Ryan Arcidiacono's journey to the NBA has been about taking advantage of every opportunity that's been given to him, and making sure that the Bulls knew that they would be a better team with him than without him.
During the journey of an NBA season, there are memorable moments, instances and episodes which not only thrill and excite, but also symbolize and define a team or a person. Once such with the Bulls was late last season during the flicker of hope month after the trade for Otto Porter Jr. that the Bulls are hoping to extend much longer this season.
That 8-7 stretch of games with now the free agency additions of veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky gives the Bulls some promise of better times. The denouement of that sequence came with a victory over the talented Philadelphia 76ers in the last game before injuries and ennui sent the Bulls careening to a 3-13 finish. Though before that trap door opened on the rest of the season, there was a wonderfully enlightening moment that separated talent and tenacity and should provide hope, if not motivation, to many who don't possess all the talent. Don't give up on your dreams just because everyone says you should.
Ryan Arcidiacono always brings the hustle!
"Yeah, I think there were like seven of us, my coach and my agent, who thought I could play in the NBA," Ryan Arcidiacono was saying Thursday. "They had the confidence in me and supported me and I chose the decision to stay and tough it out. And it's been working out so far."
More so than almost everyone expected as Arcidiacono Thursday signed a multi-year contract with the Bulls. Yes, it's a crowded backcourt position with incumbent Kris Dunn, free agent Satoransky and No. 1 draft pick Coby White. Which is fine with Arcidiacono.
"Whether I play a lot or don't play at all, they know I will be available to practice every day like I have been the last two years and that I am going to work and push the people around me to get better and be the best team we can be," Arcidiacono said. "Whatever it takes to win, which I know is a very cliche answer. But someone in my situation has to keep saying it and go from there."
The signing of Arcidiacono as a free agent isn't one of those that excites the media and fan community. Las Vegas doesn't change the team's championship odds. There's no introductory press conference, no predictions. But it is a vital part of team building, and just as much perhaps an inspiration.
You can't be Ben Simmons; you might be able to be Ryan Arcidiacono.
You see it was Simmons that March day in the United Center in what may have been the play of the year for the Bulls.
It also defined the realties of life. Everyone wants the rich and famous and talented. They get the best seat. But there's also room if you don't accept everyone else's expectations.
That play that night told the story.
Nobody would rather have Ryan Arcidiacono instead of Ben Simmons, perhaps other than Ryan's girlfriend and a few others from the same address. But the Bulls probably were able to win at least that game because of what Ryan Arcidiacono did while Ben Simmons didn't much care to.
Bulls fans will remember the play.
Mike Scott for the 76ers drove toward the basket from the left wing. Arcidiacono had switched onto Simmons and was sealing the adroit 6-10 Simmons from the basket. Yes, boxing out! In the NBA! Imagine.
The ball bounced off the rim and 76ers forward James Ennis came swooping in along the baseline from the right and tipped the ball. It bounded out toward Simmons and Arcidiacono where Simmons sort of gave it a wave. As the ball dribbled out of bounds, Arcidiacono stretched out full dive into the stands, directed the ball with one hand back toward Porter for a fast break alley oop dunk for Zach LaVine in the one-point Bulls win.
Would everyone still rather have Simmons on their team than Arcidiacono? Of course. But that one play was something of a microcosm of what has become the NBA career of Ryan Arcidiacono. Just doing a little more than everyone expects because, well, he has to.
So I asked Arcidiacono about this unlikely journey from being undrafted, released, playing in the G-league to a guarantee with the Bulls, and what he was most proud of last season in his first full NBA season.
"I was available all 82 games; I played in 81 games and actually helped our team win some games," he said. "I know we didn't win many. Mad we lost and wish we could have won more. I want to win, but I also wanted to show I could compete at a very high level."
