max strus

Grading the Bulls’ 2019-20 wings: Porter, Hutchison, Valentine, Shaq

Grading the Bulls’ 2019-20 wings: Porter, Hutchison, Valentine, Shaq

The Bulls’ 2019-20 season is officially over after 65 games.

And what a season it was.

Yes, a .338 winning percentage left them well short of preseason playoff expectations, even with the league’s novel 22-team resumption format allowing for teams within six games of the eighth seed into play-in contention (the Bulls finished eight back of the Orlando Magic).

But widespread front office overhaul — punctuated by the hires of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager —  somewhat salvaged a lost season. The two now face the rigors of an unprecedented, potentially nine-month offseason that will involve draft prep, continued roster and front office evaluation, and possibly a coaching search — all while continuing to grapple with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed much of the team out-of-market, limited training capabilities and could act as a buzzsaw to the CBA as we know it.

That’s a lot to digest. And we’ll get to it all. But first, let’s tie a bow on the on-court good, bad, ugly and otherwise the Bulls endured this season, in report card form. We’ve hit the guards. Now, it’s time for the wings — where injury asterisks are sure to abound.

Otto Porter Jr. 

14 G, 23.6 MPG | 11.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 APG | 44.3% FG, 38.7% 3P, 70.4% FT | 2020-21 contract: $28,489,238 (player option)

Porter makes the Bulls a significantly better basketball team when he’s on the floor. In severely limited action this season (331 minutes), the Bulls registered an offensive rating of 110.2 points per 100 possessions and defensive rating 107 with him on the floor — figures that, extrapolated out, would register 16th and sixth in the NBA, respectively. Not phenomenal, but certainly better than their current ranks of 29th offensively and 13th defensively. 

That is in no way meant to insinuate the Bulls’ fortunes would have changed drastically with Porter in tow all season long. They were just 5-9 with him in the lineup. But his net positive impact makes sense. Injuries up and down the roster aside, Porter’s size, defensive versatility and reliable jump shooting (he’s a career 40.4% 3-point shooter on 3.3 attempts per game) were sorely missing qualities on the wing for the Bulls all season — especially considering his and Chandler Hutchison’s replacements ranged from Kris Dunn to Tomas Satoransky to Ryan Arcidiacono to Shaq Harrison. At 27 and a seven-year NBA veteran, his veteran competence was missed, as well.

But (and it’s a big but) that “when he’s on the floor” phrase is entirely operative. Porter missed 51 consecutive games this season from Nov. 6 to March 2 with a sprained left foot that’s recovery timetable seemed to permute with the wind. Despite being on a gradually increasing minutes restriction, Porter was effective upon returning, averaging 13.2 points on 48.2% shooting (36.4% from 3-point range) in five games before the pause while playing just 21 minutes per. He enjoyed a similarly positive-trending stretch in the games leading up to his injury in November.

The point: Porter is the Bulls’ highest paid and, theoretically, most well-rounded player, but he couldn’t stay on the court this year. That’s a problem — not the problem, but a problem — that’s resolution remains open-ended until Porter inevitably exercises his lofty player option for 2020-21 and we see what he can bring to the Bulls next season. If what he promises on paper ever fully comes to fruition on the hardwood, he’ll help the team immensely.

Porter checks in with an average, passing grade, with one tick up for positive individual play in his time out there.

Grade: C+

Chandler Hutchison

28 G, 18.8 MPG | 7.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.9 APG | 45.7% FG, 31.6% 3P, 59% FT | 2020-21 contract: $2,443,440

On Feb. 8, I wrote the following about Chandler Hutchison. At the time, Hutchison was in the midst of a miniscule four-game stretch in which he averaged 15.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals:

Hutchison’s current 17-game streak of simply playing in games is already the second-longest of his career (the longest being a 20-gamer between Dec. 15 and Jan. 25 of last season). There’s a lot to be said for building momentum day-by-day and his steadily increasing output is evidence.

Two games later, the All-Star break hit. What we didn’t know until returning to the Advocate Center the following Monday was that a shoulder injury that had cost him 17 games between November and January had flared up again in the Bulls’ final game before the break. Hutchison missed the team’s final ten games of the season. He’s played 72 of a possible 147 games in the first two years of his NBA career.

