Jerian Grant

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Development of Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie shows the importance of G League scouting for the Bulls

On Wednesday night the Bulls fell 96-93 to the Brooklyn Nets in a game dominated by point guard play. In the matchup, Kris Dunn—acquired by the Bulls in the ‘17 NBA Draft night trade of Jimmy Butler—had 24 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and only one turnover. But he was outplayed by Spencer Dinwiddie—he of the new three-year, $34 million contract—who turned in 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the win.

Dinwiddie’s emergence can be attributed to his perseverance over several G League stints—including a stint with the Bulls G League affiliate— that saw him get a little bit better each year.

And the fact that the Nets didn’t blink at signing him to his new deal hints at the idea that he is a player who is very dedicated to putting in the work to seriously improve his game. The Bulls are hoping Dunn is the same way—and he has shown every indication of that this season—but they definitely missed out on Dinwiddie considering that he played for their G League affiliate Windy City Bulls in their inaugural season.

And that is why Dinwiddie is a perfect example of just how important G League scouting—especially of your affiliate—is so vital.

The standard line from many fans of a team when a player like Dinwiddie starts to turn into the best-case version of themselves on another squad is: “There was no way to see this coming.”

Or you will see a simple, congratulatory response like head coach Jim Boylen delivered on Tuesday night, “We’re happy for Dinwiddie.” And the Bulls should be happy, as no matter how big or small of a role played in his development, they definitely contributed to his formation to some extent. But the fact that he wasn’t on a two-way contract with the Bulls means that they would’ve had to act fast in giving him a look, lest another NBA team call him up, and that is exactly what happened when the Nets decided to sign Dinwiddie on December 8, 2016.

At the time Dinwiddie got his first opportunity with the Nets, the Bulls point guard rotation was Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant. So yeah, no exactly a “who’s who” of NBA point guards.

Chicago had Dinwiddie for the 2016-17 preseason, where despite not putting up big numbers in limited minutes, he played solidly. Over five preseason games he shot 58 percent from the field and showed a willingness to defend, posting solid steal and block rates. His numbers didn’t jump off the page but at 6-foot 6 it was safe to assume he could become a serviceable NBA player in some regard with some refinement on his jump shot.

Dinwiddie’s time on the Windy City Bulls was a brief nine-game stretch but in that time he played like a player who was ready to have a breakout season.

Over those nine games he averaged 19 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting. The biggest error on the Bulls end of things was not taking those numbers seriously. NBA-quality players put up great numbers in the G League because of their (obvious) higher physicality and/or skill level. And if you compare his numbers with the Windy City Bulls to his statistics during his other G League stints, it is obvious that he was an improving player with room to grow:

G League stats:

2014-15: 12 PPG, 5 APG, 3 RPG, 2 FTA per game

2015-16: 14 PPG, 6 APG, 3 RPG, 4 FTA per game

2016-17: 19 PPG, 8 APG, 3 RPG, 6 FTA per game

Dinwiddie’s development in the counting stats showed a player getting more comfortable with his shot and role on a team. But the free throw attempts are just as important--if not more--because they show a player who is becoming more aggressive, and in Dinwiddie’s case, becoming confident in their game.

And so fittingly, there was Dinwiddie, nailing 50 percent of his eight 3-point attempts and getting the game-winning steal and free throws to seal the win over the Bulls.


This all to say, the hope is that the Bulls front office is looking at the Windy City Bulls as a legitimate talent-pool, and not just a way to train coaches and/or additional staff. This is not the lone case of talent developing up in Hoffman Estates.

Chicago-native Alfonzo McKinnie plays about 15 minutes per game for the Warriors. He averaged 9 RPG for the Windy City Bulls in the 2016-17 season and showed signs of being able to extend his range, shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line after shooting 35 percent from 3-point range in college. He played in all 50 games for the Windy City Bulls in his lone season.

Jake Layman is playing about 15 MPG for the Trail Blazers and is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line. He played on the 2016-17 Windy City Bulls team and scored 17 PPG over an eight game stretch with the team.

Neither McKinnie or Layman are going to develop into superstars. They may never carry a scoring load for their respective teams or even get to start more than a couple times in a season, but that isn’t that the point.

