Bulls

The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

Given the political climate of the day, it’s fitting Michael Carter-Williams’ first lesson as a member of the Chicago Bulls was the art of diplomacy.

In a span of a few short hours, Carter-Williams went from preparing for a game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night to finding out he was traded to the Bulls and had to deal with everything that came with being traded during the NBA season: Moving on short notice, saying goodbyes while saying hello to new people and experiences.

And in a few short hours Monday night, he went from picking out his old jersey, No. 1, to letting it go and selecting No. 7, after being told by the team he could reclaim the number he had throughout his life and his rookie year.

Whether it was the Twitterverse or the Bulls changing their minds about giving away Derrick Rose’s old jersey number, diplomacy prevailed by 10 p.m.

“I know the discussion is probably gonna be D-Rose’s old number,” Carter-Williams said in the hallway of the United Center while meeting the media for the first time before Monday’s game. “That has nothing to do with D-Rose. He was great for the city, he’s an excellent player. I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or boundaries. It’s just a number I like.”

His introduction to the Bulls won’t come with the mixed reaction of being compared to the hometown kid, and one would wonder why, given the bad luck Rose endured after his MVP campaign, Carter-Williams would even want to claim the number as his own again.

“I was (No.) 1 in college, (No.) 1 in Philly,” Carter-Williams said. “I feel like I had success in Philly, Rookie of the Year. I was (No.) 5 in Milwaukee. It’s a new place. I’m trying to get the chip on my shoulder back.”

He couldn’t wear No. 1 in Milwaukee due to Oscar Robertson’s jersey being retired there, and if he asked for it then, he was likely given a history lesson he’ll never forget.

The discussion about jersey numbers temporarily obscured the actual discussion about the Bulls’ acquiring a former Rookie of the Year to bolster their bench as a backup point guard and in addition, changed the narrative for why such a talented and productive player has been traded twice before hitting restricted free agency.

Before then, most discussion revolved around why the Bulls picked up yet another perimeter player whose 3-point shooting was closer to the Mendoza line than the league average.

“I don’t really know. Some places work for some people,” Carter-Williams said. “Some places don’t. I was able to have success my rookie year and I got moved. That’s the business of the game. Crazy things happen in this league. Those are things you can’t focus on.”

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In context, though, the Philadelphia 76ers were trading away and all assets during the short time Carter-Williams was there, as they went through their “tanking for the sake of tanking” phase.

And in Milwaukee, despite playing for a coach whose playing style was similar to his in Jason Kidd, the Bucks found a more dynamic wing man to initiate offense from the point guard spot than Carter-Williams in Giannis Antetokounmpo, making Carter-Williams expendable and thus, available for the Bulls to acquire him in exchange for Tony Snell.

“It really comes down to who fits best around him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You know, for us, again, it gives us a guy who can facilitate offense. The thing I'm excited about with our group is that we have multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers, and Michael certainly fits into that category. He's a guy that can get into the paint and make plays. For us, I think it's a good fit, and I'm excited to see what he brings to our team.”

Perhaps Carter-Williams will become a bit of a defensive irritant off the bench, given his history against the Bulls. In the deciding game of the Bulls-Bucks playoff series in 2015, Carter-Williams took a shot to the jaw from then-Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy on a drive. Subsequently, Dunleavy was speared, wrestling-style, from Antetokounmpo on a 3-point make.

“I think it was a great series, a great learning experience for me and the team then. I got to experience the playoffs. It was a fun series, things get physical. That’s how the playoffs are, guys get physical. That’s the game, the beauty of the game.

Whatever he did it worked. They won by a lot. It’s part of the game, I’m sure (Dunleavy) is a pretty good dude.”

The details of why an incident began were sketchy, but the series was chippy from the start, and Carter-Williams did a good job defending Rose for stretches. He knows that’s a big reason why the Bulls targeted him, in addition to seemingly being injury or disaster insurance for Rajon Rondo.

“I think I’m a defensive guy, pretty good at pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers,” Carter-Williams said. “Offensively, getting in the lane, getting rebounds and pushing it up the floor and finding my teammates.”

“I think I’m a basketball player and basketball players can adapt to any situation. I have been fortunate to start a lot in my career. I’m looking to learn a lot from Rondo.”

Learning the Bulls’ system and his teammates is priority number one, as Carter-Williams said, “We’re definitely a playoff team, so I’m looking to help the team in any way I can. That’s my main focus.”

Battling the ghost of the old number one wasn’t a battle worth fighting, showing if nothing else, he’s a quick learner.

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

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