I have never been enamored with the Point Guard position. Growing up listening to, and watching, Michael Jordan carve his name into legend, it never occurred to me that point guard was as important a position as it actually is. When you’re cheering for John Paxson, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, and Steve Kerr to knock down the open perimeter jumper after MJ has drawn 4 defenders into the paint, it’s hard to see the position as anything other than ancillary. In my world, the point guard gives the ball to the best player on the team and gets the hell out of the way.
The popular thought, nowadays, is that the NBA is a “point guard driven league.” The position is the most important on an NBA roster and only teams with elite point guards are capable of consistently competing for championships. There does seem to be some truth to this theory. Over the last 5 seasons, only three teams have won the NBA Championship, and all three have had elite point guards setting up the offense: Steph Curry for the Golden State Warriors, Kyrie Irving for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Tony Parker for the San Antonio Spurs. It goes without saying that all three of those players and teams had other elite talent with them, but the NBA is very trendy, and elite point guards are the current trend.
Whether chasing a trend, or facing a talent starved reality, the Bulls find themselves one of the many teams in search of a point guard this offseason. They have, in fact, been searching for a point guard ever since the tragedy that was Derrick Rose. I would say the Front Office has been on more than just a search; This is a Quest (capital “Q”). It is a Quest that has taken many turns, has frequently been fraught with failure (Jerian Grant, Cam Payne, Michael Carter-Williams, Rajon Rondo), and has forced GarPax to yet another crossroads: Kris Dunn.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I like Kris Dunn. He has the size, speed, and tenacity to be an impact point guard in the NBA. He is very athletic, with deceptive strength and good defensive instincts. He wants to be great. He has shown the ability take over close games and knock down clutch shots. Kris Dunn has a lot that is good in his game.
In the most important season of his career, Kris Dunn seemed to disappear. His propensity for freak injuries tempers all of his athletic upside with a dangerously awkward klutziness. He is injury prone. He does not shoot the ball well, or often, from 3 point land. While he is able to drive the ball into the paint, he has struggled finishing at the rim, and, despite his size and physicality, fails to draw fouls. Dunn is most comfortable taking mid-range jump shots, and tends to turn the ball over too much during the course of a game. Even though he is just 3 years into his young career, his lack of growth in those key areas makes it hard to justify relying solely on Dunn as the future point guard of the Chicago Bulls.
Enter Zach LaVine, the scoring guard. LaVine has long coveted the spot light, he craves it. He believes he can be a top 25 player in the NBA. He works to make that dream a reality. He is already an All Star in his minds eye, and this past season, LaVine took long strides toward realizing that vision. With Dunn sidelined due to injury, Zach LaVine took on the responsibilities of the lead guard, and he flourished.
LaVine took efficient shots and made them. He handled the ball well in pick-and-roll, showed improved decision making in his passing, and reduced his turnovers. Zach was revitalized, energetic, and electric on the fast break. Windmill dunks. 360 dunks. The supreme athleticism was on full display, and he proved that he could score from all over the court. LaVine also showed improvement in driving to the rim and drawing fouls. As Dunn languished on the sideline recovering from injury, fans began to ask themselves, do we really need Kris Dunn dominating the ball as the point guard?
What do the Bulls need at Point Guard?
Enter Jim Boylen, everybody’s favorite gym teacher, spirit guru, and firm believer in working inside-out on offense. In the BoyBall offense, it’s incredibly important to get the ball into the paint, collapsing the defense and opening up scoring opportunities for slashers and perimeter shooters. The future point guard of the Bulls should be able to beat his defender off the dribble, or be quick enough to get past the defender with the help of a screen. He should be able to pass the ball into the post without freezing or panicking (*cough* Jerian Grant *cough*). The Bulls future point guard should be able to score from all 3 levels: at the rim, from mid-range, and from beyond the 3 point line. He will need to be able to push the ball in transition. Considering Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen will also be handling the ball, the future PG must be comfortable playing off the ball. And it wouldn’t hurt if he were a good enough defender to cover for the spastic defense of LaVine.
One of the advantages of being a crappy team is the privilege of picking at the top of the NBA Draft. Based on the horrendous season the Bulls had, the lowest they can possibly pick in the upcoming draft is 8th overall. With a top 8 draft pick guaranteed, the Bulls should be able to land one of the top 3 point guard prospects in the draft.
As of now, before the Draft Combine and individual workouts ramp up, it appears that the top 3 point guard prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft are (1) Ja Morant of Murray State, (2) Darius Garland of Vanderbilt, and (3) Coby White of the University of North Carolina. All three have various strengths and weaknesses, and all could contribute to a talent starved Bulls roster. I’m not going to go into a full breakdown of these three players and how they will or will not fit with the Bulls. I don’t think my basketball IQ is high enough to do them justice. I am going to give a couple observations on each of these guys, things I’ve noticed in YouTube highlight reels and during the games I’ve watched them play. Let’s start with #1…
6’3” 175 lbs.
