You know them. You fear them. You see them in your nightmares.
Every sports organization has adversaries that earn the distinction “[insert team here]-Killer.” For the Bears, think Aaron Rodgers; the Cubs, Albert Pujols; and so on and so forth.
The 2019-20 Bulls — who ended their season 22-43 after being excluded from the NBA’s 22-team restart — saw quite a few names posit resumes for being termed a “Bulls-Killer” moving forward. And in fitting fashion, not all of them were among the superstar strata of the league’s player population.
We decided to document those of that distinction: Players ranging from non-stars to downright obscure (which rules out performances akin to Kyrie Irving’s 54-point explosion in Brooklyn on Feb. 1) that found unnatural success lined up against the Bulls in 2019-20. For now and forevermore, they will be known as the “Furkan Korkmaz All-Stars.”
Here’s the inaugural class, with explanations and rogue observations embedded. Enjoy:
PG: Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton is no slouch, whether he’s squaring off with the Bulls or not. The No. 8 selection in the 2018 draft, he parlayed a strong second half of his rookie year into a mini-leap his sophomore campaign — at least scoring the ball. In 65 games in 2019-20, Sexton averaged 20.8 points on 47.2% shooting (38% from 3-point range).
But there may not be a team Sexton lives up to his nickname of “Young Bull” better than, well, the Bulls. Sexton and the Cavs faced the Bulls four times in 2019-20 — twice in Chicago, twice in Cleveland — and he posted 26 points apiece in two trips to the UC on combined 22-for-33 (66.6%) shooting. In every quick-twitch crossover and breakneck dribble drive, the scoring talent that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of Alabama shone through. As did his intense mentality.
“That's Collin's personality, that's who he is, that's his makeup, that's his genetic,” Coby White said after the latter of those 26-point outings (on 12-for-16 shooting), which came on the eve of White’s first NBA start. “Ever since he was little, they all call him Young Bull, and you know they call him Young Bull for a reason.”
The Bulls know that all too well. Fortunately, despite Sexton’s best efforts, the good guys won three of their four matchups with Cleveland in 2019-20.
Others receiving consideration: Honestly, the field of non-stars was pretty thin here. Thanks in no small part to Kris Dunn reviving his career and establishing himself as, frankly, an elite-tier on-ball defender (both by the numbers and tape), the Bulls bottled up lead guards more effectively than their record would lead you to expect this season.
SG: Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards
Before you say it: I know Bertans measures 6-foot-10 and logged 84% of his minutes at power forward this season (the other 16% at center) in the Wizards’ high-octane offense.
But if there were ever going to be a near-7-foot-tall shooting guard in the NBA, it would no doubt be the Latvian Laser. Not only did Bertans hit on 42.4% of his 3-pointers this season on 8.7 attempts per game, he made 47.4% of his 156 attempts from 27+ feet and… 69.2% of his 26 looks from 30+ feet. Many of those came by way of devastating, pull-up heaves and tight curls around screens usually reserved for players far smaller and shiftier.
And besides, what do positions matter, anyway?
Bertans was splendid all season, but some of his most preposterous exploits came in the Wizards’ four matchups with the Bulls. On Dec. 18, he scored 26 points and made seven 3-pointers (21 points on 6-for-9 from deep in the first half) in a game that ended with an 18-point fourth quarter comeback and overtime victory by the Bulls. On Feb. 23, he scored 22 points on 5-for-11 from long range in another loss, this time at the United Center.
On shots of at least 27 feet, Bertans shot 7-for-15 (46.7%) against the Bulls this season. On shots of at least 30 feet, he shot 4-for-6 (.667). With a release as high as his, sometimes there’s truly nothing you can do.
Whenever the NBA offseason begins, Bertans is set to hit unrestricted free agency. Bulls fans can pray he finds his way to a Western Conference club.
Others receiving consideration: Kendrick Nunn, Heat (19.5 ppg, 56% FG in two games vs. Bulls; stole Coby White’s Rising Stars spot) . . . Terence Davis, Raptors (31 pts, 12-for-15 FG vs. Bulls on Feb. 2)
SF: T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
When I first incepted this story idea midway through the season, the thought was to moniker the team the “T.J. Warren All-Stars.” Warren is a more-than-solid NBA wing that plays both ends and can fill it up from time-to-time. He led a Pacers on team on pace for 49 wins before the pause in scoring this year! But he transforms against the Bulls.
T.J. Warren vs. the Bulls 2019-20: 3 G, 22.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.7 spg; 60.9% FG, 40% 3P (3.3 attempts), 66.3% TS
T.J. Warren vs. everybody else 2019-20: 58 G, 18.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 spg; 52.5% FG, 37.4% 3P
So, yeah. Warren is really, really good. But he turns it up in every facet against Chicago. In the three games Warren played against the Bulls this season, the Pacers averaged an 11-point margin of victory, often playing shorthanded. In a Nov. 3 game in Indiana, for example, Warren led all scorers with 26 points (10-for-16) in a 108-95 Pacers victory sans Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.