Unfortunately, Hutchison’s injury history must be addressed at the top of any assessment of his play and progress to this point. Any statistical evaluation (e.g. his 2.1% steal rate this season being in the 91st percentile for his position) is inevitably based on too small a sample size to take much appreciable away from — other than that his outside shooting (49.2% eFG, 59.5% FT for his career) must improve. He still brings great positional size at 6-foot-7, rare bounce and the tools to be a rangy, versatile defender at both forward spots. 

There were flashes, but he comes out with a flat grade. It’s simply not going to all come together until he can get consistent reps. And he’s already 24.

Grade: C-

Denzel Valentine

36 G, 13.6 MPG | 6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 APG | 40.9% FG, 33.6% 3P, 75% FT | 2020-21 contract: RFA

Valentine followed up an encouraging second season in 2017-18 by missing all of 2018-19 with ankle reconstruction surgery. Recovered a rearing to go, though, he didn’t crack the Bulls’ 2019-20 rotation until injuries paved a path in late November. 

He then spent the year oscillating in and out of Jim Boylen’s rotation, despite profiling as the exact type of player the Bulls might want to execute their preferred style of play — a savvy playmaker, perhaps the most skilled passer on the team and a dead-eye long range shooter when open. 

Valentine was never suited to the Bulls’ aggressive defensive schemes, and occasional bouts of irrational confidence don’t inspire trust. But with the Bulls’ perpetually strapped on the wing, that he only played more than 20 minutes eight times this season is confounding.

By the end of the campaign, his counting stats and shooting percentages aren’t reflective of the lottery pick he once was. Checkered utilization undeniably played a role there. If his next contract (as he enters restricted free agency this summer) isn’t with the Bulls, it would hardly come as a surprise as of this writing — though it’s unclear how new management may view him.

Grade: C-

Shaq Harrison

43 G, 11.3 MPG | 4.9 PPG, 2 RPG, 1.1 APG | 46.7% FG, 38.1% 3P, 78% FT | 2020-21 contract: RFA

Harrison is what he is, a relentless, energetic defender best suited to a deep reserve spot. His ever-ready attitude in spite of wildly fluctuant playing time was admirable and evident in a few spot starts for the Bulls this season — among them, a 15-point, 11-rebound, three-steal outing in an early season drubbing of the Pistons, and a five 3-pointer night against the Pacers a week before the season froze. That Pacers game capped a four-game stretch in which Harrison shot 9-for-11 from 3-point range, a departure from his regular jump shooting woes.

Relative to expectations coming into the season, Harrison did about all you could ask of him. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason; if Kris Dunn moves on, might he be a discount alternative for a hard-nosed defense at the guard spot?

Grade: C

Adam Mokoka / Max Strus

The two-way squad! Mokoka had two shining moments this season. On the night of the trade deadline, he spruced up a bad loss to the New Orleans Pelicans by scoring 15 points in 5:07 minutes of garbage-time action — the first time in the shot-clock era a player has scored 15 or more points in as little playing time. On March 2, he keyed the Bulls’ second win against a team at or above-.500 at time of contest by pestering Luka Doncic down the stretch of a home victory over the Dallas Mavericks (without Zach LaVine). He’s got a nice shooting stroke (40% from 3-point range on 15 total NBA attempts) and displayed shades of a useful perimeter defender, but logged just 112 minutes of NBA action season.

That was still more than Strus, who appeared in just two games with the Bulls this year. In one of them, he scored five points in a flurry to push a blowout loss to the Heat back towards respectability (the Bulls have a knack for that huh?). But that was the extent of his NBA contribution. He tore his ACL on Dec. 23, with an expected eight-to-12 month recovery timetable at the time of injury. 

Either could find themselves back with the Bulls on two-way deals once again in 2020-21, though Strus’ rehab could take him to the doorstep of even next year’s delayed start date. Mokoka got a bit more run — and I personally wouldn't mind seeing more — but having a definitive take on either one of these two (or prescribing them a long-term role with the team) feels hasty.

