Moving on from the Jimmy Butler era, the Bulls embarked on a new journey with a trio of pieces to build around. The 2017 draft night trade was seen as a steal for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but we found out that might not be the case.
Chicago has something to be excited about when it comes to the future of its franchise. With a healthy roster, one big signing and a couple of first-round draft picks entering the picture, the Bulls are aiming to prove they’re not a bottom dweller.
It may take some time for them to get to the level they desire, but there’s plenty to watch for in the Windy City in the upcoming season.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
With Zach LaVine signing his brand-new contract and hometown hero Jabari Parker coming to the Windy City for the foreseeable future, the Bulls have more talent than they had all of last year. But Lauri Markkanen was fantastic and Kris Dunn proved that it was way too early to call him a bust. Looking forward, rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. made his presence felt during summer league and will look to continue that momentum into his first NBA season. Fred Hoiberg will have a better team on the floor, but the Central still has too much competition to offer.
5th Place – Central Division
– Spencer Davies
The Chicago Bulls made some bold moves this offseason, including matching the Sacramento Kings’ offer sheet for Zach LaVine and signing Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract (team option on the second year). I think there’s a good chance that in a few years the Bulls will regret matching the offer sheet for LaVine but I understand the thinking behind investing in a talented and athletic guard. I like the deal for Parker considering there’s little risk involved as Chicago holds a team option on the second year of the deal. Parker is better at power forward but he could be an answer at small forward for Chicago, which the team desperately needs. The best move of the offseason, however, was selecting Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. Carter Jr. put on a show at the Las Vegas Summer League and looks to be a foundational player for the Bulls moving forward.
5th Place – Central Division
– Jesse Blancarte
This is looking more and more like the team Fred Hoiberg has wanted since he took over as Head Coach of the Bulls. Their players are better shooters and have more energy than in years past, which fits what Hoiberg has always had in mind. That doesn’t mean the Bulls will be good, necessarily. Rather, they could be one of the young teams that’s more fun to watch. As youthful as they are, the Bulls’ lack of defensive personnel should hold them back from making the playoffs, which is to be expected from a rebuilding team.
5th Place – Central Division
– Matt John
Are the outlines of a true core finally emerging for the Bulls? It certainly seems that way after a mostly productive summer. They’ll bring back Lauri Markkanen after a strong rookie campaign, plus other young pieces in Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. They’ll also be holding onto Zach LaVine after matching a big restricted offer from Sacramento for him. Finally, they drafted Wendell Carter Jr. in the lottery, a player many believe could be a sneaky Rookie of the Year pick, then nabbed Jabari Parker after Milwaukee clearly signaled he wasn’t part of their future plans. Will any of this translate into a significant on-court improvement? Well…maybe, but certainly not enough to challenge for a playoff spot. The Bulls could push for 30 wins if everything breaks right, but the real priority should be seeing how those pieces work together over as large a sample as possible. Enough emphasis there could allow Chicago to make a few moves here or there to plug holes if certain pieces don’t work; too much messing around could see them stuck with guys a couple years down the line once their value has fallen too far to move.
5th Place – Central Division
The Chicago Bulls could be the sneaky play in the East to make the post-season. With Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine healthy, and the young bigs the Bulls have in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls look to be formidable. The two big questions for the Bulls are, can it all come together under Fred Hoiberg and which version of Kris Dunn will show up to camp? Dunn was a dud in Minnesota as a rookie and a stud in Chicago as a sophomore. If Dunn can pick up where he left off the Bulls might have enough to not only win some games, but sneak into the playoff discussion in an Eastern Conference that flattens out pretty fast in the four through eight seeds.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Steve Kyler
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Lauri Markkanen
When the Bulls needed to score the basketball, they looked for Markkanen to carry the load, and most nights he answered the bell. The Finnish 7-footer started the second-highest number of games on the team (68) and was one of the most durable players on the roster.
