Sampson, a two-year player at St. John’s University, averaged 13 PPG and 6 RPG on 46 percent in his college career. However, the most impressive part of his college resume were the hustle stats. Over his two seasons in college, Sampson averaged just over two offensive rebounds per game and racked up 125 combined steals/blocks.
That mentality has followed him to the pros, where he has been great at getting to the rim, drawing fouls and blocking shots.
But Sampson hasn’t been spectacular with his finishing in the NBA. And on top of that, the lack of (any) noticeable progress with his shooting stroke makes it hard to find a spot for him, even in the increasingly position-less NBA.
But the Windy City Bulls and head coach Charlie Henry have been using Sampson as a small-ball center, with intriguing results.
Through 6 games in the 2018-19 NBA G League season, Sampson is averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field.
He is one of the tallest players on the team as, Windy City has no players taller than 6-foot 8 on the roster. Despite starting a 6-foot 8 player at center, Windy City has the 2nd best defensive rating in the league (100.6) over the last five games.
And while he has helped the Bulls have a great NBA G League defense, his offensive value also offers upside. Sampson has been able to use his quickness to beat lumbering bigs off the dribble. He has also gotten slightly better at timing his rolls to the basket to receive dump off passes from his guards.
For pretty much the first time in Sampson’s basketball career (even dating back to high school) he is starting to make an earnest attempt to stretch his range out to the 3-point line. He is taking just over two 3-point attempts per game. While he is shooting a poor 28 percent from deep, those couple 3-point attempts per night help Windy City’s offense by dragging opposing bigs out of the paint to contest shots.
Sampson’s aggressiveness is at an all-time high with the Bulls. He has a gargantuan usage rate that is north of 30 percent, impressive considering that he hasn’t had to shoulder a heavy load on offense in quite some time. He is turning the ball over a considerable amount and that is perhaps the one thing knocking down his offensive value.
He has an impressive assist rate from the center spot, so the skill is there and simply needs to be raised a level. That obviously becomes much easier when you play with better teammates.
If Sampson was to play with the Chicago Bulls, he obviously would be a low-usage player. This in turn could make his solid passing ability a huge plus, since the Bulls have some interesting offensive pieces with Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen all returning to join Zach LaVine in the rotation.
And with Sampson showing that he can be effective against centers who are non-scoring threats, he would be a nice player to give spot minutes to when Wendell Carter Jr. is in foul trouble (especially early in games).
Succeeding at the highest levels in today’s NBA is all about the 3-point shot, lineup versatility and a commitment to the defensive side of the ball. And Sampson checks off two of the three boxes with certainty, making him a solid bet to be one of the next Windy City Bulls players to receive a call up.
The Bulls have struggled to close out games in the 2018-19 season and a big part of that was the absence of point guard Kris Dunn. Despite being a limited shooter throughout his young NBA career, he was actually a pivotal offensive player for the Bulls in clutch situations last season. Dunn (again) showed off just how valuable he can be in late-game situations on Saturday night.
In a game where the Spurs held a 21-point lead, the Bulls rode the offense of Lauri Markkanen and Dunn to a comeback victory. Dunn and Markkanen combined for 47 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists in the win.
Guard play was the key in this win though, as Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono were the few players determined to take smart shots while also getting to the ball to Markkanen when he had a mismatch. Everyone on the roster needs to work more on post-entry passes to Markkanen, as we have seen how awesome the results can be for an offense short on shot-makers.
But Dunn can become one of those shot-makers. We all know that to reach his absolute ceiling, his 3-point jump shot will need to develop. However, if he focuses heavily on getting to his “sweet spots” on the floor, he will ultimately mitigate any concerns about his shot.
Against the Spurs Dunn was 0-2 from the 3-point line but finished 4-7 on shots inside the paint, which contributed to the Bulls outscoring San Antonio 42-32 on points in the paint.
The Bulls are still struggling to score inside and were mostly helped by playing a Spurs team that is similarly awful at the 3-point shot, and not great at generating free throws. But a road win over the Spurs is impressive considering the turmoil surrounding this Bulls team.
Chicago was burned by a 3-point flurry from Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Patty Mills in the second quarter. But the Bulls settled down and really locked-in defensively in the 2nd half. The Bulls collected 12 steals and 8 blocks in San Antonio, including a big-time double swat from the frontcourt of the future.
Let's just say it's not easy to score against both of our two 7th-round picks at the same time 😮 pic.twitter.com/yPu5F5ICj2— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 16, 2018
The team seems to be adjusting (relatively) well to the hyper-active coaching style of Boylen.
Wait for it... wait for it... wait for it... WIN IT KD! Watch Jim Boylen leading up to Dunn's game-sealing shot. pic.twitter.com/BU8eUMNfxx— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) December 16, 2018
Since Boylen’s 1st game as Bulls’ head coach on December 4, the Bulls have ranked 15th in the league in defensive rating and have had noticeably better rotations on defense. But the offense has posted a historically terrible 95.1 points per 100 possessions in that same timeframe under Boylen.
But wins like Saturday night’s show that the Bulls can play with some mental toughness down the stretch of close games.
Bulls fans finally got to see a glimpse of the Dunn-Markkanen combination thriving at the same time. If they can consistently play with that same type of aggressiveness when LaVine returns to the lineup, Boylen and the Bulls can truly put what was a tough week behind them and focus on building a positive team-first culture.