The team officially enters Advocate Bulls Minicamp this week in Chicago where the team will practice and scrimmage together for about a two-week period. Sam Smith raises five questions the new front office may be looking into as Arturas Karnisovas and company get their first look at the roster in the gym together.
Coby, you know, with the hair, though not as much anymore. Some moved to his face. Zach Attack, the Finnisher, Arch, Hutch, Sato, Ottomatic, the Block Panther. They're back! Are they going full court fast break?
The closest Bulls players have been to NBA competition since the March 11 league shutdown for the coronavirus begins this week when Bulls players finally are permitted to at least scrimmage. It's the consolation for the eight teams left out of the Orlando restart and playoffs, which are continuing. NBA players were not permitted to play basketball until the restart in Orlando. The teams omitted could not scrimmage together until the league and Player's Association came up with a plan to at least keep them as risk free from virus as the players in Orlando.
So Bulls players last week began a period of daily testing. Once declared virus free they'll remain in a protected hotel environment like the players at Disney World and are expected to begin scrimmaging Wednesday.
Play ball! Finally?
This mini camp lasts until October 4, at least allowing Bulls players a modest chance at competition after 22 teams engaged in more serious games. So Bulls players will experience some informal games before another hiatus. The 2020-21 NBA season now is tentatively expected to begin in late December with training camp a few weeks earlier. However, there have been indications that start date could be delayed depending on the ability of fans to be in arenas. Which could mean close to a year for teams like the Bulls between sanctioned NBA games.
So this playing continuum perhaps becomes a watershed for some Bulls players with the new management for the first time able to get an up close look at the roster. Here are five questions basketball operations sovereign Arturas Karnisovas might be asking as the scrimmage games begin:
1) Is Coby White the point guard and the appropriate backcourt partner with Zach LaVine?
White concluded his rookie season impressively as the Rookie of the Month and recently was named to the All-Rookie team. He's expressed a desire to start. He's not really a classic point guard distributor while the draft is heavy with playmaking point guards near the top, like LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes. Would the Bulls draft a point guard to eventually displace White, making him a sixth man scorer? Or trade LaVine for a wing player so White could be the shooting guard?
White struggled last season when he was advised to concentrate on playmaking. He abandoned that around All-Star break and played like an All-Star. Could there be a hint the way Karnisovas' Denver Nuggets play? Their principal facilitator is their center, Nikola Jokic, suggesting Karnisovas is comfortable with the appropriate approach of allowing players to pursue their strength. The Nuggets didn't have a facilitator at point guard and in the playoffs have used shooting guard Jamal Murray as a playmaker in pick and roll with Jokic. White and LaVine have been likened to offensive guards like Portland's Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, a pairing that is common in this more offensive-oriented NBA where scoring guards like Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and James Harden and scoring forwards like LeBron James and Luka Doncic essentially play the traditional point guard position. This should be an opportunity to see how they fit and perform together.
2) Can Lauri Markkanen be resuscitated?
The biggest disappointment and setback among so many last season that led to major management and coaching changes was Markkanen's regression. There were injuries again, which are a concern, an early season inhibiting oblique and then a hip injury that cost him a month in late January. Markkanen played four games averaging about 12 points in his return before the sporting cloture.
Markkanen was on a Mitchell/Jayson Tatum trajectory out of that 2017 draft, First Team All-Rookie and averaging about 19 points and nine rebounds in his second season when he seemed to retreat last season. He became somewhat passive, seemingly confused and aggravated—at least in his taciturn way—and appeared to accept not being part of the offense. Was it coaching direction? Injuries? Uncertainty with the structure? Markkanen always has been a positive teammate and encouraging, though he seemed to withdraw some last season. He's got marvelous skills for a seven footer with a fluid shooting stroke. Today's offensive oriented, shooting game seems ideal for his abilities. Though the Bulls potentially have depth at power forward with power forward Obi Toppin considered the most-ready-to-contribute in the draft. It's a chance for Lauri to again begin to make his mark.
3) What position is Wendell Carter Jr.?
Though the most attention last season was directed toward Markkanen for his decline, it was another injury-plagued half season for Carter. After missing the second half of his rookie season with a broken thumb, Carter missed about six weeks almost in tandem with Markkanen with yet another random injury, a sprained ankle. He finally seemed to regain form in his sixth game back with 17 points. The NBA shut down the next day.
Carter also appeared to suffer from the uncertainty with the team that was being managed around shooting and the scoring of LaVine and White. Carter played like he was discouraged from shooting as he frequently passed up open shots inside to pass for three-point attempts. He averaged fewer field goal attempts his second season despite playing four minutes more per game. And though he talked about playing power forward, he was the team's poorest perimeter shooter. In contrast, the playoff success of like-sized centers like Miami's Bam Adebayo and Boston's Daniel Theis suggests the physical and defensive oriented Carter is suited for the new age NBA center. Does the new management believe so? Carter has been the team's best rim protector and most physical player on a mostly finesse team. Now entering his third season, the Bulls need to reach resolve regarding Carter.
4) Is there a place for the veterans, Otto, Sato and Thad-o?
All the veteran acquisitions seemed like the right ones at the right time. Sometimes you do the right thing and it turns out wrong. Porter for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker looked wonderful when Porter freed from the domination by John Wall and Bradley Beal, had the best stretch of his career, having as many 30-point games in his first two weeks with the Bulls as he had in six years in Washington. With Porter playing a point forward-type role, the Bulls played .500 ball for a month, their best stretch in two years. Then Porter sat out the last 11 games with a shoulder problem and missed almost all of last season with a foot injury, worrisome signs. He's going into the final year of his contract, by far the most expensive on the roster. When he did return last season, he played more like a stretch power forward. Is he still a starter? He's a veteran for a young team and still just 27. But is he part of the team's future? Can he be relied upon physically?
Similarly, the Young and Satoransky additions seemed ideal, Young a respected, tough veteran and leader to blend with the team's youth and Satoransky an underrated, unselfish big point guard with toughness. But Young seemed to chafe about a backup role, though he played well, while Satoransky had his poorest shooting season since his first in the NBA. He was reliable but eventually replaced as the starter by White. Both have one fully guaranteed season left on their contracts. Part of the team's future? Do the Bulls work with all three in vital roles to get back in playoff contention? Or do they begin to get phased out given their contact status and young players in place behind them? It's an opportunity for all three to begin to build their cases for the next day in the rest of their Bulls and NBA lives.
5) Is there a place for Dunn and Denzel?
They are the potential free agents on the roster along with Shaquille Harrison. Porter has an opt in at $28.5 million the Bulls assume he will exercise. The camp is voluntary and many of the veterans from the eight teams, like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, reportedly have elected not to attend. Also, many of the free agents will not attend for contract reasons. Dunn has been in and out of starting his three Bulls seasons since he was included in the Jimmy Butler trade. He focused on defense more last season and was an All-Defensive team candidate and second in the league in steals, one of the league's most bothersome perimeter defenders. But he's also been injured frequently. Similarly, Valentine has as well and then last season fell out with coach Jim Boylen and played infrequently. The Bulls have decisions to make next month on both on qualifying offers so they become restricted free agents. The Bulls could then match an offer. They would become unrestricted and off the roster without the qualifying offer. Are there roles for either or both given Dunn's defense and Valentine's passing ability and three-point shooting potential?
The Bulls finally are back in the gym. It's a start.