He displayed an innate ability to not only shoot the basketball, but also have the versatility to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim with force. Markannen’s accolades from his debut season include joining Dirk Nowitzki as the only other 7-footer to make eight threes in a NBA game, passing Hanno Mottola to become his country’s all-time scoring leader in the association and setting a new record as the fastest rookie to reach 100 made threes in league history.
This offseason, Markkanen has reportedly put on 14 pounds and is looking bulkier. He should be in store for another solid year of work, especially with the better talent surrounding him.
Top Defensive Player: Wendell Carter Jr.
Is it premature to say a rookie is the best defensive player on a professional team? Maybe. But based on what Carter showed off in summer league and at the collegiate level – combined with how awful Chicago was on that end last season – it isn’t far off.
At Duke, Carter averaged over two blocks in about 27 minutes per game and three blocks per 40 minutes. In Las Vegas, he had two games where he recorded at least four swats. The competition isn’t what it is at the true NBA level there, but the timing and defensive principles he had are absolutely an indicator of what he’ll bring.
Seeing how he’ll fit with Markannen will be interesting (who plays what position?), but regardless, it’s not a bad problem for Fred Hoiberg to have.
Top Playmaker: Denzel Valentine
Valentine’s sophomore season saw him make a huge jump in playing time. He went from 17 minutes per game to 27 minutes per game and was depended on for the majority of the year. With the Bulls having lost Jimmy Butler, he had a huge role to fill as a swingman.
While his individual defense can definitely use work, Valentine’s willingness to get everybody involved is purely natural. His decision making is certainly a strength and he doesn’t take too many shots unless Chicago is in a scoring funk.
Year three is usually when players really take the big step in their careers. Keep an eye on Valentine and his potential progression, especially with fresh faces joining him on the floor.
Top Clutch Player: Kris Dunn
In one November win and a memorable early winter stretch, Dunn delivered when it mattered the most. He was a go-to guy for Hoiberg and the Bulls in key moments. Chicago went 10-6 in December and he was a big reason why.
It started against the New York Knicks on Dec. 9, where Dunn won the game with two free throws after drawing a foul on a drive in a tie game late. He did it to them again weeks later with a beautiful upcourt pass to Markannen for a go-ahead bucket on a dunk. The third time was the charm on Jan. 10, when he floated a contested teardrop off the glass for the lead with less than a minute to go in the second overtime.
On Dec. 13, Dunn hit a step back, between-the-legs jumper over Alec Burks to put the Bulls up four and seal a win against the Utah Jazz. Taking on the Sixers five nights later, he hit a game-tying three in transition, another step back over Robert Covington and pulled off a drive-and-kick to a wide open Nikola Mitotic on the right elbow.
It’s a shame we didn’t see more down the stretch, as Dunn missed the last 14 games of the season with a toe injury. He also experienced a scary fall where his teeth were dislocated and he suffered a concussion to boot. If he stays healthy this season, though, we’re in for some big moments from the third-year guard.
The Unheralded Player: Justin Holiday
You can’t talk about Chicago’s 2017-18 season without mentioning the team’s ironman. Holiday receives little attention because he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he is durable, talented and more than serviceable as a key rotational player in the NBA.
Holiday averaged over 30 minutes per game for the first time in his five-year career and took advantage of the chance he was given. His field goal percentage overall was poor, but he knocked down threes and gave the Bulls a sufficient second or third scoring option most nights he played.
He started 72 games and led the team in most appearances. That in itself should be appreciated. Holiday’s role will likely take a small hit this season with the new influx of talent, but don’t forget what he means to this team.
Best New Addition: Jabari Parker
It’s a brand new start for the former second overall pick, and what better way to do it than in his very own hometown? We know the talent Parker has offensively as a strong, attacking forward who can finish with the best of them when healthy. That is the question we all need answered, though: What is still left in the tank and can he stay on the floor?
