If it weren’t for the horrendous contract of shooting guard Zach LaVine, 23, for $78 million for the next four-seasons I’d be inclined to grade the Bulls off-season an A-Plus for what they were able to accomplish. While not a certified playoff team, the Bulls did not fall for any quick fixes that so many teams in their position usually look for. They drafted responsibly, passing on Michael Porter Jr. for Duke big forward Wendell Carter, who killed it in Summer League. Later they choose fourth-year sharpshooting Boise State guard Chandler Hutchinson.
If the Bulls did not sign LaVine, their starting lineup would be a defensive monster. Kris Dunn at the point, Hutch as your versatile two-guard who can play the three, Jabari Parker, who won’t be as much of a liability at small forward as so many believe, Lauri Markkanen and either their version of Al Horford or the reliable, smart Robin Lopez to play center:
Now I expect Lopez to be traded. He absolutely should be. After an overlooked solid season, where Lopez shot 53% off 10.1 shots per game, nearly averaging 12 points. He’s on the last year of four-year, $55 million deal he signed with the Knicks back in 2015, he could help teams trying to make it to the postseason (Detroit, Philly, Washington). Given the situation I’d start WCJ at center on Opening Night, though I’d understanding shifting the rookie to the bench to begin his career as a way to showcase Lopez for future trades. Lopez may not be as skilled as Clint Capela, but he knows what to do and can occasionally stretch the floor. He also beats the opposing teams mascot to a bloody pulp on a nightly basis. So that’s a plus.
WCJ and Hutchinson impressed many in SL. Carter showed off his defensive prowess, able to leap tall bounds off just one foot, and can nail a short pull-up and get the ball inside. Every facet of his game (besides passing) screams AL HORFORD whenever I watch him. The Bulls found themselves a keeper.
Hutchinson can defend and shoot. A gross generalization on my part, glossing over the complexities of his game which spent four full years cooking in college. But at the end of the day, those were things LaVine could not do last year. Hutchinson can drive wherever he wants in the paint, is a fairly crafty ball-handler and there is no reason why fans of Chicago shouldn’t be excited about him as well… which is why the LaVine contract continues to make NO SENSE.
As for Markkanen, set a franchise record in threes made by a Bulls rookie (145), and looks to be the legit real deal on offense. On defense, well, not so much. But it isn’t for a lack of effort. Like Lopez he tries, and has shown brief flashes of being able to guard smaller players off of switches. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Lauri needs to bulk up a bit if he doesn’t want to continuously get bullied inside. If not for having Lopez by his side, Markkanen would probably have not lead the league in rebounds per game amongst rookies… (Ben Simmons grabbed 8.1 boards versus Markkanen’s 7.5, but as you know: he’s not a rookie).
Critics poo-pooed the signing of disgruntled forward Jabari Parker on a very team-friendly 2-year, $40 million contract; team-option for 2019-20. Much of the shine must’ve fallen from Parker after suffering his second ACL tear in 2016-17, prior to that he was posting 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. The blossoming of the Giannis Antetkounmpo pushed the second overall pick down in relevance. Of course, Parker didn’t make life easier for himself in Milwaukee. Showing blatant disinterest in playing defense and not willing to accept his minimized role, his noticeable pouting cost him many suitors.
But Parker is just 23. While the Bulls aren’t the first organization I’d entrust with his rehabilitation, a Dunn/Parker Pick-and-roll could be deadly. And considering their are just two teams in the East that have dynamic scoring small forwards, it isn’t a stretch to believe Parker will survive playing the three for the majority of the season.
I like this Bulls team. They’re inability to defend has possibly been overstated. Chicago will probably rank in the middle of the pack in both offense and defense. I still don’t know about Fred Hoiberg, whether he’s a dead man walking. Outside of that glaring question, the Bulls rebuild is off to a fine start. Dunn can perhaps grow into an above-average starter, showing great strides last season in his jump shot.
One more time: that LaVine contract is the turd in the punch bowl. He’s a year-and-a-half removed from an ACL tear, someone who can only score because of his freakish athleticism. He has no jump shot or on-ball skills, I don’t think people are talking about just how bad this contract will look this time next season.
But, the Bulls elected to put themselves in this position. The duo of GarPax made too many good moves consecutively, a horrendous one was coming down the pike no matter what.