norvell actually shot worse at the rim in his sophomore year despite having more of those attempts assisted by his teammates.

Without the ability to get to the rim and finish consistently, Norvell will have to develop into a good mid range scorer to reach his ceiling. His shooting numbers indicate that he has the touch to do so. The issue for Norvell is he will be trying to develop this touch while adjusting to the speed of the NBA.

Norvell didn’t get to the free throw line much in college, averaging 2.6 free throw attempts per game over his two years in college. In the NBA he will likely get to showcase parts of his game that we didn’t see at Gonzaga, but an inability to get to the free throw line will carry over. He got to the line even less in conference play and it’s safe to say NBA defenses will be tougher to crack than those of the Western Coast Conference, even for a high-IQ player like Norvell.

Long term outlook:

If Norvell competes on the defensive end of the floor and continues to shoot the 3-point shot at a high level, he will have a spot in an NBA rotation. But if Norvell works on his floater game and finishing through contact, he could end up being an extremely valuable player at one of the league’s thinner position groups (shooting guard).

Taking a chance on Norvell at No. 38 would be extremely smart for the Bulls, and not just because of the hometown connection. As mentioned earlier in the article, the Bulls’ bench unit could use more scoring after ranking in 24th in bench points in the 2018-19 season. Norvell—who scored 1,023 points over his two year Gonzaga career—has proven to be a capable scorer. But the fact that so much of Norvell’s value comes from jump shots make him much more suited to a 6th or 7th man role. Norvell has a great step-back jumper out to 3-point range and while it isn’t a consistent weapon now, it is the type of skill move that makes him such an intriguing prospect.

If you buy that he will become an increasingly engaged defender at the NBA level, Norvell is a solid enough prospect to rise into first round territory as we inch closer to the draft. But based off of how past NBA drafts have went, it is more likely that Norvell's average measurements make him a high second round pick. 

I believe that Norvell will stick in an NBA rotation next season. Whether he is playing decent minutes or serving as a 9th or 10th man, Norvell’s shooting will shine. His rookie season should mirror something near Landry Shamet, though he doesn’t need to make All-Rookie team for the year to be considered a success.

A continued show of aggressiveness from 3-point range, attention to detail on defense and great decision making will keep Zach Norvell in the NBA for a very long time.

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Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Bulls’ rebuild remains in relative disarray. A combination of injuries, individual regression and daunting opponents on the horizon leaves little hope for a playoff push in the short-term, and uncertainty regarding crucial pieces in the long-term.

For those reasons, all eyes will be on Coby White down the final 27-game stretch of the season. Or at least, they should be.

The Bulls, after all, are just eight months removed from investing the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft on White — the same number selection they used on Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in each of the two years prior. At the time, White profiled as a perfect last addition to a burgeoning core four of Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Carter — a lightning-rod scorer the team could bring along slowly off the bench with veteran Tomas Satoransky in tow. All while straddling dual objectives of winning and developing.

But, to borrow an old quarterback adage: Sometimes if you have two objectives, you really have none. The Bulls haven’t won. And White’s rookie season has been turbulent. In flashes, he’s inspired attention, respect and even awe — his first month in the NBA featured a record-smashing seven 3-pointer (all in the fourth quarter) performance against the Knicks, a six 3-pointer outing his next time on the floor and four 20-point games, overall. Seventeen games in, averages of 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists with 35.6% long-range shooting (on good volume) seemed an exciting base from which to work.

Since the early going, however, those aforementioned outbursts have become fewer and farther between. White has just one 20-point game since Nov. 23 (averaging 9.9 points per game), and his numbers across the board have cumulatively either stagnated or dipped. A perusal of his basic month-to-month offensive splits reveals noticeable choppiness, both in production and opportunity:

Month Games Minutes per game Points per game Assists per game FG% 3P%
Oct. 5 23.3 12.6 2.8 40 30.8
Nov. 15 26.1 13.1 1.9 35.7 33
Dec. 14 22.6 9.4 2.4 37.7 40
Jan. 17 23.3 10.3 1.9 39 33.3
Feb. 4 29.1 11.5 6 30.8 27.6

“I think today's natural point guard — scoring, playmaking, being a leader, and just holding everybody accountable,” White said, when asked what his vision for himself as a lead guard is.White pointed to his on-ball work as the area he most wants to see improvement from himself for the rest of the season. Evolving into a true point guard is a strident aspiration of his. The Bulls, for their part, would gladly sign on for that outcome.Some of that is out of White’s hands. When Kris Dunn was forced into the starting lineup by injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison in November, White was asked to play the part of a lead-guard and facilitator with the second unit to varying success (his most efficient offense comes in spotup scenarios). Coming off the bench all season, his running mates have been in constant flux, which has undoubtedly hurt his severely unflattering on/off splits. Still, White has handled every challenge hurled at him with unflinching professionalism, humility and determination.

