NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners


NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners

Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "won" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.

Mark Strotman: Well, Vinnie, the Tigers completed their fire sale more than a month ago and the Brewers haven't been fewer than 10 games under .500 since May 11. I'd say baseball season has been done for quite awhile - we can get into Packers-Lions later - for the both of us, meaning basketball season is arriving at the perfect time. The Bulls will kick off their annual media day in less than three weeks and in less than a month will take the United Center floor for the first time since Matthew Dellavedova outplayed Derrick Rose in Game 6 (That's the last Delly reference, so just breathe).

But before we discuss Fred Hoiberg's group and its expectations, let's backtrack a bit and discuss this offseason's winners. The consensus is that the Spurs were the clear victors - it's about time something went that franchise's way - signing prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge while also maxing out Kawhi Leonard and getting David West to sign a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are back for one more run on team-friendly deals, and re-signing Danny Green (4 years, $40 million) was subtly a really important move and great value for a 28-year-old 3-and-D shooting guard.

Given the Warriors didn't lose anything this offseason it's tough to call the Spurs the favorites, but this summer couldn't have gone any better for San Antonio - they even won the Summer League championship led by Becky Hammon, which was all sorts of awesome. Having the game's best coach score the league's best offseason? Well, Pop, in the words of a teary-eyed Terrell Owens, 'It's really unfair.'

Vincent Goodwill: Well considering the Bears only exist in my world as entertainment for Jay Cutler’s underachievement, I can remove my “Lions free” tag for two weeks every fall (which I’m sure endears me more to Chicago sports fans).  And while I don’t disagree with you about the Spurs winning the offseason, heck, they changed not only the makeup of their team but also became much more dynamic by signing Aldridge and keeping Leonard on an expected max extension, I still have my doubts about the backcourt, sans Leonard.

The one team that had to win the offseason for the future of its franchise did so, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Scott Brooks was a good coach for a team in the embryonic stage, but the Thunder have evolved well past the labor pains. They’re ready to have the baby, thus the hiring of former Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was well-regarded in NBA circles before now.

They have the deepest roster in the league, with rotating bigs, shooters and guys waiting to fill a role. Oh, and if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook come back completely healthy and stay that way? The championship road goes through Oklahoma City and Golden State in the Western Conference. Yes, they overpaid for restricted free agent Enes Kanter (but who doesn’t with the way the cap is rising?), but they can play anywhere between nine and 11(!) guys in a rotation on a given night without losing much.

While the Spurs have just shored up their future by signing Aldridge, the Thunder franchise is doing everything it can to keep Durant happy, as the clock on his free agency is ticking louder and louder. From here, if Durant’s foot problems are behind him, this could be a revenge year from the 2014 MVP. That would make Pop and the Spurs cry.

MS: Speaking of Oklahoma City, another small-market team that’s building toward something in a similar fashion is the Milwaukee Bucks. While one of Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez would’ve been ideal, the Greg Monroe signing is a perfect fit; Monroe’s strengths (post scoring) will be magnified in Milwaukee, and his weaknesses (rim protection) will be covered up by a host of long, active defenders. I thought it was the best fit of any player who signed this offseason, schematically. GM John Hammond moved quickly to re-sign Khris Middleton, who is still just 24 years old - or 23 months younger than Jimmy Butler.

The Bucks will “get back” Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick who was limited to 25 games in his rookie season after tearing his ACL, and though the Bucks will handle him with extreme caution, he’s going to be a contributor on a Bucks team that averaged fewer than 98 points a year ago. Add Chris Copeland to the forward mix, trading for Greivis Vasquez and the simple fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be five months older and five months better and you’re looking at a Bucks team that could challenge for a top-4 spot in the East. And while that’s not saying a whole lot, we’re talking about a team that won 15 games two years ago. Jason Kidd and Hammond deserve to be applauded. The Bucks didn’t get the sexy names in free agency. They got the right ones.