The (Chicago) Bulls are have historically built through the draft, with few free agent success stories sprinkled in. And in terms of recent history, the Bulls took a great first step in the right direction in their (latest) rebuild by getting a great return in the Jimmy Butler trade.

The next steps are going to be identifying and acquiring—whether it be through developing someone currently on the roster, the draft or free agency—a superstar and finding good role players to fit around those central figures. And the G League has emerged as perhaps the best (and most cost effective way) of doing finding latter.

And in the case of Dinwiddie, he is going to be a lot more than a good role player. So while it didn’t cost the Bulls anything to lose him, it still represents an opportunity missed on a guard who has yet to hit his prime.

But life goes on, and there will be other solid talents finding their way in the NBA G League, possibly on the Windy City Bulls. Hopefully, the (Chicago) Bulls spot them first.

Fred Hoiberg sees energetic Bulls improving and 'taking steps in the right direction'

Fred Hoiberg sees energetic Bulls improving and 'taking steps in the right direction'

It’s not exactly a skill, which is good considering the makeup of the Bulls’ roster. And it’s tough to measure, so there’s no way of knowing exactly where they rank among other teams. But its results can be easily seen, and in a year where the Bulls have swapped out talent for youth, they’re discovering an energy and passion that’s suddenly resulting in unexpected victories.

The Bulls moved their winning streak to three games on Monday night against a tired and depleted – and yet still far more talented – Celtics team, earning a decisive 108-85 victory that displayed just how much this team still cares. Granted, caring alone and playing with energy won’t have them playing in May or June, but good habits being formed by young players give some optimism for the future.

It was everywhere on Monday night. A letdown of sorts from the Celtics could have been predicted. Boston was playing its third road game in four nights, and the first two (San Antonio on Friday, Detroit on Sunday) were anything but easy. MVP candidate Kyrie Irving was resting a quad contusion and even Al Horford (knee) wasn’t cleared to play until about 20 minutes until tip.

But talent alone still could have pushed the Celtics ahead against an inferior Bulls team. With young wins Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, a backcourt of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, and 30 minutes of Horford the Celtics were still equipped to get by a Bulls team that entered Monday with the league’s worst record.

But it didn’t happen. The Bulls were far more aggressive, contested jumpers that Boston wouldn’t, played passing lanes and went after loose balls that the Celtics watched more often than not. Boston took 40 3-pointers even without Irving (and Marcus Morris), and they committed 15 turnovers. It was sloppy throughout, and the Bulls took advantage.

Nikola Mirotic, starting in place of Lauri Markkanen (back), scored 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Kris Dunn was solid again, and the bench scored 30 first-half points that allowed the Bulls to lead by as many as 18 on a team that hadn’t lost a game by double digits all season.

Bobby Portis scored 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting, David Nwaba continued his stretch of stellar play with 13 points, six rebounds and a steal, and Jerian Grant chipped in nine assists in 23 minutes off the bench. The Bulls were solid across the board, holding the C's to their lowest point total of the year and shooting 48 percent with 12 3-pointers against the most efficient defense in the league. 

“This is third game in a row now that everybody that’s stepped on the floor has made a positive contribution for the team,” Hoiberg noted.

Those habits are something Fred Hoiberg has seen all season, and his comments sounded more genuine than simple coach-speak. These Bulls players, a majority who are fighting for their spots in the league and their futures, have had the right attitude every night. The talent in the league is the result of a 6-20 record, not the effort.

“Even when we were going through the (10-game) losing streak our guys were coming in and continuing to work. They were very attentive in practice and film sessions,” Hoiberg said. “They kept their head down, kept grinding, and it’s paying off for us with the way these guys are going out every night and competing.

“We’ve come in every day and talked about, win or lose, taking steps in the right direction.”

The Bulls are still headed for the Lottery, and the truth is the majority of these Bulls working every day won’t be on the team when it’s time to contend for titles. But in a season where the Bulls had lost 15 and 16 without much of a direction, a three-game winning streak shows that this team is heading in the direction Hoiberg wants and that better days are coming because of it.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

https://twitter.com/_MarcusD2_/status/933541547894804481

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.