Parker showed there’s plenty left during the final stretch of the Milwaukee Bucks’ season and short playoff appearance. While he didn’t shoot the ball well from three, he did just fine inside of the arc. Defensively, he will have work to do, but it makes sense that he’s had trouble with considering the injury history. It will also be an adjustment to manning the small forward position
Chicago isn’t really taking a risk signing him to a 2-year, $40 million deal since the second year of the contract is a team option. It may be a hefty salary this season, but if need be, that can be moved and treated as an expiring deal. It feels like a low-risk, high-reward type of situation.
– Spencer Davies
Who We Like
1. Zach LaVine
In the 24 games he played in coming off of a major knee injury, LaVine’s bounce was there. He was unafraid to take it to the basket with conviction and confident in his jump shot. There were signs of rust, of course, but that was to be expected due to the gruesome torn ACL he suffered on February 5, 2017. Expect LaVine to be a crucial piece to the puzzle this season.
2. Chandler Hutchison
The Bulls’ other first-round pick in the 2018 draft should not be overlooked. Hutchison’s primary skill is his ability to play both ends of the court. He is somebody who can open up the floor and is constantly trying to improve his three-point shot with each year, as he did in college at Boise State. His skillet is one that fits today’s game perfectly.
3. Bobby Portis
Chances are this season starts off a little smoother than last for Portis, which means Chicago will be much better off. Who knows how he’ll fit into rotations with the abundance of frontcourt players on the roster, but Hoiberg must find at least 20 minutes per game for the talented power forward, who made a big jump in production. He just might be the perfect sixth man big for this team.
4. Antonio Blakeney
Opportunity is knocking for Blakeney. As one of the beneficiaries of a two-way contract, he earned a regular multi-year NBA contract this summer. He is still being developed at only 21 years old, but he has the potential to break out as a volume scorer off the bench. He is quick and an aggressor, making him a candidate to ascend into a regular role for the Bulls.
– Spencer Davies
Chicago is loaded with young talent. There might be difficulty finding minutes for all of these young players, but there is no question that they have plenty of potential. Think about the future of a frontcourt featuring Markkanen and Carter or a dynamic guard combination between Dunn and LaVine moving forward. There’s light at the end of the tunnel in the Windy City.
– Spencer Davies
The Bulls have to get better on both ends of the floor. It’s as simple as that. While there were times where they found success, they ranked in the bottom four of the league in points per game and points allowed per game for a reason. There is no “one thing” that needs work. It’s a collective improvement that is needed. Oh, and staying healthy and at full strength for the majority of a season would be nice, too.
– Spencer Davies
The Burning Question
Can Fred Hoiberg win and develop players at the same time?
This is the toughest part about being a head coach in professional sports. There is a desire to rack up victories because people want to see progress, but that isn’t easy with a team that is still so young. Players have to make mistakes to learn and gain experience. Sometimes that will happen in key moments of games that prove to be costly and lead to a loss.
There will be times of adversity and times of success throughout the course of an 82-game NBA season. Hoiberg is going to have to figure out a way to fit all of these guys on the floor together with the right rotations. It might take a bit to find it out. The question is: How does the organization handle it as a whole?
– Spencer Davies
NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southwest Division
Drew Maresca identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Southwest Division.
As of Thursday, 60 percent of the Southwest division was at or above .500. The Western Conference’s brutal competition will likely fix that as the season grinds on, but the number of surprises in the division thus far is shocking – be they pleasant or otherwise.
Basketball Insiders continues its Trade Watch series with an eye on the Southwest Division, examining players that might be on the move and teams that should be looking to wheel and deal.
- Houston needs Ariza (and vice versa)
The Houston Rockets need help on the defensive end of the floor; they will almost certainly look to add some wing defenders before the trade deadline in February. The Minnesota Timberwolves passed on their offer of four future first round picks, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Jimmy Butler. But fortunately for the Rockets, there’s a player that should fit right in who may be available via trade – Trevor Ariza.
