Bulls

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

jarrett-culver.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would give the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 22-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery. If he's available at 7, he should be their pick.

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

One thing that has stood out throughout this disappointing Bulls season is Jim Boylen’s positivity.

Following most every game, he has highlighted in-game moments that he feels are signs of progress, even if they’re as basic as winning a quarter. He has praised players for their care factor and development.

The approach, like many of Boylen’s, has bothered some fans and observers. Perhaps not to the degree that his late-game timeout usage or rotational decisions or systems have, but the trait has caused some angst nonetheless.

It also stands in contrast to when Boylen first took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg. You remember his “shock and awe” campaign, the one where he openly questioned his players’ conditioning, made them do push-ups and in general sounded like a drill sergeant.

But the approach has at least served Boylen well as the Bulls have endured yet another stretch of injuries that has bordered on ridiculous. Wendell Carter Jr. is aiming for a Saturday return, while Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are trending in the right direction.

But the Bulls weren’t expecting to be playing two-way player Adam Mokoka rotational minutes in February, particularly alongside Cristiano Felicio and Shaq Harrison.

“What I’ve learned to do from people I’ve worked for and from being in this business is I take it as it comes,” Boylen said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I try to stay in the moment, do the best I can to help this team get better and grow. I do not worry about tomorrow and I try to stay right in where we’re at. And where we’re at right now is banged up.

“I cannot wallow in that negativity or the things I can’t control. Otherwise, I don’t do as good a job on that floor teaching the guys that are practicing and are playing and staying positive and upbeat. And that’s what I get paid to do. I take a lot of pride in my attitude in these moments. That’s what this league is about to me. It’s easy when your team is healthy and you’re playing good and you’re winning games. But a lot of us in the league right now are going through these moments. And that’s part of it.”

So Boylen will continue stressing whatever he sees as positive, trying to set an example for his young team. On Thursday, that featured more talk of the Bulls’ shot profile. The Bulls rank second in shots from 5 feet or less and ninth in 3-point attempts.

“We have areas on the floor that we really value. A rim-2, which is right at the rim in the restricted area, or a corner 3, those are your highest-valued shots. Then you have a mid shot and an above-the-break 3. There are four distinct areas that we talk about,” Boylen said. “You would like more of the rim-twos and the corner 3s because those are the most valuable shots.”

The next step is converting them. The Bulls rank 26th in shots from 5 feet or less and 22nd in 3-point percentage.

“You hope to make those good looks you get. You hope to finish plays at the rim. And we’re working to do that,” Boylen said. “And that’s strength and youth and toughness and all those things we’re developing, You would say Coby White’s finishing has improved dramatically as he’s grown in the system. Our shot profile is very good.”

At 19 games under .500, that’s more positivity from Boylen.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Coby White's NBA future goes beyond positional values

Coby White's NBA future goes beyond positional values

Among the hot topics for Bulls’ fans during this disappointing season has been the development of rookie guard Coby White. The Bulls drafted White with the 7th overall pick last June with the hope that eventually he could take over the starting point guard job and hold it for the next decade-plus.

White burst on to the scene by scoring 42 points in his first two NBA games and followed that up with back to back games of 27 and 26 points in November. He set a franchise record by making 7 three-pointers in the 4th quarter of a home-court win over the Knicks with his college coach Roy Williams watching from the stands. White quickly became a fan favorite, bringing back memories of past streak shooters like Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, and Nate Robinson.

Still, White hasn’t been immune to the typical growing pains experienced by a 19-year-old NBA rookie. He went through a few stretches of sub-par shooting and inconsistent playing time, averaging just 9.4 points during the month of December while shooting 37.7% from the field. And January wasn’t a whole lot better, with White averaging 10.3 points on 39% shooting.

Part of the problem was White being asked to take on more playmaking responsibilities, which took away from his natural aggressiveness as a scorer. The Bulls’ coaching staff finally told Coby to go back to what made him so successful as a high scoring guard in high school and college: attack the basket in transition and use his quickness in pick and roll situations to create shots for himself and his teammates.

With Kris Dunn likely out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, White began to play more minutes with Zach LaVine, and all of a sudden they’ve become a formidable 1-2 punch. White and LaVine just became the first Bulls’ duo since Bob Love and Chet Walker in 1969 to score 30-plus points apiece in consecutive games.

LaVine is no stranger to high scoring games, but the 6th year guard is genuinely excited about how good his young backcourt mate might turn out to be. “He’s coming into his own, and I’ve said this from day one, he’s special. He can score the ball like no other,” LaVine told reporters after the loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s 20 years old. I think he’s starting to find his groove right now.”

So, back to the original point. What’s the best way to develop a young scoring guard like Coby White?

We’ve seen several teams in recent years trying to build their offense around a pair of dynamic guards, like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Golden State, John Wall and Bradley Beal with the Wizards, the former Toronto backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and James Harden teaming up with Chris Paul and now Russell Westbrook in Houston. Is that the model the Bulls will follow? Or do they need to have more of a facilitating point guard to play alongside LaVine?

Clearly, the old way of defining positions no longer applies in the world of professional basketball. Rather than force White to reign in his game to be more of a traditional point guard, the Bulls need to embrace the offensive firepower generated by two explosive backcourt scorers.

White’s recent offensive onslaught came in part because opposing defenses are focusing so much attention on slowing down LaVine. That duo should find even more operating room in the future when the starting frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. is back on the court, and next season there will likely be another lottery pick to add to the core.

Whether White starts for the rest of the season or not isn’t the issue. He’s playing starter’s minutes now and is on the court with LaVine in closing lineups.

Tomas Satoransky has only one fully guaranteed year left on his contract and has the versatility at 6-foot-7 to play all three perimeter positions. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to be a depth option. Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer and might not return. The Bulls need to continue to develop White’s passing and decision-making skills while understanding what really makes him special is the ability to score points in bunches. There’s no reason why White and LaVine can’t be effective playing together, especially since White is an active and willing defender with good size at 6-foot-5.

Very little has gone right for the Bulls this season, but if Coby White can continue to build off his recent flurry of 30+ scoring games, the backcourt will be a real problem for opposing teams in years to come.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.