Bulls coach Billy Donovan likes to say his Bulls players are great guys. He says it often, and it doesn’t seem just what he has to say.
They do seem like fine and responsible people, good citizens who give back to their community like DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, devoted family men like LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Ayo Dosunmu, polite youngsters like Coby White and Patrick Williams, spot light avoiders like Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, hard working overachievers like Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., soft spoken, basically controversy free professionals.
Which is why Bulls rookie Dalen Terry may be just what this Bulls teams needs.
Not because he’s a problem or exception to the norm since he seems to fit the great guy profile in which I’m sure he’ll be included. But there’s also a youthful irreverence and insouciance to the 19-year-old, a spirit and a passion that can actually help ignite a team. It seemed that way already Saturday in the first pre-Summer League practice for the Bulls baby team headed for Las Vegas last week.
There was Terry trash talking with veterans like Patrick Williams, running and pushing the ball and defending, loud, loud, loud, and to the point Terry was picked by teammates as the inaugural winner of the most competitive player of the day in practice.
There was no trophy, but this is more than just participation.
“You felt him throughout,” said John Bryant, the Bulls assistant coach who’ll be coaching the Summer League team starting in Las Vegas on July 8. “He was voted by his teammates as the guy who competed the hardest. So that lets you know that he’s going to be in the mix every single time.”
There’s not substantive that accrues from Summer League. After all, Denzel Valentine was the superstar when the Bulls won the championship when it was a tournament, and Derrick Rose didn’t look like a first-round pick. So no one is making too many judgments after the first practice.
Terry, the No. 18 selection in the first round in last week’s draft out of the University of Arizona, comes to the Bulls with a reputation as a long armed, athletic player more noted, for now, for his defense. Someone needing some work on his shot and only toward the end of his sophomore season at Arizona taking over point guard duties.
But he may also possess the intangible that is as important as it is difficult to identify, that emotional obsession that can carry a player beyond his defined skills. And then help arouse the passions of his teammates. Similar to the effect a player like Patrick Beverley can have on a team, Russell Westbrook when he’s flying around and dunking, Kevin Garnett when he’s in the face of the opponent.
“Came in here and competed; everybody did what they had to do today,” the 6-6 Terry said after a long early afternoon practice at the Advocate Center. “There was a lot of competing, a lot of trash talking, men competing. I can’t say nothing else besides competing; that was the word today. Coach really emphasized that in the offensive and defensive schemes and we got up and down. It was a great day."
This is not to say the Bulls are looking at the kid to lead them. Heck, he might not even be in the regular rotation to start if all the veteran players remain healthy.
But with a fast smile and a ready quip, Terry seems different than the parade of 19 and 20-year-olds who have been through here in the last five or six years. Not that they were difficult. Or untalented. To the contrary, they were from Lauri Markkenen to Wendell Carter Jr. to Chandler Hutchison, Coby White, Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu, all very likable, cooperative and respectful.
Terry seems to have those traits as well. But there’s also a twinkling brightness in his eyes and a fast smile when he knows media is reaching for something that he’s not ready to dole out quite yet. He seems to understand the dance with media already without being Westbrook-angry or Lauri-like diffident.
Here was an exchange from Saturday’s media session:
Question: In the scrimmages how were you used?
“Like I said I’m very versatile, so I was all over the court. I was bringing it up, I was rebounding, I was taking the ball out, setting screens. I can’t really give you the role. I was doing a lot.”
Question: What do you do best? What do you most enjoy?
Question: So you won?
“I won a couple of games. I can’t be voted most competitive and not win.”
Question: What did you feel most comfortable doing? Handle, shoot?
“Like you say, I’m versatile. What’s versatile mean to you? Do a lot of things, right? I’m a guy who can play in a lot of different situations, so it really doesn’t matter to me because I know when I go on the court I’m going to produce.”
Question: But everyone is better at something?
“OK, I’m gonna give you something. I was playing defense today. I was talking, making guys know I was here on the floor, just trying to live up to the hype when it comes to being a lead guy, being competitive, yeah. Good for you?”
Very good, really.
It’s not hubris and he’s not being patronizing. It’s actually an unusually mature quality for a teenager in these kinds of situations, answering questions with confidence and aplomb moments after being able to impress his teammates with his edge and his energy. It’s unusual to see a college sophomore able to walk into that scene, and especially in a major media market with an historic franchise, and impress without being overbearing.
That’s also leadership. And if Terry can put on some weight and strength and upgrade his skills, the Bulls might have landed a player who maybe isn’t an All-Star, but can be a leader and motivator who helps raise the level of play of everyone else. That’s another way to make teammates better. Like coaches often say, be a star in your role. Which is often much more difficult to acquire than an All-Star.
As for the weight room, Bryant said he was impressed with seeing 2020 second-round pick Marko Simonovic, who put up big numbers for the Windy City Bulls last season but was pushed around to the point the team seemed to fear using him in the NBA.
Simonovic is with the Summer League team, and he’s still apparently in the proving stage considering the Bulls reported free agency acquisitions. But he is 6-11 with a good offensive game. Can he be more than he’s been?
“I don't know if you guys saw Marko,” said Bryant. “Like, he's bigger than me, and I pride myself on being a big really fit guy. His shoulders look like a grown man. So he's obviously been working; he's obviously been doing something. He’s been eating, at least. He looks great. That was something we had asked him (to do), really work on his body. And then now it's just really game reps. What does he do? How can he find a consistent role with us, with the Bulls? And then really do it every day.”
So Simonovic will be watched in Las Vegas along with Marquette’s Justin Lewis, who surprisingly went undrafted after generally being targeted as a second-round selection. He’s similar in size to Terry, and much heavier if also not as fast and athletic. He’s a potentially interesting prospect considering his size and abilities.
“I’m excited about Justin Lewis,” said Bryant. “That man comes with a lot of energy every day. He's Marquette, right? That program, right? And so that's something, he speaks to his program. His versatility, how he can guard almost every position. It was only one practice. I’m excited to see what is he going to do offensively? I think he's very versatile. So I think we can put him in a lot of different spots. But the dude comes with a smile, he's always in the gym. I probably had to kick him out of the gym. I forget what night it was, I said, 'Hey we have a long week and we haven't started playing games.' He's just in here and his energy is very infectious, almost like DT, Dalen.”
There’s two of them?
“Me and Justin, we go way back, we played against each other in high school,” said Terry. “When I had my media here and went in the locker room he was there, had that smile. When I saw we picked him up, obviously, I was really happy, I texted him immediately. That's my right hand man right now, so we’ll be in the hotel chillin’. Everywhere I go, he goes. On the court, we’re competing. If you ain't wearing my colors I don't like (you). But if we wearin’ the same colors we like each other. It's cool.
Williams and Dosunmu are working out with the Summer League rookies, but neither will play in Las Vegas. But according to Bryant, it seems like a different Williams.
“Patrick looks like a man,” said Bryant. “He looks like a third-year player. He stands out. His body is NBA-ready. He just looks like a grown man. There's a sense of 'I belong here. I am a third-year player,' and he carries himself as such. Same as Ayo, Ayo looked great; you know what I mean? His command, his presence. He played like an all-rookie player and he let everyone in the gym know.”
It sounded like there was a lot of sound. Like when Terry was taking on Williams.
“He’s been in the league, so I give him his respect,” said Terry. "But I’m going to compete. I ain’t backing down now.”
Music to the Bulls’ ears.