Chandler Hutchison is confident he can be that Bulls X-factor, the unexpected player who emerges to help turn hopelessness into success. Which would be special and also unexpected since its felt like the third -year forward was being X-d out of the team's future with two years of injuries and disappointment.
"I wouldn't say that there was a falling out (of the team's plans) for me," Hutchison told reporters on a Wednesday video conference from training camp. "I'm still a young player. I don't think anything that's happened to me these past two years has defined the player that I am and the player that I'm going to be. It's just a matter of withstanding those road bumps and things you go through. Now more than ever I have the ability to just move on from it. We've got this new staff and new guys around that don't care about what you've done in the past. It's more about what you do now. That's all I can ask for. I'm just excited now to be who I know that I am, the player that I know I was capable of being ever since I've been here but just now to my full ability.
"I feel like I can play with anybody in this league," Hutchison insisted. "I've had flashes of that and, personally, I've felt that deep down. I know what I'm capable of. It's a matter of just going out there and doing it."
Hutchison is the kind of kid you root for, a refreshingly candid 24-year-old who has been one of those career late bloomers. Lightly recruited out of high school, he went to Boise State, where it took until his junior year to even average double figures scoring. He stayed four years, which these days is an NBA red flag. Teams view that as an indication of nowhere to grow or develop. Though the lithe 6-7 forward always has been more than the sum of his scouting reports.
The Bulls pulled a bit of a surprise taking him No. 22 in the 2018 draft, though Hutchison opened some eyes with a Scottie Pippen open court impression, long strides with a powerful dunking finish. But his body couldn't match the effort, a broken foot costing him the last half of his rookie season and then again much of last season with what eventually became shoulder surgery.
In and out of the lineup with occasion starts, Hutchison has yet to total 82 games in two years. He's averaged 6.2 points in his about 20 minutes per game, shooting about 29 percent on threes, obviously made more difficult when you can't lift your arm much.
The NBA doesn't usually wait. Draft classes are pushing their way into the line, and the Bulls last month drafted at No. 4 Patrick Williams, an athletic forward that checks many of the Hutchison boxes of defense and open court transition play. Plus, the Bulls invested last year in forward Thad Young, who often moved his game to the perimeter as they await the return of forward Otto Porter Jr., at least for one more season.
Though the perimeter wing position is not regarded as a team strength, the waiting room is getting crowded. The Bulls also are taking another look at Denzel Valentine, who doubles as a facilitator in the open court.
But Hutchison's attitude is, "Bring ‘em on." His body is giving him a second chance, and he'll take his chances with that.
"I feel as close to 100 percent as I've felt since I've been a Bull, which is exciting for me. Being available on the court is everything," Hutchison said. "It's been a lot of time to get that shoulder right. I haven't had any lingering issues."
Hutchison even welcomed the first rounder enthusiasm.
"Really, when you get a guy (like Williams) who's versatile like that, it's kind of like a sigh of relief because you got more guys who can do more on the floor," Hutchison said. "The NBA is kind of moving towards positionless stuff, anyway, to the aspect of away from the point guard and five. So the two, three, four is interchangeable, anyway. So it's not like I see one guy in front of me or behind me that I have to compete with. It's more that we have more guys who are interchangeable who are going to help our team get better.
"He's looked really good," Hutchison graciously added about the rookie. "I didn't really know a lot about him. The kid can play. He's 19. But I think he's going to be big for our team with what we want to do, being able to switch, being versatile. It should be good.
"I put myself in control of my success," Hutchison said. "If it's Kevin Durant in front of me, it's not going to change my mindset. I'm still looking at coming into camp with a clean slate, new coaches and an opportunity and a chip on my shoulder to establish myself and what I feel like I haven't been able to do from dealing with injuries. I'm more worried about me than anyone else right now."
It's an encouraging attitude and perhaps forces many to cast another glance in Hutchison's direction. It had seemed like the team moved on. The management which selected him was out. Going into his third season this is his third coach with a third philosophy. And just about every time he seemed about to stand up and contribute, he was limping around and being bandaged. He became a solitary figure in the locker room, uninvolved and detached.
But Wednesday his smile and enthusiasm belied his recent basketball gloom. Because not only does Hutchison again believe he can perform, but that he's got an attentive audience again.
"He's (coach Billy Donovan) been great for me," Hutchison said. "His big thing, the first thing that stood out to me that he wanted to do was understand who we are as a player before he brought in his playing style. I think that right off the bat kind of separates him from some of the coaches in the league. He gets a feel for his players and then he uses his mind, his skill to plug us in to where he thinks we can be successful. The first thing he mentioned was my length and athleticism and being able to run the floor and defend. I'm ready to accept the challenge of whatever he needs from me. We've got a couple guys that can do similar things, but it's just being ready and accepting that role of being a do-it-all guy, a versatile guy. He's a players' coach. You see that he truly does understand the game, but he also understands specific skill sets and how guys can use their skill set to better the team."
And Hutchison does perhaps have a head start. Getting past surgery and knowing the third year is pivotal on all rookie contracts, Hutchison said he's concentrated on conditioning for months. He's also worked extensively on shooting and playmaking from the wing. Forget Deni Avdija! You've got Chandler Hutchison! He didn't say it, but perhaps Hutchison's presence helped the Bulls make a draft decision.
"I feel like I haven't fully been myself with having to deal with injuries and the quick two coaches early in my career; it's not an excuse," said Hutchison. "It's just a realism of things you go through. All I ask is an even playing field for me and my body to just be ready. I don't take this as anything other than I've had some bad luck. I've been in playing shape since I'd say early November, the end of October. As for players and the excitement of, ‘All right, now it's time to turn the page and try to work toward a winning culture and a winning team,' that excitement has been a complete 180 from where it was last year. When you have seasons that we've had recently, any time you get a new start…there's a sense of excitement."