Marko Simonovic has strong debut as Bulls fall to Pelicans in Summer League

Bulls forward Patrick Williams also scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in opening Summer League action.
by Sam Smith
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Patrick Williams scored 15 points and grabbed 12 boards, Devon Dotson scored 16 points, and Bulls 2020 second-round draft pick Marko Simonovic scored 13 as Chicago fell to New Orleans 94-77 in their first Summer League game. The Bulls play the second of a back-to-back on Tuesday night, taking on San Antonio.

It was the time in the Bulls opening Summer League game Monday when things were going well before stumbling near the finish line on the way to a 94-77 defeat. Montenegrin rookie, the 6-11 Marko Simonovic, began the second half in a five-point Bulls lead with first a roll and two handed layup finish and then a jump shot to give the Bulls their biggest lead.

It didn't last long, though it seems like Simonovic might.

Getting his first look at not only the NBA but the United States after arriving here three weeks ago, the 2020 second round draft pick was the Bulls most efficient player with 13 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes, making four of six shots and five of six free throws.

With what the scouts call a high motor along with intelligent play, a modicum of toughness and a nice shooting stroke, the 21-year-old should be able to find a place on the remodeled Bulls roster that perhaps has been lacking some size.

"This is everything new for me," Simonovic told media afterward at the UNLV arena complex. "I'm coming from Europe and everything is different. But I feel really good and people tell me I look good. I think next season I can help the team. I'm a guy who runs the court. I'm a big man, but I like to run. I like to share the ball. "First of all, my goal is to run fast, to be better than the other bigs, to run better than them," Simonovic said. "But I think I can shoot from three, share the ball, dribble the ball. That's my part."

Marko Simonovic drives to the rim against the Pelicans

Marko Simonovic got his first taste of NBA action, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds.

The Bulls were led by Chicago native Devon Dotson with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Attempting to adapt to universal demands he shoot more, Patrick Williams did, making six of 20 shots for 15 points and 12 rebounds. Williams was dynamic early in the game, often ripping the ball off the backboard and leading the fast break. He had 14 points and nine rebounds at halftime, but clearly tired and was zero for seven shooting after halftime. The Bulls trailed by three after three quarters and shot two of 15 in the fourth.

"Fatigue definitely sets in," acknowledged Williams. "But to be the guy on the team that has the ball in your hands you have to break through that. Just missed shots. I think we kind of settled there a little bit, especially me from the three a little bit too much. Of course, that came with fatigue. It's a learning experience, for sure. The ball has never pretty much been in my hands this much since high school. And high school teams don't really make that many adjustments (against you). I'm excited to go back, watch the film and see where I can get better at."

Bulls assistant Damian Cotter, the former Windy City coach who is directing the Summer League team, added that it's an advanced role for Williams after starting all last season.

"He has to score for us to be successful (in Summer League)," said Cotter. "He's got to be the man and score; it's a totally different mindset. I thought he was trying. We've asked him to improve his conditioning. I thought he worked hard to try to run. He got fatigued. But we'll go through the film and we'll keep trying to develop him in that role and try to find ways to get him the ball where he cam execute more effectively."

Patrick Williams skies for a one-hand jam vs. New Orleans

Patrick Williams had a big first-half against New Orleans with 14 points but struggled with his shot in the second-half.

The summer Bulls were a weak five of 21 on threes with 6-5 guard Ethan Thompson from Oregon State the best shooter with three of five threes. No one else distinguished themselves, and it was a rough debut for second-round draft pick from Illinois Ayo Dosunmu starting in the backcourt with Dotson. Dosunmu had six points and six rebounds and shot two of eight while he had difficulties in tight spaces.

Though Simonovic's play was encouraging.

He isn't particularly explosive with big time athletic ability. He has a face up shooting game, but he is capable of finishing in the pick and roll. He seems able to absorb contact well and sees the floor despite being a bit thin and about 220 pounds. Though it didn't connect, he made a clever behind the back interior pass late in the first half that was impressive for the feel for the game. He rebounds well keeping his hands high, though the Bulls obviously are taking it slowly with him given that he started and played just 15 minutes. Though Williams was attempting to play a more forceful and involved role, the team seemed to function more smoothly when Simonovic was playing with him.

"He's really good, really talented," said Williams. "Just an all-around type of guy. I think today we saw him roll a little bit, kind of pop a little bit. Hit a couple shots and try to stretch the floor, so he's really good at stretching the floor, running the floor as well. I found him on that layup. So he's a really good all-around player.

"I didn't get this (Summer League) opportunity," said Williams. "He has this opportunity. He has the tools, the talent, he has the skill, he has the size. So just being able to take it all in and be ready for this season. I keep telling him and Ayo, just ask as many questions as you can. You learn just as much if not more off the court, in conversations and questions that you ask other people, whether it be a coach, whether it be a vet. Which sounds crazy, but it's the truth."

No nickname of The Truth quite yet for Simonovic, though perhaps a little of Mambo No. 5.

A little bit of Joakim Noah in transition;
A little bit of Nikola Mirotic from the perimeter;
A little bit of Dirk from the elbow;
A little bit of Jokic from the top.

"When I was a kid and when I was watching the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki was really amazing for me," said Simonovic. "One of my idols. I tried to practice how he played, I listened to what he said. I tried to practice how he practiced. Now in the last two, three years, I always follow Nikola Jokic. This is an amazing guy. We came from the same club from Belgrade. How he played, how he shared the ball. How he's smart on the court."

Simonovic isn't just any rookie, and not because he was drafted last year.

He turned pro when he was 14, playing in Italy and then Slovenia and Serbia.

"When I was 14, I left my family and all my friends and people from Montenegro, where I was born; went to Italy alone," he said.

So he grew up fast. He averaged 15.7 points and 9.1 rebounds last season in Serbia.

"Now when I was drafted, I start to follow the Bulls," Simonovic said. "Now the most important thing for me is I think because we have... Nikola Vucevic. He's my guy, also. We come from the same country. We were together on the national team. I think he will help me because everything is new for me. That is a great thing or me."

Perhaps for the Bulls, too.

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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.

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