On the latest episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast, the media personality suggested what many had up to this point, second-year player Markelle Fultz would benefit from a fresh start with a new franchise. Simmons’ suggested trade assumed it will be hard to extract first round value for the young guard and his proposed deal was Antonio Blakeney and a second round pick for Fultz.
Rather than guess what players would be included in a hypothetical deal, a better question is: could the Bulls—and Fred Hoiberg—pull the best out of Fultz?
Obviously, any conversation about Fultz bouncing back starts with the idea that he will at some point be 100 percent healthy and ready to play. Looking at strictly his basketball fit, it is clear that Chicago would certainly give him the best opportunity outside of Orlando and Phoenix in terms of a path to lots of playing time.
In college Fultz was a dynamic lead guard with a very high 31 percent usage rate. His team (Washington) went 2-16 in conference play despite his stellar play.
His rookie year in the NBA came on a Sixers team that won 52 games. The pressure of joining one of the rising teams in the league combined with his injury woes made for a terrible amount of pressure to start his career. His struggles shooting are well-documented and will likely continue in the short-term. But the fact that the Bulls sit well below .500 means that Fultz would be stepping into a low-pressure situation where he could work his way back into form slowly.
The combination of Kris Dunn and Fultz in the rotation would help improve the Bulls perimeter defense. For all of Ryan Arcidiacono’s shooting and playmaking ability, he doesn’t possess the physical tools that allow Fultz to make plays like this:
Fultz’s defensive rating is a solid 108 over his small 33-game, 680 minute-sized career sample. His 6-foot-10 wingspan is the main asset that still gives him a chance to develop into a solid guard. The fact that he won’t shoot 3-pointers would more concerning if his jump shot form was consistent. But as long as he is rebuilding his jump shot form, sticking to his other strengths is fine for the time being. Per Basketball-Reference, Fultz made 65 percent of his shots at the rim over the last two seasons. He has the makings of a player who can become a great finisher. Fultz has a better chance of becoming an elite inside scorer if paired with quality, floor-spacing big men, of which Chicago has at least two.
Fred Hoiberg likes to get his guards going “downhill” with handoffs and pick-and-rolls. In 2018-19, LaVine and Blakeney are both averaging well over a point per possession as pick-and-roll ball handlers. Under the tutelage of Hoiberg, it is very unlikely but not impossible to imagine Fultz making a leap as a mid range shooter. He would be able to build up his confidence in countless pick-and-rolls. After a historically bad shooting year in his rookie season, Dunn turned into a 46 percent shooter from long 2-point range with the Bulls.
The addition of Fultz would also take a number of possessions out of LaVine’s hands, allowing him more catch-and-shoot opportunities. His 3-point shooting is all the way down to 30 percent, but he is still shooting a solid 38 percent on catch-and-shot 3-pointers. Fultz’s playmaking -- 5.9 assists per 36 minutes for his career-- means a less strenuous workload for LaVine. It also provides Hoiberg with another player capable of getting the ball to Markkanen and Carter.
Chicago has the 29th ranked offense in the league and the addition of Fultz wouldn’t change that. But with the return of Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis eminent, the Bulls have enough offensive firepower on the way. The defensive side is where Fultz would help more and the Bulls are playing better on that end as of late, up to 22nd in terms of defensive rating.
A big part of that is the month of November, where the Bulls have ranked 12th in the league in defensive efficiency. Fultz would add a wrinkle that could allow the defense to reach league average marks. As a switch defender able to contend with small forwards in certain matchups, he could be the bridge between Hoiberg's big and small lineups. If his shooting improves, he becomes more valuable on offense as well. If Fultz’s jump shot doesn’t improve, he would still be a solid backup point guard capable of doing damage when surrounded by shooters.
Philadelphia expected Fultz to be a polished inside-out scorer, one of the final pieces of a championship-caliber core. But in Chicago he would be expected to be an effective slashing guard, who gives an incredibly high effort on defense and on the glass.
The Bulls hit the “reset button” on June 22, 2017 in hopes of collecting young talent.
Adding Fultz to the group of Markkanen, LaVine, Dunn, Carter and Parker would give the Bulls six former lottery picks who still have plenty of time to develop.
The uncertainty surrounding him is going to make for a very volatile trade market, one in which Chicago would be wise to stay far away from if first round picks are involved. But in the event that Philadelphia is willing to let go of Fultz at a reasonable price, the Bulls would be wise to at least reach out.
NBA free agency is unpredictable and besides, the Bulls need free agents who line up with the career arcs of their players, meaning 2019 isn’t the offseason to go all-in on a signing, barring the unlikely event of Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard showing interest. There should be no worry of his contract cutting into the Bulls cap space considering the amount of teams gearing up for big spending offseasons.
Fultz would hit restricted free agency in the 2022 offseason but has a team-option in his contract for the 2021 offseason, the same offseason that Chicago-native Anthony Davis could headline what is shaping up to be a spectacular free agent class. Theoretically, the Bulls could give Fultz an opportunity to flourish and make their young core more attractive for free agents now. Then in 2021 they could decline Fultz’s team-option, get a big-name free agent and re-sign Fultz to a back-loaded contract that keeps him in the long-term plans.
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