These days just playing is a skill in the NBA with so called "load management" and many players opting for the 70-game schedule before the league has had time to implement it. Arcidiacono drew an early season DNP-CD, but he was ready. He played in the other 81 — no one else on the team was close — with 32 starts amidst various injuries around him even as he hit the floor more than anyone else and made some lists. He led the team in charges taken and even made one list that was published, top three in the NBA in assist/turnover ratio. Doesn't make mistakes, shows up for work every day. It's instructional.
Not that everyone can play in the NBA. Frankly, it's one of the world's most exclusive and special fraternities. So you have to be pretty good at basketball, which Ryan Arcidiacono was as a high school and college star, the latter with Villanova and tournament Most Outstanding Player for the 2016 champions.
The NBA likes winners, but the NBA most likes things like length and hops and speed and size. Arcidiacono at about 6-3 and 190 pounds didn't have that much of the right stuff. But what he does have is the willingness to go where others might not.
Like into the stands for that ball or into the gym when it's closed.
After the college accolades and parades faded, it was time to get a job. And it didn't seem like the NBA was the place for the neatly groomed kid who looks like he could be from one of those 60s family sitcoms, a Bud or Dobie or Beaver. Arcidiacono played Summer League with the Spurs and went to camp, but was released and played in the G-league in Austin. He set up a playing job in Italy, but then got a chance with the Bulls in Summer League, which turned into a two-way G-league deal. He got 24 games with the Bulls in 2017-18 in mostly blowout times and averaged two points. He thought he'd return to Windy City. So he went back to work.
"They said they wanted me to come back in the summer, so I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to make you guys kick me out of the gym,'" Arcidiacono recalled. "So I was there every day last summer trying to prove I belong, improving my game. I was working on my shot a lot. I just stayed there until they told me to leave. They told me to leave a couple of times, but I stayed, anyway."
Arcidiacono obviously has considerable basketball talent. You don't achieve all he has without it. But he's also demonstrated a path for others, and not just in sports. There's always going to be someone more favored. So instead of complaining and resenting the inequity, do something about it.
"I was definitely thinking of becoming a professional," Arcidiacono said. "You always want to play in the NBA, but you also have to be realistic with yourself. So I originally thought to go play overseas. I wanted to give the NBA a shot. Got cut and wanted to stick with it and give it one more and then I eventually got the two-way with the Bulls and things worked out from there.
"I just try to keep a positive mindset and believe I belong," Arcidiacono said. "The first part was getting in and the next part is proving you belong in the league and can stay in the league. I could see myself fitting in. I didn't know where or doing what, but I felt that some team could use what I bring, being a great teammate, being able to knock down an open shot. I feel very comfortable in ball screens as well. So it was a combination of things, but I really wanted to prove I could play in the league. I just needed some time to develop.
"You have to take advantage of your opportunities whatever they are," Arcidiacono added. "If you are in the G-league and have aspirations to play in the NBA or overseas you just have to buy into what it is. It's not a glamorous lifestyle. But there are a ton of NBA GMs and scouts who are constantly watching the games. You just have to take advantage and buy into that you are there. So give it your all and work your butt off and try to reach for the NBA or a higher league overseas.
"You have to know your teammates are going through the same stuff you are, but at the end of the day you are playing basketball professionally," Arcidiacono said. "We always said at Villanova it's the 94 by 50 feet and focus on the things you can control and play ball, and that's kind of what I did. If there were 1,000 people in the gym or 100, I just tried to play the best basketball I could.
"I just wanted to be the toughest dude and set guys up. I can knock down open shots," said Arcidiacono, who was effectively tied with LaVine for the best three-point shooting among those with the team all season. "But I am not going to be creating for myself off the dribble and doing a ton of one on one stuff. I do think about coming from my home town and Villanova and not many make it. Getting cut, the G-league, a two way, minimum deal and now a guarantee. It hasn't been easy, but I will keep my chin up and keep my head held high knowing I've been at the bottom of being cut, playing in the G-league, trying to figure out what's best for my professional career. I never thought about being in the same league all these legends played in.
"But I always had confidence in myself," Arcidiacono says. "I keep my head down, I don't talk too much and I kept working at it. Good things can happen."