Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem


Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem

Since Gar Forman was named general manager following the 2008-09 season, the Bulls' front office has pillaged the NBA Draft. While perennial bottom feeders searched for their next super star in the lottery, Forman, John Paxson and the Bulls simply waited their turn to scoop up prospects with collegiate production, NBA-ready frames and the mental make-up to deal with playing under perfectionist Tom Thibodeau.

The numbers tell the story. Since 2009, 110 of the 180 first-round draft picks have been underclassmen (or the international equivalent), including 23 of the first 30 picks last June. But Forman and the Bulls haven't contributed much to that 61 percent figure.

In the current regime's tenure (six drafts), they've selected and kept seven first-rounders. Four of those draft picks were upperclassmen - Taj Gibson (24-year-old junior, 2009), Jimmy Butler (2011), Tony Snell (junior, 2013) and Doug McDermott (senior, 2014) - while just three were underclassmen - James Johnson (sophomore, 2009), Nikola Mirotic (20 years old, 2011) and Marquis Teague (freshman, 2012). One could even consider Mirotic an "upperclassman" considering the Bulls knew he wouldn't arrive in Chicago until he had years of professional experience in Spain under his belt.

It's no secret, either, that of those seven picks the Bulls' two biggest draft busts were the underclassmen, with Johnson lasting less than two years in Chicago before bouncing around the NBA, finding balance in Memphis and Toronto, and Teague out of the NBA just three years after leading Kentucky to a 40-1 national championship season.

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile: Notre Dame G Jerian Grant]

With the verdict still out on McDermott - the rookie missed six weeks after knee surgery in mid-November and never found a spot in the rotation - Forman and the Bulls have gone 3-for-3 on their "veteran" selections. Gibson has carved out a role as one of the top sixth men in the league, Butler improved each year and earned his first All-Star nod in February, and Snell showed significant improvement in his outside shot in Year 2 (32.0% as a rookie to 37.1% as a sophomore on 19 more attempts) and could see an expanded role next season if Mike Dunleavy (UFA) doesn't return.

The Bulls will again be afforded that same luxury of selecting outside the lottery this year, after teams have selected the fresh, young talent - 11 of the first 12 picks in Ed Issacson's mock draft are freshmen - they hope will turn around their franchise's fortunes. And as has been the case in years' past, there's plenty of "veteran" talent to be had around pick No. 22, where the Bulls will select in June.

One of those names that figures to come up in pre-draft discussions is Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant. The fifth-year senior saw his draft stock rise this past season when he was named a consensus All-American, leading the Irish to an ACC Tournament championship and an Elite Eight berth, with his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Kentucky almost sending the Irish into the history books and onto the Final Four.

Grant averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 assists in his final season in South Bend, taking the reins of a Notre Dame team that began the year outside the top 25 and finished ranked No. 5.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

He'll be 23 years old by the time the NBA season begins, ancient by draft standards compared to the likes of fellow 19-year-old point guards D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones, all of whom are projected to be selected before Grant hears his name called.

Grant admits his age may be a "concern" for some teams. He also admits there's upside in a player like him.

"Me being this old means that I’m more ready right now," he said at the NBA Draft Combine. "At the same time I can get a lot better. The way I work I know I’m going to get a lot better, but at 22 I think I’ll be able to come in and help a team when they need me right now."

That certainly fits the bill in Chicago. The Bulls' ongoing carousel behind Derrick Rose - C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Brooks - has provided temporary stopgaps but nothing of real substance or foundation. Kirk Hinrich will be 35 next season and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career (1.0 Win Shares in 66 games) and, after the Teague failure, the Bulls are still looking for a permanent solution behind Rose.

Grant continued his onslaught at the rim, connecting on better than 57 percent of his two-pointers last season. He saw a significant regression from beyond the 3-point line (40.8% to 31.6% this season) but chalked that up having the ball in his hands more and teams keying in on him defensively following the graduation of senior Eric Atkins in 2013-14. He's confident his shot will come around to form when he's no longer the main option in an offense at the next level.

"I know I’m probably not going to be a guy who has the ball in his hands as much as I did this year at Notre Dame, but just being able to play off the ball a little bit more and be able to knock down shots is going to be big," he said.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

He'll make his contributions in the NBA as a versatile scorer and playmaker - he watches film of James Harden and Damian Lillard - and will be able to do it from Day 1. Whereas his younger counterparts may need time to acclimate, Grant has 120 collegiate games to his resume and step into a secondary role right away.

The Bulls will have competition to obtain Grant's services, as Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Houston, Washington and Dallas all need point-guard help. But if he's on the board at No. 22, Grant could provide help to the Bulls immediately while also watching him grow like the upperclassmen they've already succeeded in drafting.

"I work harder that anyone in this draft so I know I’m going to continue to get better," he said, "and me being old, I think I’m ready to go right now. I’m ready to help a team right now, but a few years down the road I think I’ll be even better to help a team."

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:

Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.