+Positives: Morant is quick, athletic, capable of scoring from all over the court, a competent distributor, and he can make you sit slack jawed after a play/shot he’s made. He’s got a “Wow” factor to his game that can’t be quantified. Morant can get into the paint and draw the defense out of position. He has the mind and vision of a point guard. He makes his teammates better.
-Negatives: He is very slight and it may take several years for his body to build up the strength it takes to survive in the NBA. Much like Kris Dunn, Morant dominates the ball, he needs to have it in his hands and be the playmaker for his teammates. While he is a solid passer, I wonder if Zach LaVine will appreciate having to rely on a rookie distributor for his looks at the rim. There might be some “my turn, your turn” isolation nonsense with Zach and Ja if the two find themselves to be teammates. Another area of concern, Morant is not a great defender and would be a poor cover for LaVine on that end of the court. More on Morant…
6’2” 175 lbs.
+Positives: Garland is an elite shooter, with some pretty sweet handles to boot. Pull ups, catch-and-shoots, 3 pointers, mid-range jumpers, he can take, and make, them all. He is also comfortable playing off the ball, which would make things easier to run the multiple ball handler offense that Jim Boylen seems to favor. Garland is a good pick-and-roll ball handler, and is capable of creating enough space to get his shot off against any defender.
-Negatives: He was injured for most of his lone college season (a meniscus tear in his knee), so there isn’t a lot to go off of when projecting his skills to the NBA level. He is physically small, and will be picked on by opponents he tries to defend. His size also limits his vision as a distributor. He had a lot of turnovers on errant passes thrown to players he couldn’t see because his own defender towered over him. Garland also sucks at floaters. More on Garland…
6’5” 185 lbs
+Positives: White runs the fast break very well. His size and relative strength automatically make him the best defender out of the top three point guard prospects. He is also very comfortable playing off the ball. He is a good shooter, and he is strong enough to finish at the rim with multiple defenders draped on him.
-Negatives: He hasn’t played much point guard in the past, so his vision and playmaking are not as polished as Garland or Morant. White is not very athletic either, he has a distinct Denzel Valentine feel to his game at times. More on White…
If, God forbid, the Bulls don’t get the #1 pick overall (Zion Williamson) and miss out on all three of the top point guards, there are several other point guards in the draft that could help the team. One in particular who might be worth the Bulls second round pick would be Shamorie Ponds, the junior out of St. John’s.
6’1” 175 lbs
+Positives: He’s a baller. The guy has all sorts of moves and counter moves on offense. He can score. He can dish. He spent his three years at St. John’s developing his game and his body. Ponds is strong for his size, and should be able to contribute to an NBA team right away.
-Negatives: Due to his age, size, and underwhelming athleticism, most experts cap Ponds’ NBA ceiling as a rotational bench player/spot starter. He could be a solid player in the league for many years, but he doesn’t have superstar potential. He doesn’t have an elite skill (except maybe his repertoire of moves) to hang his hat on, and that’s why people project him as a second round pick. More on Ponds…
No matter which point guard the Bulls draft (if any), starting over at that critical position demands time and patience. The prospect will need time to adjust to the NBA game and get comfortable with the competition. This could take up to 3 seasons to happen, point guard is a notoriously difficult position to play at the NBA level. The Front Office will need time to evaluate whichever player they take, and that means they need to be patient. The prospect must be allowed time to make mistakes and grow. By starting over at the point guard position, continuing the Quest, the Bulls have likely added another 3 seasons to the rebuild.
You’re probably thinking, “Yuck!” But there are a couple ways the Front Office can cut down the amount of time it takes to get the Bulls back to championship contention: 1) Sign the right veteran free agent point guard to shepherd the team and mentor the rookie for a season or two. 2) Catch lightning in a bottle at the draft, and watch the point guard they pick turn into a superstar overnight.
Both choices place tremendous pressure on GarPax. It’s important to remember that their self-stated goal for the upcoming season is to be in the playoff hunt. As the ongoing Quest for the Point Guard of the Future takes another turn, it seems the path to a championship is falling further and further away. The well worn road to mediocrity is threatening on the horizon, and what’s this? Haven’t we already passed by this rock? I’m sure I’ve seen it before. I’m not saying GarPax have gotten us lost or anything, focusing on their Quest for a Point Guard, it’s just, if we keep wandering around in the wilderness like this, we might be forced to eat Felicio.
On that morbid thought, we’re now under two weeks away from the NBA Lottery Drawing, the ultimate determination of draft position. Keep those fingers crossed Bulls fans. Thanks for reading and GO BULLS!