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.

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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."

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night


Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'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."