Who's ready to take the big stage?
With a roster of different abilities and skillsets, the competition is fierce for starting roles
One singular sensation, every little step they take;
One thrilling combination, every little move they make;
One smile, one move, not coming undone;
Robin, Justin, Bobby, Jerian and Kris Dunn;
All for one, one, one, one.
The Bulls are not exactly ready for Broadway—other than to play the Knicks—but this 2017-18 season that begins Tuesday in New Orleans with an exhibition game against the Pelicans feels a bit like the famous Broadway show, A Chorus Line.
You know, a bunch of talented, athletic people effectively having spent their time away from the main spotlight trying out for the Big Show.
A bunch of accomplished individuals attempting also to become a unified ensemble.
“We've got a lot of hungry players,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “If somebody's not out there competing, I promise you the next guy in line is going to go out there and bust his (butt). That's what it's all about for a young team, going out there and playing and leaving it on the floor each and every time you play.”
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and it should.
But what if Ryan Arcidiacono is better than Dunn?
What if David Nwaba is better than Justin Holiday?
What if Jaylen Johnson or Jarell Eddie is better than Lauri Markkanen?
That’s the mystery and anticipation of a team starting over like the Bulls.
Yes, they know what they’ll get from center Robin Lopez, whom Hoiberg said is the only player assured a starting position for now. They’ll probably get that when Zach LaVine returns from injury as he was the centerpiece of the trade for Jimmy Butler that also delivered Dunn and the draft pick for Lauri Markannen.
Hoiberg said Markkannen with back spasms and veteran Quincy Pondexter with a hamstring strain will sit out the games against the Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks Wednesday. Both are on the trip. LaVine remained back in Chicago.
But beyond Lopez and LaVine, there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of competition to get on the big stage.
--- Point Guard: Dunn has the inside edge because he was so pursued by the Bulls. The concern remains his shooting deficiencies, though he’s supposedly shot reasonably well in training camp. His defense and ability in transition can elevate him. Jerian Grant reportedly has played well in camp and Arcidiacono has been best running an offense. Dunn probably will start Tuesday.
--- Shooting Guard: This is LaVine’s position when he returns, which means it’s a big opportunity for someone now to show off their moves. Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Nwaba, Antonio Blakeney and even Grant could figure there. With Dunn’s shooting weakness, at least for now, defenses will stay back. So the other guard better be able to shoot. Nwaba is known more for his defense and athletic ability, but supposedly has shot well in camp. Holiday mentioned him as one of the more impressive players. Blakeney has continued to show a unique ability to score, keeping up his Summer League excellence that earned him at least a G-league contract. Hoiberg said he’ll probably alternate starters for the two games, thus extending the audition. So Valentine or Holiday probably will start for now against the Pelicans.
“We've got different players that have different abilities and skillsets and it's about putting two units out there that fit together,” said Hoiberg. “All that will come into account when we're trying to figure out what our lineups are going to be. Denzel will have his opportunities, but I've been happy with our wings. Part of it is going out there and competing, and they do give you different things they can do on the floor. It's about the guys that fit the best in their units. Everything's so wide open right now. We've been putting in some late game situations and trying to figure out who's going to be a guy to get the ball to late in the game. Last year we knew that was going to be Jimmy. This year, it's about figuring out who that guy is going to be.”
--- Small Forward: Holiday probably is destined for small forward, though the wing positions now are mostly interchangeable. Once LaVine returns, Holiday as the summer free agent acquisition and veteran status probably will have the edge at small forward. But that’s what this team and preseason is about. The winner could spoil things. Paul Zipser, who started often last season, could overtake him. Perhaps Pondexter, who shoots well. Maybe even a long shot like Jarell Eddie, who also has showed well. Isn’t that what this is about? Zipser or Holiday could start there Tuesday.
--- Power Forward: This looks like the most competitive spot with highly regarded rookie Markkanen in competition with Nikola Mirotic, whom so much has been expected the last three years. Mirotic is on basically a one-year deal and up to 260 pounds to presumably toughen his game. Bobby Portis, who has been the relentless worker mostly overlooked the last few years, continues to push as hard as anyone in the gym and weight room. Portis probably will start Tuesday, if only for now to reward his exceptional work ethic and summer long attendance.
“Bobby's been terrific,” said Hoiberg. “Ever since we talked about participating in our summer league practices and he didn't even hesitate, where a lot of guys when they're going into year three, they think that might be a slap in the face when you ask somebody to do that. But he was here the entire month of September and he was leading. He's in as good a shape as anybody on our team right now. He's increased his range on his shot, he's shooting the ball more comfortably, and he looks quicker.”
--- Center: Lopez is the man, the old wily veteran of one season with the team. But this is the new center-averse NBA. Who knows who’ll be playing center from game to game. The Bulls Tuesday see the 80s version of the NBA with the league’s last remaining inside game of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis (and former teammate Rajon Rondo). Then next week the Bulls will be in Cleveland, where the Cavs have talked about starting Kevin Love at center. The Bulls signed Cristiano Felicio to a long extension after last season and have free agent Diamond Stone. Mirotic has talked about maybe being drafted into playing center to ease the power forward backup and given his new body. He was kidding, but Hoiberg may not be.
“I like the way the league is going,” said Mirotic. “It's why I gained 10 pounds because I might play five. It's a joke; you never know, we'll see. I know that it's gonna be tough matchups tomorrow, having to guard (Cousins). Bobby and me. I think here at some point they'll play Lauri and me. It's a new game right now. Faster, everybody can shoot a three, spread the floor. For me, it's gonna be great. How I play, hopefully I'm more involved this year. I'm confident about the game. But play good defense, solid on offense and try to execute. We've been working very hard the last week of camp.
“There's a lot of guys that are capable to score 20 points each night,” Mirotic insisted. “I can tell you Denzel, Bobby, Lauri, me, Justin. I can name you 10 guys. But we will see how the game develops. It's all about how Fred's going to play us. The most important thing is that we play for each other. It's all about how we help each other, play unselfish and if we need to divide the ball, we need to divide the ball.”
Point, leap, step, kick;
Three, four, five, six;
Second best to none?
All for one, one, one?
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.