Grade: INC

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Art19

Bulls questions: Evaluating last offseason's additions, how they fit long-term

Bulls questions: Evaluating last offseason's additions, how they fit long-term

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling? | Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

The buzz around the 2019-20 Bulls season crescendoed last offseason. With a promising core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. already in place, the addition of an electric Coby White through the draft and savvy, supplementary vets through free agency appeared to be a winning formula in the third year of the rebuild. 

That calculation was made on paper. In practice… Well, you saw the results. 

But how did those additions for the 2019-20 seasons perform? How should they fit into the team’s long-term plans? Let’s evaluate (all contract figures via Spotrac):

Thad Young — signed to a three-year, $44 million contract last summer (third year partially guaranteed at $6 million)

Young’s season can pretty tidily be divided into three subsections (all per game averages):

  • First 24 games: 21.2 minutes, 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals; 40.9/34.2/56.7 shooting splits (8.5 attempts)

  • Next 21 games: 23.7 minutes, 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 43.3/34.8/64.7 shooting splits (8.9 attempts)

  • Next 19 games: 30.8 minutes (15 starts), 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals; 49.8/37.7/56 (11.1 attempts); 17 double-digit scoring performances

Those segments aren’t arbitrary. The first 24 games represent (approximately) the first third of Young’s 64-game season. At that tentpole, he was averaging the second-lowest minutes total of his 13-year career (to only his rookie campaign) and looked largely uncomfortable navigating the Bulls’ up-tempo, 3-pointer-heavy offensive system.

Segment two begins on Dec. 11, when Young logged a then season-high 33 minutes in a 35-point home victory over the Atlanta Hawks, notching 15 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. The next day, a report surfaced from the Chicago Sun-Times that Young was unhappy with his playing time, which Young addressed at length to the media soon after. From there, trade rumors and rumblings of broken promises festered. Through it all, he remained publicly professional and a keen advisor to many of the team's young players behind the scenes. His play subtly began to improve, especially on the defensive end, with a modest uptick in minutes.

Segment three starts with Markkanen sidelined for a little over a month with an early stress reaction in his pelvis. Young started 15 games in his stead and played his best ball of the season, even as the Bulls floundered. The correlation between increased opportunity and production is one Young never shied away from.

 

The question moving forward is whether his interests and the Bulls’ are at odds. In general, this wasn’t the season he and fans expected from him, but he proved he has enough in the tank to be a contributor to winning basketball. If the Bulls aren’t ready to do that, the question of a long-term fit here is a legitimate one. Juggling Young and Markkanen’s minutes was already a point of friction this season, and if anything, Markkanen should be doing more next year. Plus, what if the Bulls invest their impending top-10 draft pick on a forward? They couldn’t find any takers for Young at the deadline, but finding an outlet for the final two years of his deal (and finding him a winning situation) could be on the team’s radar.

RELATED: Top 10 draft picks in Bulls franchise history

Tomas Satoransky — signed to a three-year, $30 million contract last summer (third year partially guaranteed at $5 million)

The specter of Satoransky was always intriguing. A low-maintenance, pass-first, heady floor general to start alongside LaVine while White developed in the wings. Facilitate, hit open jumpers and defend at a clip reasonable for his 6-foot-7 frame, and Satoransky would be the quintessential complementary piece.

And while he showed flashes — a 27-point, 9-assist outing in Atlanta (oh man, is there a trend here?) and multiple stat-sheet-stuffings against the Wizards — his production largely didn’t pass the sniff test. Among the most alarming figures from Satoransky’s first season in Chicago: From Dec. 1 on, Satoransky shot 26.8% from 3-point range (3.1 attempts per); on the season, he converted 32.9% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point looks — a steep dive from his 42.8% career mark entering the season (a huge part of what made him such an intriguing option in the first place). Moreover, his general assertiveness on the offensive end seemed to wax and wane at times.

A positive: If this rebuild has proved anything, it’s that availability is an ability, and Satoransky was certainly that. He and White were the only two players to appear in all 65 games before play was indefinitely suspended. In the final game before the league shut down, Satoransky gracefully ceded the starting spot — a title he coveted upon signing with the Bulls — to White, admitting that he hadn’t performed up to his own expectations this season. He’s another guy that draws rave reviews from teammates and coaches at every turn.