“At the beginning it was kind of difficult,” White added of finding the balance between scoring and playmaking for others at the NBA level. “But now I'm starting to get better at it and making the right reads and just making the simple plays. I think ultimately, it's just making the simple plays and reading the defense.”

Here lies an area he has improved recently. Small sample size alert, but in the five games since Dunn sprained his MCL (including the game in which the injury occurred), White is averaging five assists per game — leagues above his season-long average of 2.4 — and his body control, patience in the halfcourt and finishing through contact have all steadily improved over the course of the season. The game is beginning to slow down for him.

 

“I think just playing consistently has been big for me. Being on the floor as a rookie and whatnot,” said White, who is averaging 28.2 minutes since Jan. 31. “I've made a lot of progress from when I was at Summer League until now. I think controlling the game a lot better, putting my teammates in position to succeed. So I feel like I've been doing that a lot better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to work at it.

That “long way to go” is mainly in shooting efficiency, a point White acknowledged. Of 272 players that have taken 200 field goal attempts this season, White is 261st in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%). In his last 11 games, he’s reached 50% shooting from the field only once, when he shot only six times in 19 minutes against the Pacers on Jan. 29. Generally speaking, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the lowest on the team of those that have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

So is the song and dance of analyzing White. His virtues are tantalizing, the areas to improve inescapable. But if the Bulls make one thing their priority over the last 27 games of the season, it should be clearing up as much murk as possible around evaluating him. White and Markkanen represent the two players on the team that are simultaneously the most important to the Bulls’ future while also being shrouded in the most uncertainty, at present. They can’t afford to go into year four of this rebuild without clarity on both.

And in terms of White, specifically, the Bulls owe it to themselves to have as much information as possible at their disposal with another top-ten draft pick likely in the cards, and a top-heavy, guard-heavy 2020 class looming.

The opportunity to collect that information is nigh. As of Thursday, Dunn is set to miss at least four to six more weeks with an MCL sprain before being reevaluated; Hutchison will miss the team’s first game back post-All-Star with a flare-up in his shoulder; Carter and Porter are inching closer to returns, but neither have concrete timetables; and Markkanen and Denzel Valentine remain out, ambiguously. White, meanwhile, is one of just three Bulls — along with LaVine and Satoransky — to appear in all 55 games this season, though he has yet to make a start.

For now, Boylen said his development plan for White hasn’t changed in light of that brutal spate of injuries. But one way or another, he’ll get his shot.

“He cares, he wants it,” Boylen said. “Like all young players he's trying to establish himself in the league, and I just keep telling him he's doing that and just keep it simple and keep playing… He's a high character dude, so the future's bright.”

“The rookie experience is definitely humbling. It humbles you. It's up and down,” White said. “Patience – a lot of people just tell me patience, my time is coming.” 

Whenever that time comes, it will be worth watching.

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John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

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USA TODAY

John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Coaching in the NBA is hard, even if you are one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation. It is something that basketball fans—especially those in Chicago—are reminded of time and time again, and John Beilein is the latest in the line of NCAA-to-NBA head coaches to make a failed transition. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Beilein were parting ways after he resigned as head coach of the team. Charania later added that for the time being, Cleveland will be reassigning Beilein to an alternate role within the franchise. 

Beilein's NBA coaching career lasted 54 games, 216 games less than current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who lasted 270 games with the Bulls after leaving the Iowa State program in 2015. Beilen's struggles were similar to Hoiberg in the fact that they both struggled to transfer their college coaching styles to the NBA, where they would be dealing with grown men rather than young college students. During Hoiberg's tenure with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler infamously called him out, stating that the Bulls needed to be "coached a lot harder at times," and that incident looks a lot like the dispute between Cavs center Tristan Thompson and Beilein, which boiled over during a game this season. 

There was also an incident this season in which Beilein mistakenly referred to his Cavaliers players as "thugs" in a film session, reportedly leading to the team intentionally playing songs with the word "thug" in it, further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The big takeaway here is that there is a lot more than the X's and O's that goes into NBA coaching, and with player movement at an all-time high, college coaches are finding NBA roles more challenging than ever.

Beilein was one of the hottest coaching names in the business in 2019, coming off yet another successful season at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, who were coming off of an Elite 8 appearance after making the National Title game the year before. Now Beilein is back out of NBA coaching, and the Bulls' rivals in Cleveland are now even more firmly entrenched in the rebuilding phase than they were before with relatively young (40 years old) J.B. Bickerstaff taking over. 

Beilein has three years and $12 million left on his Cavaliers contract, and sources have told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski previously that the Cavaliers and Beilein have agreed on a deal to pay him a portion of his 2019-20 salary. It has not yet publicly been stated what Beilein's new title within the Cavaliers organization will be. 

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