VG: I see you’re going with teams with new additions developing new traditions, and I’ve long been a fan of what the Bucks are doing with their youth along with adding Greg Monroe. Them going six games with the Bulls in the playoffs will give them much-needed positive reinforcement, as the Bulls will have to deal with that monster this season.

But I like continuity, so the Miami Heat—yes the LeBron James-less Heat—will be a team to watch this season. They get Chris Bosh back from that mysterious injury that caused him to miss the last half of the year, with a healthy Goran Dragic and a still formidable Dwyane Wade for at least 50 games (assumedly). Hassan Whiteside is a young force whose only vice is consistency but as Bulls fans know, he can swat everything in sight and lock in for an entire game.

They’ve quietly added Amare Stoudemire, who certainly isn’t a difference maker but will help you several nights during the season as a reserve when he turns back the clock on those creaky knees. They signed Gerald Green for the league minimum, a coup for Heat boss Pat Riley, who clearly wants one more shot at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to play in the NBA Finals.

If—and it’s a big “if”—the Heat are relatively healthy, they’ll be a team nobody wants to see. They still need perimeter shooting, and one has to worry about the “Thibs” miles Luol Deng has on his body, but in-season upgrades are always available for purchase. Playing in June is still a dream, but they want to make May a nightmare for the Cavs, Bulls and any other conference contender.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison


Bulls guard Zach LaVine works out at Stance Socks Headquarters with Darren Collison

Zach LaVine has been getting in great work all summer long and he kept it up on Monday, working out at the Stance Socks Headquarters in San Clemente, CA. 

LaVine's workout was with 'Pro's Vision', which included UCLA alumni Darren Collison, who was believed to be headed to the Bulls before he abruptly retired this offseason

This offseason Pro Vision has also worked out with New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball in an effort to help him diversify his game ahead of a crucial season for him in a new setting. 

LaVine will be looking to have an improved year after a solid 2018-19 season, in which LaVine averaged a career-best 23.7 PPG while playing over 2000 minutes for just the second time in his career. 

Heading into the 2019-20 season the Bulls are dealing with higher expectations but should be able to meet them reasonably, as they have added veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky to a roster full of young talent.

LaVine should take a step forward in the 2019-20 season and with an increase in either his playmaking, scoring efficiency and/or overall scoring output, we could see him make an All-Star leap as the 2020 All-Star Weekend takes place in Chicago. 

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What does a successful rookie year look like for Bulls guard Coby White?

What does a successful rookie year look like for Bulls guard Coby White?

Coby White is a 19-year old entering his first season with the Bulls and while his No. 7 overall draft position certainly indicates that he is a player that the organization believes in, his age would signal that fans should be patient with him. Point guard is a position that has perhaps the steepest learning curve in the NBA and on top of that, White will be playing on a roster that despite some solid pickups, is still light on veteran talent.

So what would a solid year look like for Coby White? There is no clear cut answer, as we’ve seen with players like De’Aaron Fox, a huge year 1 to year 2 leap is possible at point guard. To set the barometer for a solid rookie year for a score-first guard like White, we looked at how many guards in Bulls history cracked the double-digit scoring mark in their rookie season.

Rookie guards in Bulls franchise history who have averaged at least 10 PPG (NAME/ SEASON/ PPG)

1. Reggie Theus/ 1978-79/ 16.3 PPG

2. Quintin Dailey/ 1978-79/ 15.1 PPG

3. Mitchell Wiggins/ 1982-83/ 12.4 PPG

4. Michael Jordan/ 1984-85/ 28.2 PPG

5. Kirk Hinrich/ 2003-04/ 12.0 PPG 

6. Ben Gordon/ 2004-05/ 15.1 PPG

7. Derrick Rose/ 2008-09/ 16.8 PPG

White carried over his high-scoring ways from high school to Chapel Hill and helped lead an offense that had the 8th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation last season per KenPom.com. In college White’s speed was able to offset whatever advatange long-limbed shot-blockers had on him and he converted at a solid 67 percent rate at the rim.