Yes, he would come at a price; but the Rockets see what life is like without Ariza patrolling the perimeter, and something or someone must stop the bleeding. The Rockers are 6-7 through 13 games. They need to recapture some of the magic they tapped into last season, and Ariza is part of what’s missing. They won’t be able to execute a deal until December 15 per NBA rules, which can’t come soon enough for the defenseless Rockets.
- New Orleans should be buyers at the deadline
This is the season in which the Pelicans must prove to Anthony Davis they’re serious about building a winner around him. They made nice additions this offseason in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, and they have a nice combo guard in Jrue Holiday.
But still, they’re only 7-7 despite Davis’ extraordinary play. They need a second star (and then some).mFortunately for New Orleans, such a player should be available – assuming he returns fully recovered from injury this season: Kevin Love. The Cavs are not interested in remaining competitive – in fact, they’re nearly openly welcoming losses at this point (Hello, Zion). The Pelicans can include Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and others in a deal, which should be a net positive for the Pelicans depending on Love’s health.
- DeAndre Jordan
Early reports out of Dallas are that DeAndre Jordan isn’t overwhelmingly popular in the Mavericks’ locker room. And that’s fine because Jordan doesn’t align with the Mavericks’ young core of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Dallas should shop Jordan to a team that’s in need of an athletic center.
The Wizards have looked better at times with Dwight Howard on the floor than they did prior to his return. So why not upgrade? After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to break-up the Wall-Beal core.
In return, the Wizards would probably be willing to build a deal around Otto Porter – who, at 25, arguably aligns much better with the Mavericks’ young core. While Porter’s deal extends as long as two years beyond Jordan’s one-year contract, the fact that the Mavericks traded the rights to their 2019 first-round pick to acquire Doncic makes nabbing a young, well-rounded player like Porter all the more appealing.
- Spurs need help at point guard
The Spurs’ 2018-point guard plan broke down before the season started with Dejounte Murray’s knee injury – and the team still needs help. While they don’t seem to have the assets to return high profile point guards like Terry Rozier or Goran Dragic, there are alternate options.
The Knicks have an abundance of point guards, none of whom stands out as a huge difference-maker for them this season, but any of whom could help as a short-term solution in San Antonio. And what’s more, the Knicks probably wouldn’t require much in return – with one caveat being that they prefer to move Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., as well. Fortunately for the Spurs, Lee can contribute nicely in Coach Gregg Popovich’s system, assuming he gets healthy sometime soon.
The Spurs should look to flip some of the players who aren’t currently in the rotation for a capable point guard. While New York isn’t sending out capable players for free, the price tag on some of these guards shouldn’t be too high.
- Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol are still members of the Memphis Grizzlies, and there have been no rumors of either of them being shipped elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
The Grizzlies hold first place in the Southwest Division at 8-5 with wins against the Jazz (twice), Nuggets, Pacers and Sixers. They’ve dropped some easy ones, too. Basically, they’re good, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that advancing beyond the second-round out west will require more than what they currently have on their roster.
Meanwhile, Conley and Gasol are still assets, but aging ones who will return exponentially less every year they’re not moved. Conley is still playing well in his twelfth year, averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. And Gasol is averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his eleventh season. It would behoove the Grizzlies to put feelers out there to any team that fancies themselves buyers in the lead up to the deadline. The time is now to embrace a rebuild around Jaren Jackson Jr. and get everything they can out of their star point guard and center.
In all likelihood, teams will only become more desperate as the season plays out. With the Philadelphia-Minnesota deal in the books, other teams are sure to follow suit. Considering the parity, every team in the Southwest Division should seriously consider making moves — after all, the division is still entirely up for grabs.
NBA Daily: Role Players Vital to Pacers’ Success
In a star-heavy league, Jordan Hicks takes a look at why role players are so vital to the Pacers’ wins this season.
In today’s NBA, you have to have star players if you want to compete. Gone are the days of having one or two All-NBA caliber players take you deep into the playoffs. Nowadays, with as much talent as there is in the league, you need three or four. And for teams located in northern California, you might even need five.
But does this apply to everyone?
