With a little more than two weeks left before the NBA Draft, I’ve had my fill of introducing prospects. Let’s take a break from the uncertainty of the 22nd pick, and return to the established players hitting the free agent market this summer. In this post, I’m focusing on unrestricted free agents, players that might fit the way the Bulls play, and the culture they are trying to build. Players with the freedom to accept whatever contract is offered, by whichever team they want to join. I am not going to look at players with the possibility to opt out of their current contract and become free agents (i.e. LeBron James). There are a good number of stars in that situation, and most of them are looking for the kind of money the Bulls don’t seem ready to pay. Maybe I’ll do a part 4 focusing on those players, but for now…
Chicago Bulls Free Agency 2018 Part 3: Reputation is an idle and most false imposition…
Were you a fan of Paul Zipser? Did you feel physically ill watching his drop off in production last season? Would you like to see the promise of his rookie season fulfilled without ever having to watch Zipser play basketball for the Bulls? If you answered yes to any of these questions, oh boy, have I got a player for you! Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets, is a slightly older (26 yo vs. 24 yo), slightly undersized (6’6” vs 6’8”) Paul Zipser. Harris is a better offensive player than Zipser, but fails to live up to his defensive prowess(?). Per 100 possessions, NBA.com has Harris scoring over 20 points with 3.1 assists compared to Zipsers 13.1 points and 2.8 assists. Harris also racks up a better net rating, assist ratio, effective field goal percentage, and player impact estimate than Zipser (based on last seasons numbers). Joe Harris, while not a sexy free agent signing, should be an inexpensive offensive upgrade over Zipser. Harris seems like the type of player the Bulls might take a flier on: Grindy.
If the Bulls miss out on drafting a young center like Mo Bamba or Wendell Carter Jr., they should try to sign Kevon Looney of the Golden State Warriors. While his regular season stats are not spectacular, the 22 year old has played meaningful minutes this season for the Warriors, especially in the playoffs. His age and playoff experience make him a good gamble for a young team learning to compete. Looney is a spectacular defender: Quick enough to contain superstars like Chris Paul and James Harden, and strong enough to body up against Joel Embiid. He would be a perfect compliment to Lauri Markkanen when the Bulls roll out a smaller line up.
John Paxson said that the Bulls would be very comfortable with Kris Dunn as the starting point guard, next season, and Cam Payne the back up. Considering the injury history of both of those players, the Bulls might feel even more comfortable with a young veteran guard backing them up. Yogi Ferrell made a name for himself with the Dallas Mavericks as a scoring guard. The 24 year old becomes a free agent this summer, and could provide the Bulls with some offensive fireworks off the bench or from the shooting guard position. Oddly enough, statistically speaking, Ferrell and Payne had very similar numbers last season (per 100 possessions). The big difference was that Ferrell played in all 82 of the Mavericks games and Payne only logged 25 for the Bulls after returning from his foot injury. Ferrell has been a consistent contributor for a couple seasons now, while both Dunn and Payne have struggled with injuries, confidence, and the pace of the game. Ferrell could be a steadying force running the offense, or, more likely, playing off the ball when Zach LaVine takes over the lead ball handling responsibilities.
If the Bulls are unable to secure a decent wing player in the draft, they might consider signing Jerami Grant. Grant, the 23 year old brother of Jerian, had a solid season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He benefited from opponents keying in on his teammates Russell Westbrook and Paul George, becoming a reliable third option on the offensive end of the court. He does need to improve his three point shooting (29.1% on 3’s last season), but he was good in pick-and-roll plays and proved strong enough to muscle his way passed defenders for easy points in the paint. Jerami Grant has good defensive instincts and would bolster the Bulls shoddy wing defense (i.e. Zach LaVine).
Another wing player worth a contract offer this summer is Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets. A good scorer and fair defender, the 27 year old Barton is a balanced player. He averaged over 15 points a game last season, on 45% shooting (37% from beyond the arc), with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, half a block, and a partridge in a pear tree. Barton would be a slight upgrade over Justin Holiday, especially when playing with the second unit. He is able to create his own shot off the dribble, and he takes smart shots. For no particular reason, I feel like he and Denzel Valentine would have good chemistry together. I watch Barton play and Valentine pops into my mind, I don’t even know, maybe I’m sick or something.
If the Bulls are going to sign anyone this summer (besides from their own restricted free agents), they will sign Mario Hezonja of the Orlando Magic. He is a 23 year old, offensively minded wing, who will fit the Fred Hoiberg offense like a glove. He can score in every way imaginable, and has surprising passing skills and vision. He does need to improve as a defender; his defensive rating was 109.5 last season, which is very high (and very bad). Despite his defensive short comings, Hezonja would thrive playing in Hoiberg’s system. Spacing the floor for a driving Dunn or LaVine, playing pick-and-roll/pop with Markkanen, Hezonja was meant for Hoiberg’s offense. His game is sneaky smooth, creative, and athletic. He is a lot of fun to watch when he is part of the action on offense. Some teams might try to limit him to corner 3’s or standing beyond the 3 point line (33.7% on 3’s last season), but he is at his best when he is involved in every aspect of the offense. Whether it’s setting screens, curling off of one, cutting to the rim, lobbing passes to dunkers, or threading the needle on a pass into the lane, Hezonja excels when he is engaged. Perhaps the Bulls will engage him for several years to come.
There will be a great many unrestricted free agents looking for contracts this summer, enough that I don’t want to give detailed information on all of them. The players I’ve covered are the ones that intrigue me, but there are plenty more that the Bulls might make offers to. Some of these might include…
DeMarcus Cousins – 27 years old, last played for the New Orleans Pelicans
Jahlil Okafor – 22 years old, last played for the Brooklyn Nets
Greg Monroe – 28 years old, last played for the Boston Celtics
Alex Len – 25 years old, last played for the Phoenix Suns
Nerlens Noel – 23 years old, last played for the Dallas Mavericks
Tarik Black – 26 years old, last played for the Houston Rockets
Trevor Booker – 30 years old, last played for the Indiana Pacers
Derrick Favors – 26 years old, last played for the Utah Jazz
Luc Mbah a Moute – 31 years old, last played for the Houston Rockets
Jeff Green – 31 years old, last played for the Cleveland Cavaliers
Trevor Ariza – 32 years old, last played for the Houston Rockets
Kentavious Caldwell Pope – 24 years old, last played for the Los Angeles Lakers
Tyreke Evans – 28 years old, last played for the Memphis Grizzlies
Seth Curry – 27 years old, last played for the Dallas Mavericks
Avery Bradley – 27 years old, last played for the Los Angeles Clippers
Isaiah Thomas – 28 years old, last played for the Los Angeles Lakers
Next week on the RokDeez Bulls Blog, you can expect to read the last of my Draft Mania posts. I will focus on the 5 players that might be available (and worth taking) with the 7th overall pick. In the weeks to come I plan on writing an NBA Draft recap post (Thursday, June 21st), nitpicking all the Bulls picks/moves on draft night (trading up or down is always a possibility). You can also expect Summer League coverage, and me eating crow for my wild predictions before last season. Thanks, as always, for reading. Go Bulls!