Over his 999 minutes of NCAA basketball White racked up 562 points, including 104 made free throws and 67 made field goals at the rim (per The Stepien). He will have to add some diversity to his shot profile even if the Bulls truly let him have free reign to shoot in year one, as NBA rim protectors will force him to develop a solid floater and/or midrange game. 

White only attempted a total of 95 midrange shots (out of approx. 426 total shots) in his freshman season at North Carolina and will undoubtedly have to shoot more midrange attempts in 2020 as pro defenses will key in on his aggressiveness from deep.

In college White shot a whopping 12.2 attempts from 3-point range per 100 possessions, hitting them at a 35.3 percent clip and helping him maintain an impressive 110.6 offensive rating at UNC. At the NBA level, White will likely be operating out of the pick and roll a decent amount and even if the Bulls initiate these plays far from the rim, defenses will try to contain him in that area from the foul line to the rim, as the Sixers do to former Nets guard D’Angelo Russell in the clip below.

The sophistication of NBA defenses could have a negative effect on White’s percentages but everything will work itself out as long he doesn’t lose his aggressiveness.

Russell got up a career-high 635 attempts from 3-point range in 2019 but was aided by the Nets infrastructure. He shot a career-high 205 free throws in 2019, improving significantly in his weakest area offensively, something we will see White get better at on a year-to-year basis. 

Last season Brooklyn still catered to Russell’s strengths despite him getting to the free-throw line more. The Nets had the fifth-best 3-point attempt rate in the league. White will actually have the luxury of Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming joining in the Bulls staff, and Fleming played a large part in Brooklyn playing at one of the league's fastest paces and finishing in the top half of the league in points per game. 

In his five NBA Summer League contests, White averaged a healthy 4.4 free throw attempts per game. If he could average at least four free throws per game as a rookie, he would be one of four Bulls rookies at any position to get to the charity stripe that much. He will have plenty of opportunities to attack off of closeouts in year one but embracing contact is something that doesn’t come until much later for most young guards in the NBA.

While White will benefit heavily from Chicago’s plethora of 3-point shooters in 2020, he will more oftentimes than not play the role of the shooter, playing off the ball next to Zach LaVine and/or Satoransky. But Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has discussed the team speeding up their tempo with so many explosive athletes on the roster and White is a major reason why. 

Boylen’s words certainly indicate a player who will be more than a role player next season.

The Bulls finished the 2018-19 season ranked 19th in the league in pace and even with a modest increase, expect to see no more than 12 or so players with 200+ field goal attempts. The big difference is, those shot attempts will be spread out among NBA talent rather than a variety of G League call-ups, as was the case last year. 

The talent level of the teammates around White will set him up for a successful rookie year, it is simply on him to run with the opportunity. 

Only 10 rookies averaged at least 10 points per game in the 2018-19 season, including Bulls rookie Wendell Carter (10.3 PPG). Carter was usually the third or fourth scoring option for the Bulls in 2019 but was able to stay involved enough to put up decent figures. The Bulls will clearly want White to be aggressive on offense to grow into the point guard of the future so he will have to take his bumps and bruises along the way, which already started in the NBA Summer League.

In Summer League White shot a dreadful 3-for-30 (10 percent) on 3-pointers but mostly looked comfortable taking the attempts despite a lackluster percentage. Summer League is our best prism with which to judge what the Bulls will want from White and he led the team with 15.0 PPG in 30.8 minutes per game, clearly functioning as the lead dog of the Bulls offensive attack. 

Kris Dunn’s presence on the team definitely complicates things a bit but the Bulls are set up for White to score at a solid rate from day one. I believe that he will become the 8th Bulls rookie guard to put up at least 10 PPG and the main reason for that belief is that I fully expect White to hoist at least five attempts per game from 3-point range and of the three rookies to take at least five 3-pointers per game in 2019, two of them scored at least 10 PPG. 

We will get to see White play against a higher caliber of competition--both athletically and basketball IQ-wise--when the NBA preseason kicks off on October 7, until then we can only hope that Boylen will truly let the Bulls run with Coby White and his PPG average will be a decent way--not the only way--to follow his progress. 

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