The Indiana Pacers have started the season off on a quiet note. They aren’t doing anything incredibly flashy, nor do they have any overt weaknesses. But they do have eight wins compared to only six losses. Three of those wins have come against teams with above .500 records, and all of their losses have come from the Bucks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Rockets – all good teams if you don’t want to look it up.
Most would consider Victor Oladipo a star. Sure, he’s only had one All-Star nod in his young career, but he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can be elite on both ends of the floor.
But apart from him, the Pacers are nothing but a mix of role players. But the role players on the roster aren’t just “good” – they seem to know their roles and execute them to a high degree.
To the casual fan, this would seem like it should be a given. But getting grown men with egos to consistently play their part isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Pacers organization might actually have something to work with. Sure, they are still a star (or two) away from actually competing for a title, but they were one game away from knocking off the former Eastern Conference Champions in last year’s playoffs, and, with any luck, could make it even further in the playoffs this year.
After the departure of Paul George, it was easy to read the writing on the wall. Most assumed that the Pacers would be headed to the lottery for a year or two while they worked their eventual rebuild. The franchise itself has consistently been considered one of the better small market organizations. With players like Reggie Miller, Danny Granger and George – it is easy to see why. They’ve only missed the playoffs five times in the last 20 years. But losing a mega-star like George usually contributes to a negative campaign the following season.
To the shock of the entire NBA, Oladipo led the Pacers to the five seed last year after posting a 48-34 record. Oladipo obviously played a huge part in this, but it was the help of the many role players, most of whom remained on the roster for this season, that likely made the biggest contribution to their positive season.
Through the beginning of the the 2018-19 campaign, the team statistic that sticks out the most for the Pacers is their opponent points per game. They are currently second in the league, allowing only 103 points a night behind only the Grizzlies. In comparison, both teams are also in the bottom two for pace. Controlling the flow of the game seems to be an important part of their game plan, and it is currently paying off as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The list of role players making a significant contribution for the Pacers is quite long. In fact, over nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes a game. Keep in mind that eight of the nine players have a positive plus-minus, with Tyreke Evans being the sole player to fall under zero at -0.8. Let’s take a look at a few individuals and see what they may be doing to make a significant splash.
Oladipo is leading the team in scoring at 23.8 points per night, but he also leads the team in assist percentage at 24.4 percent and steal percentage at 27.8 percent. His impact on both ends of the floor is tremendous, and he is one of the few players in the NBA that leads his team in usage percentage and still maintains All-NBA level defense on the other end.
Domantas Sabonis is currently leading the team in rebound percentage at 18.3 percent. He is also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game on a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He’s doing all that coming off the bench.
Cory Joseph is currently posting the highest net rating on that team at 8.4. The Pacers also enjoy their lowest defensive rating, 98.7, when Joseph is on the court.
Myles Turner is starting to come into his own on the defensive end of the court. Currently posting 2.4 blocks a game, good for fourth in the league, his presence is being felt more and more at the rim. While his offensive game still needs to be polished, Turner has done a great job at amplifying his defensive position on the court.
Bojan Bogdanovic is tied for second in scoring at 14.1 points a game. He’s doing so by shooting a blistering 51.7 percent from three on over four attempts a night. He’s second on the team in minutes and eighth in usage percentage, showing just how effective he can be off the ball. He boasts the third best plus-minus and fourth best net rating.
Plenty of other players could get nods here – guys like Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, Darren Collison and Evans. This just shows the talent night-in and night-out that the Pacers deploy.
The point of this article is not to say that the Pacers have a legitimate chance to win the East. They’ll likely finish outside the top four behind the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. But the Pacers definitely have one thing going for them – a roster full of talented role players that, in today’s NBA, can certainly be positive when deployed correctly.
We are still very early in the season. Another star could potentially emerge mid-season for the Pacers or they could make a bold move at the All-Star break. It is very unlikely that Indiana brings home a championship this year or even the next. However, they are still a team to watch throughout the season. They are a well-coached squad and play an incredibly selfless style of basketball.
