2017 Summer League

Jordan Bell's '5x5' performance in loss shows versatility of Golden State Warriors' big man

Bulls' fans may regret team trading 38th pick Bell to Warriors for cash

LAS VEGAS — Draymond Green was the 35th pick overall in the 2012 NBA Draft and, to this day, he can recite the names of the 34 players selected ahead of him that night. Not one can match his resume — two-time All-Star, 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, two-time NBA champion — but that doesn’t stop Green from maintaining his mental Rolodex, the better to stay motivated.

Jordan Bell was the 38th pick in the 2017 Draft just three weeks ago and his recollection of the players chosen before him unravels quickly.

“Nah,” Bell told NBA.com Tuesday night, after posting one of the coolest stats lines of the Las Vegas Summer League. In the Golden State entry’s 78-76 double-overtime loss to Minnesota, Bell scored five points, blocked six shots, had five steals, passed for five assists and grabbed 11 rebounds, finishing a plus-27 in a game his team lost by two points.

Like so much of Bell’s style, his skills and his results, his “5×5” performance was the sort of thing Green frequently does as the Warriors’ versatile, unorthodox, almost position-less frontcourt player. But back to the one area in which Bell is nothing like the new teammates to whom he’s being constantly compared.

“Draymond remembers everybody drafted in front of him,” Bell said. “I don’t know at all. I can tell you the top, like, 12 because I know the people. But other than that, I don’t know them.”

If the projections so far this summer for Bell — and the glimpses he’s provided in LVSL competition — turn into production the 6-foot-9 product of Oregon can replicate in real NBA games this season, other people will start to compile Bell’s list for him.

That goes double for fans of the Chicago Bulls, the team that actually drafted Bell at No. 38, only to immediately send him to Golden State for $3.5 million.

That move, already controversial, came within an hour or two of Chicago trading two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick to Minnesota for wing Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick, forward Lauri Markkanen. That deal signaled a new era for the Bulls, one dedicated to an arduous task of demo-and-rebuild more befitting HGTV for the next several seasons than NBA TV.

Rounding up as much young talent as possible on NBA rookie contracts should be at least Job No. 2 for any rebuilding team (losing a bunch of games to improve lottery chances is Job No. 1, to get the dreary process underway anyway). The fact that Chicago threw in that first-rounder in the Butler deal earlier in the evening and doesn’t have its second-rounder in 2018 either due to the Doug McDermott trade with OKC in February were two more reasons keeping Bell as their own might have been the wiser move.

Then there’s this: If the reigning NBA champions, said to be a potential dynasty in the coming years, call you up trying to buy your second-round pick, don’t you pause long enough to think, “These guys know what they’re doing. Maybe we should keep it and take that guy.”

A league source said the Warriors — who didn’t have a first-round pick in that June 22 talent round-up — had Bell as the top target on their draft board. The trick was finding a team willing to sell them a pick.

Granted, $3.5 million is a lot of money and Chicago had specific places to spend it — putting it toward Dwyane Wade’s player-option salary of $23.8 million for 2017-18, using most of it for the $3 million guarantee Rajon Rondo had when they cut him to dodge the other $11 million on his deal. Still, it was a bad look for a team that has lots and lots of cash in its coffers but not much talent or potential on its roster.

While people may come to think of Bell as the Bull who got away, the player doesn’t look back at what might have been through the same lens.

“I didn’t even know the Bulls had the pick, honestly,” he said. “I was [taking calls] in the garage at my draft party. My agent said they [the Warriors] were going to get the 38th pick, I was like, ‘Fine.’ But I didn’t know who had it.

“By pick [No.] 26 I knew I wasn’t going in the first round. So I just left [the party at my house] and sat in the garage the whole second round.”

The Bulls may eventually sit in their fans’ doghouse over this one. NBA insiders said it would have been within Chicago’s rights to find out whom Golden State intended to select with the pick, in the event Chicago wanted to acquire a second-rounder after No. 38 from somebody else. And again, unless they absolutely coveted the cash, deferring to the Warriors’ track record should have told them something.

A year ago, Golden State did the same thing. It contacted Milwaukee, which had the No. 38 pick of the 2016 Draft, and cut a deal in which the Warriors would get UNLV guard Patrick McCaw and the Bucks would get $2.4 million.

McCaw averaged 15.1 minutes in 71 appearances and won a ring with Golden State. Milwaukee might have paid for some steel and glass for the new arena its building next to the BMOC Harris Bradley Center.

From Bell’s perspective, he’s elated Chicago opted for cash. The culture in Oakland, the teammates, the immediate standards to meet, all dwarf what the Bulls could offer on Madison Street.

“I’ve said all the time, I feel like I’m the happiest person in the world. I feel just as happy as if I went No. 1,” Bell told NBA.com. “I’m like, ‘OK, Markelle [Fultz] went No. 1, but he doesn’t get to walk into what I do. He’s on a young [Philadelphia] team, I’m on a team of vets. So I get to learn from so many people.

“I think I came into the right situation. The right organization, with [Warriors GM] Bob Myers, the executive of the year. The person I try to play like as much as possible [Green] was Defensive Player of the Year. This team just won the world championship, so I think this is set up perfectly for me to succeed.”

There was a buzz in the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday night at Bell stacked up stats across the breadth of the scoresheet brick-by-brick, as if building a wall. He took and made his only two shots, but as Myers said before exiting the building, “The nice thing is, we don’t need him to score.”

Said Bell: “We have all these scorers around me – we have Steph [Curry], KD [Kevin Durant], Klay [Thompson], everybody on the team can really score. Shaun Livingston. So for me, I just need to follow Draymond and try to do what he does. When he’s not scoring, he’s still an All Star because he’s doing everything else.”

Bell’s defensive skills and eagerness to pass the ball were what had him on many teams’ draft boards last month. His modest offensive game (10.9 ppg in his third and final year at Oregon)? Not so much. But Green had his doubters, too, coming out of Michigan State, and look at him now.

Bell will look at him nonstop. “I get to watch him up close every day. Pick his brain every day,” he said. “Try to emulate him as much as possible, try to learn from him every day. Be him. Especially with the way the league is going, be him, because he’s the perfect fit that every team wants.”

Hardly seems fair though, that Golden State might have itself two Draymond Greens and none of the other 29 teams has even one.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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