As of the current roster construction, Satoransky continuing to back up White is probably the team’s best course moving forward, though that’s subject to change depending on how the Bulls use that aforementioned top-10 draft pick. Satoransky running the team’s second unit can still be a winning formula, and $10 million next season with a non-fully guaranteed third year isn’t the end of the world.

Luke Kornet — signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract last summer (fully guaranteed)

To say Kornet didn’t meet expectations doesn’t feel fair. He was always a low-risk flyer, and the emergence of Daniel Gafford softened the blow of his tumultuous campaign.

What’s more, he overcame a debilitating nasal ailment that marred his first three months in Chicago to flash spurts of productivity in January and February. After Carter badly sprained his right ankle on Jan. 6, Kornet re-entered the rotation for 19 games and averaged 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly a block per game while shooting 47.4% from the field and making 14 starts. A severe right ankle sprain sustained in practice ended his season in late February.

But the 3-point shooting never came around. Kornet converted a career-low 28.7% of his long-range attempts and only 30.4% in that aforementioned 19-game stretch. The Bulls’ blitzing defensive system that draws bigs up and away from the basket is not suited to his strengths. He’s not on the short-list of the Bulls’ biggest problems, but isn’t a part of the long-term solution either.

Non-Coby rookies

Bonus section for the non-Coby White rookies, because they warrant mention (and White’s going to get his own column soon enough):

  • Daniel Gafford: A gem if the Bulls have ever found one. Scooped up with the No. 38 pick of the 2019 draft, Gafford led all rookies in total blocks (56) and players with more than 20 games played in blocks per 36 minutes (3.3) while clawing his way into the Bulls’ rotation after starting the season off the map. His energy, high-flying capacity and rim-protecting potential make him an incredibly viable — if not ideal — cost-controlled backup center option. First on his to-do list for year two is working on limiting his fouls. But he exceeded expectations this season (something not many Bulls can say) and should figure into the team’s plans for at least the immediate future. 

  • Adam Mokoka: He signed a to a two-way deal for this season and appeared in 11 games as the Bulls balanced his NBA days down the stretch. It would have been nice to see more of him. Two times Mokoka caught eyes over the course of this season — once with a record-setting 15-point outburst against the Pelicans in February, then with lockdown defense on Luka Doncic to key one of the Bulls’ few quality wins of the season. If the team decides to let Kris Dunn walk this offseason, Mokoka (along with Shaq Harrison) is a young and potentially inexpensive option to replace some percentage of Dunn’s production and defensive energy. And not for nothing, Mokoka has a solid stroke and shot 40% from 3-point range (15 total attempts) in those 11 games. A heftier 31-game sample size in the G League saw him convert 32.7% of his long-range looks on 5.4 attempts per game, but there’s cause to believe that can be built upon.

  • Max Strus: Another two-way guy, and a local product. He tore his ACL in December after appearing in just two NBA games. It’s hard to discern what Strus’ future with the Bulls might be, but he has been a consistent presence around the United and Advocate Centers throughout his rehab process.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Max Strus tears ACL, will miss 8 to 12 months following surgery

strus.jpg
USA Today

Max Strus tears ACL, will miss 8 to 12 months following surgery

The Bulls announced a bit of unfortunate news during the team's Dec. 23 matchup with the Orlando Magic.

According to a press release, Two-Way wing Max Strus has sustained "a torn ACL and bone bruise to his left knee." He'll undergo surgery in about three weeks, then is expected to miss 8 to 12 months. 

Strus, an undrafted rookie from DePaul, had oscillated back and forth between Chicago and Windy City in 2019 after signing that Two-Way deal in October. The Bulls hadn't yet displayed any desire to try Strus out in an increased role with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison out (and with no designation for return). Still, this voids the team of the option of recalling him as a reinforcement for the foreseeable future.

Strus appeared in two games for the Bulls this season, scoring 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting in six minutes of game action. He averaged 18.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest in 13 games with Windy City this season.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.