Who knows? Maybe they can turn heads in the postseason. But in the meantime, they for sure prove one thing.
Role players are vitally important to a team’s success.
NBA Daily: Trade Watch Northwest Division
David Yapkowitz identifies and breaks down the potential trade candidates in the Northwest Division.
We kick off a new series this week at Basketball Insiders. With the Jimmy Butler saga finally over, we’re taking a look at other players in each division who are possible trade candidates.
Some teams have holes in their respective rosters that they need to patch up. Others have contracts that are expiring or just don’t make sense for the team anymore. Some players and teams just need to move on at this point for a variety of reasons. Here’s a look at some of those situations, starting with the Northwest Division.
1. Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s an argument to be made that when he actually receives regular playing time, Tyus Jones is the best overall point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster. He’s been the primary backup for Minnesota for the time being with Jeff Teague out with an injury.
However, with Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season, it remains to be seen what happens once Teague returns. It’s no secret that Tom Thibodeau has his preference for veteran guys and Jones has often found himself as the odd man out. The Phoenix Suns, desperate for a point guard, have been rumored to have interest in him.
Jones was apparently close with Butler, if that means anything, and it just seems like his future is elsewhere. If the Timberwolves aren’t going to use him properly, then maybe a split is necessary. Should Minnesota really look to deal him, they probably won’t have any shortage of suitors.
2. Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, Gorgui Dieng looked like an up and coming prize for Minnesota. He ended up being rewarded with a big contract based off of that. But since then, he’s seen both his playing time and production decrease.
The Timberwolves reportedly tried to include Dieng in possible deals for Butler in order to offload his contract. Obviously that didn’t happen, and Minnesota is locked into his contract for two more seasons after this one.
Backup big man Anthony Tolliver has surpassed Dieng in the rotation at this point as he’s a better fit as a stretch big man in today’s NBA. It’s hard to imagine any team trading for Dieng straight up with that contract but the Timberwolves could try and include him any potential Jones deal.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – In Need of Outside Shooting
The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any bad contracts per se, nor do they have any players that they’re aggressively looking to move on from. They do, however, have a glaring need and that is three-point shooting.
Currently, they’re shooting 30.1 percent from the three-point line as a team. That’s not going to get it done in today’s league if they truly want to be among the Western Conference’s elite. They do have Patrick Patterson reemerging as one of the better stretch fours in the league (38.6 percent), but after that everyone just kind of drops off a bit.
The Thunder could certainly use the addition of another outside shooter as the season goes on. Kyle Korver is rumored to be available although he’s been linked to Philadelphia recently. Perhaps they could put in an inquiry with the Miami HEAT about Wayne Ellington if the HEAT continues to struggle. Either way, unless the guys they already have step up, perimeter shooting will need to be addressed.
4. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s not that Meyers Leonard has been bad for Portland, he’s actually been decent so far this season. But with the contract he has, Portland isn’t getting the value they expected when they entered that deal.
Instead, Zach Collins has supplanted him in the rotation, and Caleb Swanigan is close to doing so as well. Leonard has been mentioned in trade rumors for some time, so perhaps this season is the one where he and the Blazers part ways. His contract is expiring next season so that might be enticing to some teams.
He isn’t a bad player, and there might be a team out there willing to take a chance on an athletic big man who can run the floor and even stretch defenses out to the three-point line. At any rate, it might be time for both parties to go their separate ways.
5. Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets
The writing was on the wall when the Nuggets declined Tyler Lydon’s third-year option prior to the start of the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
He suffered an unfortunate injury early in his career and just hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove his worth as an NBA player. He played well in the G-League last season and has promise as a stretch big man. It’s just obvious that it won’t be realized in Denver.
He’s worth taking chance on for a team looking to add intriguing, youngish talent – especially since it shouldn’t cost too much to acquire him in a deal.
As the season progresses, there will be other situations around the division that might emerge on the trade front. But, as of now, these are arguably some of the most active situations to keep an eye on.