After two injury-riddled seasons, swingman Chandler Hutchison is feeling healthy and finding ways to make an impact off the bench. Could he be the surprise contributor for the Bulls this season?
Can he be the '52 Mantle in the old box of baseball cards that were in your grandfather's attic? The masterpiece painting behind the Dogs Playing Poker painting you bought at the flea market? The cherry in the box of chocolates? Can Chandler Hutchison be that overlooked treasure for these Bulls?
"It's just good to feel good out there and be able to be explosive and not have any second guesses of worrying about this, that and the other, or something holding me back," the Bulls third-year forward was saying the other day. "Right now my body feels tremendous. Other than just grabbing some ice on my ankles because we haven't ran a ton, that's all that I've been doing recovery wise, which for me is back to how I've been. That's good for me now just being able to be healthy and running out there and being myself, being energetic and just trying to make those plays."
It's nothing that is especially distinguishing yet. But as the Bulls prepare to play the also 0-3 Washington Wizards Tuesday, Hutchison has been showing some of the lightning in the desert explosive flashes that excited many when he was a late first round draft pick in 2018. Though averaging just 3.7 points in the three games, in part because of a brief seven-minute segment against the Indiana Pacers Saturday, the long armed and athletic 6-7 forward has been once again showing some of the bursts that had some whispering about seeing some Scottie Pippen there.
"Every opportunity I get, be aggressive and attack the rim and hopefully get a couple of strong finishes," said Hutchison.
He even made a three pointer against the Warriors, one of two he's attempted in the three games averaging about 15 minutes. But Hutchison has begun to subtly draw some notice after often not being seen during his two injury-dominated seasons.
Better things have happened for the Bulls this season when Hutchison has been on the court. Coincidence or contribution?
Plus/minus statistics can be misleading depending on who you are playing with. Hutchison was one of three Bulls players with a positive plus/minus against the Warriors. He's also the only Bulls player to have been in each game with a positive plus/minus in every game, meaning the team led when he was on the court. In the first two games, that often was late in the game when most of the opponent starters were untying their sneakers.
But Hutchison also has been the Bulls best per minute rebounder in the three games, averaging 11 per 36 minutes, just barely more than Wendell Carter Jr.
Carter's struggles the first two games were a source of widespread angst, particularly to Carter, who acknowledged he began overthinking the poor start. He rebounded against the Warriors with 22 points and 13 rebounds, mostly eschewing the ill-advised three-point shooting game he was trying out in the preseason. The Bulls fell into many bad habits last season by avoiding mid range play to seek out three pointers. It doesn't work for everyone. Carter became an offensive decoy. Carter's game is best from the free throw line and in with short jumpers, with which he has a good stroke, and screen and dive plays which worked effectively against the Warriors.
"I thought Wendell had a really good game," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "I think he's getting a little more comfortable. He did some good things. He drove it, he made some floaters, he got to the line and knocked down some free throws. He did some really good things and so did Lauri (Markkanen)."
Though Markkanen might not against the Wizards. He is listed questionable for Tuesday's game with a calf contusion sustained late in Sunday's game. Thad Young is listed probable to play his first game after a preseason leg infection. Young had an MRSA—Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—infection, which could be serious as a super bug bacteria. But it was caught early and treated.
The serious concern for fans and media were Markkanen's comeback from a down season, Carter's early inefficiency, Coby White's struggles as a point guard, the absences of Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky and the stunning early losses.
Though the Bulls recovered against the Warriors, if not in the standings, there were positives from Carter, Markkanen with a third good effort and hopefully not another serious injury, rookie Patrick Williams' ease in becoming a starter and, of course, Zach LaVine's reliable scoring. And now perhaps something more. Maybe it's the reemergence of Hutchison after he seemed to be vanishing from the Bulls future.
A relatively rare four-year college player taken in the first round of the draft, Hutchison was advertised as the athletic wing player to defend and run the fast break. He'd resemble Pippen in the open court with his long strides and 7-1 wingspan. Though he also was mentioned as a so-called, popular 3-D prospect, he produced more on drives to the basket. But injuries decimated his first two seasons, his rookie year with a broken foot and then what led to shoulder surgery last season. He missed half the games he was eligible for his first two seasons amid questions about his durability. The NBA these days doesn't wait long as prospects like White and this season Williams seemed to pass him by. The Bulls last season invested in forward Young and now there's Otto Porter Jr. returning from injury for his final contract season. The 24-year-old Hutchison's opportunities seemed to be diminishing.
Though Hutchison was late developing in both high school and college. He never did average 20 points playing in a smaller California school and went to Boise State, where he wasn't a regular starter until his junior season. He built his body and improved his three-point shooting to become a top NBA prospect.
In his limited time these first three games, Hutchison has rebounded and defended aggressively and driven into the lane with purpose.
Perhaps it's now his time in the NBA.
"It's all just taking what the game has given me," Hutchison said. "I haven't really had a ton of opportunities to put it up from the perimeter. But I know when I've got a lane that's an opportunity for me. I attack the rim with force. I think that's something that separates me from a lot of guys. Just being able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim or get to the foul line. That's something I know I've been able to thrive doing."
More little surprises to come?