As the NBA drifts through the heart of the summer doldrums, I’m turning my attention to the Bulls roster. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my hopes, expectations, and keys for all our favorite Chicago basketball players. That’s right, it’s time for another installment of…
The RokDeez Bulls Blog State of the Roster
Here’s how this is going to work, I’ll lay out some of the expectations I have for each Bulls player this season, along with a best case scenario/worst case scenario, finishing off with what I think will be key to each player having a successful season. I’m not including Antonio Blakeney on this rundown because I don’t think he’ll be on the roster when they start the regular season, but Kris Dunn probably will be, so he made the list. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with the rookies:
Coby White will struggle his rookie season with the Bulls, especially right out of the gate at the start of the campaign. I’m expecting White to get a good chunk of playing time, especially as the season progresses. I hope he averages 15 to 20 minutes a game. He’ll make a lot of rookie mistakes (i.e. turnovers) and grapple with the speed of the NBA game, but I think he’ll start getting comfortable in the second half of the season and might even earn some of the minutes he’ll be playing. The best I can see for White is that he adjusts quickly to his teammates and grows into a competent facilitator and passer (maybe he averages 5 or 6 assists in those 15-20 minutes he plays). If he’s consistently finding an open Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, or Otto Porter with crisp passes, then everything will be gravy. The worst thing that can happen for White is the loss of confidence in his own abilities. White is still a very raw prospect, he has a lot to work on in terms of becoming a true NBA talent, but the potential is clearly there. When a rookie inevitably struggles, it can be easy for doubt to creep into their thoughts and emotions. The key for White this season will be his ability to handle the emotional toil that his rookie mistakes will create. He will need tremendous mental fortitude to survive and flourish in his first season of professional basketball. I think Coby White can do both of those things; survive and flourish. If he proves mentally tough, he might even be challenging Tomas Satoransky for the starting point guard position by the end of the regular season.
Daniel Gafford is a wildcard on this Bulls roster. My gut is telling me that he’ll play a lot of games with the Windy City Bulls, but my heart hopes he shows enough in preseason to earn a spot in the regular rotation. Gafford is a young and athletic rim runner and protector. He has a lot of areas he needs to improve in before he becomes a good NBA player, like his lateral movement on defense and shooting anywhere beyond 2 feet from the rim, but he absolutely has the energy to play in the league. The best I can see for Gafford this season, is that he carves out a niche for himself as the off-the-bench energy guy who grabs rebounds, dunks a lot, is a competent roll man in the pick-and-roll, and an unadulterated shot eraser on defense. Gafford kind of reminds me of a puppy; he’s pure energy. When directed well, he’ll be a bundle of fun, but if left to his own devices, there is no telling what kind of trouble he might get up to. Dumb fouls, getting in the way of his own teammates while going after rebounds, flexing after a dunk while down 20 points in garbage time, these are all things I could see Gafford doing as a rookie. The key for Gafford will be how coachable he proves to be. If he is able to focus his energy and grow his game, he will be an important player for the Bulls not only this season, but for many seasons to come (think of a more athletic Taj Gibson). I don’t expect this to happen overnight or even by the time this season ends, but Gafford has the talent to be a serious contributor on an NBA roster, he might just need a season in the G-League to unlock that potential.
Do you remember the last time Cristiano Felicio looked like a competent up-and-coming center? It was the season of the 3 Alphas, and Felicio benefited greatly from the play of Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade, and Rajon Rondo. They used him in pick-and-roll, they took all the thinking out of the game by dumping off passes for him under the rim. Felicio excelled when he had high basketball IQ players around him. Guess what? The Bulls have several high basketball IQ players on the team again. Satoransky, Porter, Thaddeus Young, all of these guys understand how to maximize their teammates game. If, and this is a big if, Felicio can show up to preseason in shape and ready to play, if, and this is an even bigger if, he can win some playing time for himself, I’m expecting a resurgence in his game. He can turn himself back into a positive component for this team. The key to Felicio turning things around will be his conditioning. He needs to be in basketball shape to begin the season, and he needs to be hungry to improve as a player. I seriously doubt we’ll see him on the court for any extensive playing time this season, but don’t be too surprised if he starts to show up on the positive side of the stat sheet. Felicio will improve with better players around him, but only if he’s ready to take advantage of the opportunities they give him.
With the dust settling on the team’s recent transactions, embattled starting point guard Kris Dunn seems to have lost both his spot in the Bulls rotation and their future plans. By drafting White, signing Satoransky, re-signing Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaquille Harrison, and increasing the ball handling responsibilities of LaVine and Markkanen, the Bulls have essentially shown Dunn the door. Unfortunately for both sides, Dunn is under contract for this season, and with little interest in his services from other teams around the league, a trade has yet to materialize. It looks like Dunn and the Bulls will be stuck with each other to start the season. It’s a simple road map that Dunn needs to follow in order to prove himself in the NBA. 1) He must improve his ball handling and decision making skills as the floor general. 2) He needs to take and hit more 3 pointers. 3) He has to continue getting to the rim on his drives through the lane, forcing fouls or finishing for points. 4) He needs to stay healthy. It’s the same map he’s had to follow for the past two seasons. It’s foolish of me to think that Dunn will make these adjustments based on his track record, but he is another year older and wiser, so maybe it isn’t foolish to hope he does. The real key for Dunn is improving his shooting. He is a consistent 3 point shot away from making the Bulls look really dumb for doubting him. With everything stacked against him this season, with the Front Office actively working to undermine his growth and development, I wonder how Dunn will react? If there’s one thing we do know about Dunn, it’s that he doesn’t shy away from do-or-die moments. He likes to play the hero; He hits big shots with the game on the line. Maybe he’ll thrive this season despite the deck being stacked against him. It’s what I’m hoping for.
Next week we’ll continue working our way through the Bulls roster, laying out my hopes, expectations, and keys for the upcoming season. If you have thoughts about any of the Bulls players or next season in general, feel free to leave them in the comments below or @rokdeezblog on Twitter. Until next time, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!