Perhaps it was the Bulls’ own flux of healthy wings that allowed Warren to get going with such regularity against them. Regardless, he earned himself the distinction of “Bulls-Killer” this season.
PF: Furkan Korkmaz, Philadelphia 76ers
Simply put, when Furkan Korkmaz sees the Bulls, he sees red.
Entering an innocuous regular-season matchup back on Jan. 17, Korkmaz had scored more than 20 points in a game just once in his three-year NBA career. He dropped 24 points and six 3-pointers (both career-highs) on Jan. 17, including 14 in a lopsided third quarter that swung the game.
A career-high six threes & counting.— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 18, 2020
Then, three weeks later, he poured in 31 points and another six 3-pointers, catalyzed by a 17-point, four 3-pointer first quarter. Those represent two of the three gaudiest scoring nights of Korkmaz’s career — the highest being a 34-point, seven 3-pointer outing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 7, two nights before the second shellacking of the Bulls.
Maybe they just caught him at the wrong time. But for those keeping track at home, Korkmaz averaged 27.5 points per game against the Bulls this season on 71.4% shooting from the field, 60% from 3-point range and 93.8% true shooting. Games against the Bulls added a half-point to his scoring average (9.7 ppg with, 9.2 ppg without) for the season. Unconscionable numbers.
(To be clear, those stats — accrued over a two-game sample size — mean nothing. But they’re straight-up straight silly to look at.)
Korkmaz is the definitive “Destroyer of Bulls” from the 2019-20 campaign, more than deserving of his spot as the namesake of this All-Star team.
Others receiving consideration: Bobby Portis (28 pts, 11 reb, 2 blks; 10-for-14 FG, 4-for-4 3P; 11 fourth-quarter points in 105-98 W on Oct. 28 — the latest in a long line of Bulls Revenge Games) . . . Danilo Gallinari (23 ppg, 5.0 rpg; 43.8% FG, 45% 3P in two games vs. Bulls)
C: Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
There were plenty of options for the center spot on this squad — the Bulls’ interior defense struggled most of the year, especially after Wendell Carter Jr. went down with a severe ankle sprain in early January. But for Whiteside’s long-standing dominance of the Bulls, he earns the nod.
After all, back on Jan. 25, 2015, he became the 31st player in NBA history to record a triple-double with blocks while a member of the Heat with a 14-point, 13-rebound, 12-swat night in Chicago. Donning Blazers red, he almost did it again in Portland on Nov. 29, when he logged eight points (4-for-11), 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in a 107-103 victory over the Bulls. That came on the heels of a 13-point (6-for-8), 12-rebound, 2-block night in a more resounding Nov. 25 road victory over Chicago.
Whiteside’s visage, regardless of uniform or ancillary stats, will forever strike fear into Bulls fans’ hearts.
Others receiving consideration: Jonas Valanciunas (32 pts, 13 reb, 3 stl; 12-for-17 FG, 8-for-10 FT on Dec. 4) . . . Montrezl Harrell (30 pts, 7 reb, 2 stl, 3 blk; 9-for-24 FG, 12-for-14 FT on Dec. 14) . . . Deandre Ayton (28 pts, 19 reb (10 offensive), 3 blks; 12-for-20 FG; 12 pts, 8 reb in fourth quarter on Feb. 22)
Sixth Man: Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers
This isn’t to discount Anthony’s credentials. He’s a surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer with the resume to back it, and one of the more notorious superstars of the 21st century.
But he began the 2019-20 season out of the league and without a clear path back in. The Blazers, stretched thin in the frontcourt due to injuries, inked him to a non-guaranteed contract on Nov. 14, but he sputtered out of the gate, shooting just 15-for-44 (34.1%) from the floor in his first three games with the team.
Then, Game 4, on Nov. 25: A trip to the United Center to face the team that courted him while he was still in his prime in the summer of 2014, then traded for and immediately waived him in January 2019 after a fraught 10-game run with the Houston Rockets.
In that contest, Anthony scored an impactful 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-7 from 3-point range) to spearhead a 23-point blowout victory for the Blazers. He drew “Bring Back Melo” chants on the road, and after the game reflected on the connection he and the Bulls will always share. Four days later, in Portland, he notched 23 points and 11 rebounds in another victory over his former team — canning jumpers, attacking closeouts and bruising in the post in vintage fashion.
Carmelo Anthony vs. the Bulls in 2019-20: 2 G, 24 ppg, 9.5 rpg; 50% FG, 50% 3P (5 attempts)
Carmelo Anthony vs. everybody else in 2019-20: 48 G, 14.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg; 42.1% FG, 36.4% 3P (3.8 attempts)
For the above nuggets, and a generally impressive bounceback season relative to expectations, he earns a “Furkan Korkmaz All-Star” berth to go along with his 10 real All-Star selections, six All-NBA nods, scoring title and myriad other accolades.