With a year in the league under his belt, Chandler Hutchison has gained confidence is ready to meaningfully contribute to the Bulls in Year 2.
Chandler Hutchison knows it’s always taken him somewhat longer. But he knows he’s always gotten to the finish line. And he believes that time is coming with the Bulls.
“I learned a lot just from watching even when I was out,” Hutchison was saying Saturday morning after finally getting back on the court after a broken toe last January. “Having that year, people don’t realize what that can do for you confidence wise. A lot of the times I feel I was kind of bright eyed and maybe not ready for the moment I was kind of just thrown into right away. But just having a year and being around the guys and earning their confidence and trust and just working on my game endlessly this summer. Just going to be a completely different place mentally and physically too out on the court.”
Hutchison is on a precautionary minutes limit with the Bulls Summer League team, which returns to play Sunday 6:30 p.m. Central on ESPN against Cleveland. The Pelicans also announced Zion Williamson will miss the rest of Summer League and thus not play against the Bulls Monday. The Bulls were supposed to practice on an off day Saturday. But that was cancelled as the UNLV arenas were examined for potential structural damage after the Friday night earthquake that canceled the later games.
The arena was deemed sound. Like Hutchison’s health and, he predicts, his game.
The Bulls Friday had just completed their 96-76 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers with rookies Daniel Gafford and Coby White impressing. More quietly, which is his way, the 6-7 forward excelled in the second half to finish with 15 points and the team’s only three pointer in a gruesome one of 20 long distance shooting.
“I was glad Hutch got to play,” said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. “He had a little bit of a nagging hamstring, but he looked 100 percent and he played well. He made a three and drove the ball, things we've been talking about where he can be a multiple dimensional guy. He handled it in transition as part of our multi-handler system.”
Hutchison appeared not only thicker and stronger, but with a more relaxed confidence than a year ago as a 22-year-old rookie, a four-year college player who was the 22nd overall pick in the draft.
The four-year college player is the exception in the first round of the NBA draft these days. Often the belief lately is the older players don’t have the capacity to develop as much.
A lot of the times last year I feel I was kind of bright eyed and maybe not ready for the moment I was kind of just thrown into right away. But just having a year and being around the guys and earning their confidence and trust and just working on my game endlessly this summer. Just going to be a completely different place mentally and physically too out on the court.
Not so, necessarily, for Hutchison. The gangly high schooler didn’t play the big AAU circuit and only emerged as a high school junior. Then at remote Boise State, Hutchison often deferred his first two seasons before emerging as a 20-point scorer and near 40 percent three-point shooter as a senior.
The pattern repeated with the Bulls last season as Hutchison deferred and got lost in the coaching shuffle change, only beginning to emerge as he suffered the injury in late January. Healing was slow, but Hutchison returned to full-time activity and a spot with the Summer League Bulls.
Though the Bulls are making additions from free agency, Boylen also said the team is relying on Hutchison to make that jump with the Bulls that he always made previously.
“I want to see Hutch play through contact,” Boylen said before a Saturday team meeting. “I want to see him make good decisions in transition. I want him to try and become the best defender he could become. We need a stopper. We need a guy that can be a lock down defender. We have very difficult matchups just in our division alone, let alone the league. And I want him to grow into a two-way player and what it means to be a Bull, and he’s trying.
“He showed some flashes [Friday night] of who he could be,” Boylen said. “He made a three, he drove it, he finished in transition, he handled it in transition. If we can get a team of multi-ball handlers and decision makers that have a wide variety of skills then we’re going to have a good team. That’s what the good teams have. They have three or four guys that do it all. I’m not saying he’s there yet. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. But he’s working to get there. He lives in the gym, he’s a yes sir, no sir guy, which fits real good with me. He gives me a hard time about being a Midwestern guy and I give him a hard time being a California kid. You know I went to school uphill, in a blizzard, both ways. Yeah, barefoot. He went to school with flip-flops and shorts on and sunglasses. So we’re a little different, but I love him and thankful he’s here.’’
The Bulls are going to need the development of their rookies from last season and this season with the summer free agency additions. They’re not exactly the supporting cast. But at the same time, Boylen agrees the timed team building moves the Bulls are making this summer to fill out the roster place the burden, in some respects, on Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
Now, Boylen agrees, it’s their time.
Not everyone can buy a star. Often you grow one, like the Golden State Warriors did with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
“I think with the pieces we will talk about when we can [all the free agent signings], we have honored where we think Zach and Lauri can go,” said Boylen. “We’ve cleared a way for them to become what we hope they can be.
“We believe in them,” Boylen added. “It’s a statement of belief. I think we’ve made a commitment to this roster to build out. I use that kind of saying that they’ve got to take their crown and they’ve got to run with it. They’ve got to wear it, they’ve got to own it, and they’ve got to do it. We think they can. I know they can. They’ve done it. What we want them to do is do it more consistently. They’ve both had great moments in a Bulls uniform, a great month, a great streak of games. But now we’ve got to do it for 82. That’s my challenge, their challenge, and we’re going to do it together.”
Hutchison averaged just 5.2 points per game last season in about 20 minutes and shot 28 percent on threes. But in four of his seven games before his season ending injury, he scored in double figures with his first double/double in his last game.
Now he’s back and ready to play a crucial part in this next Bulls act.
“I feel like anything really is a step in the right direction, being able to play on the court,” Hutchison said. “It’s been like five months; even to say that is crazy. Just wanted to run up and down. Kind of get used to the flow of being in the game and under a whistle. Just wanted to play, let the game come to me, not do too much, test my wind, see how the foot is feeling and go from there.
“I felt good,” Hutchison acknowledged. “Got a little tired in the beginning; obviously, that comes from not playing in a game, live scrimmage like that in a long time. Once I kind of got up and down that first, second quarter; second half felt great. It is (fully healed).
“I am on a minutes restriction, so it’s kind of hard for me to put a real goal out there because I know that here and there I am going to be tight based on how many minutes I play (in Las Vegas),” Hutchison noted. “But I just want to with the minutes I am out there lead the guys, help Coby, help Dan in a system I am familiar with for a year to just get used to it and have them keep playing their game.
“Every level in my career I have (eventually) been that guy,” Hutchison said. “This is obviously the highest level in the world. The expectations I have on myself, that’s all you can ask for to have someone to have the same expectations. I am going to do what I can to work toward that and be that person.”