ShaqSoars
Shaquille Harrison soars to the rim. Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times.

It’s time for another installment of…

The RokDeez Bulls Blog State of the Roster, Part 2: The Wild Cards

Today’s post will focus on some of the guys it might be hard to put expectations on. These are players that are a mixed bag of talent and skills, guys who are coming back from injury, or are just a big unknown. Again the idea behind these “State of the Roster” posts is to share my hopes, expectations, and keys for the individual players on the Bulls team.

KornetJam
Luke Kornet punishes the rim, Jakarr Sampson, and Ryan Arcidiacono all with a single slam dunk. Photo from the New York Post.

Luke Kornet should be a familiar name to Bulls fans. If you watched last years horrific campaign (5th worst in franchise history) then you might remember Kornet repeatedly torching the Bulls as a member of the New York Knicks. On April 1st of this year, he dropped 24 points on Chicago on 8 of 11 shooting from the field, and 5 of 7 from 3 point land. He was lights out that night. He also grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. It was a very good game for Luke Kornet. Just eight days later, he followed up his offensive performance against the Bulls with a defensive gem. On April 9th, Kornet posted a double-double against Chicago with 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks. I don’t know what to expect from Luke Kornet this season. This will be his 3rd season in the NBA, which is usually the season young players start to put it all together and figure out how they can make positive contributions to their team. I hope Kornet can come off the bench and consistently hit his 3 point shots while protecting the rim on the defensive end of the court. At 7’ 1”, he is an unconventional size for a “3 and D” player, but that seems to be what his roll is. I can’t even guess how much playing time Kornet will earn under Coach Jim Boylen. With a plethora of bigs on this Bulls team, Kornet will have to quickly carve out a niche for himself in the rotation, or face a season of garbage time mop up duty. The key for him will be his energy and effort. Boylen loves energy and effort guys, it’s the reason Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison (more on him in a moment) are still members of the Bulls. I don’t know what more energy and effort looks like in Luke Kornet, but I hope he carves out that niche in the rotation. I think Kornet might be a diamond-in-the-rough kind of player. The kind of guy that has sneaky high potential, easily overlooked because he doesn’t fit the preconceived notions people have of players with his body type. Luke Kornet could be another unicorn just waiting to be discovered, he just needs the minutes to prove it.

ShaqSoars
Shaquille Harrison soars to the rim. Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Shaquille Harrison had a tumultuous offseason. He started the summer as a senior member of the Bulls Summer League team in Las Vegas, but was quickly cut in order to make room for several free agent signings. I, like a lot of fans, thought that was the end of the Shaquille Harrison experiment, and the premature end of the Bulls very own “Shaq and Coby (White)” era.

-If you think about it, this year has been filled with some block buster moves by the Bulls. First the Front Office traded for Carmelo Anthony, and then they signed “Shaq and Coby” in the offseason. Mind blowing stuff.

Surprise, surprise! After cleaning up the books, GarPax approached Shaq and offered him a partially guaranteed contract to come back to the Bulls, and he accepted. There is no doubt what Harrison offers the Bulls as a player. His speed and defense both approach elite levels in the NBA. His size and innate talent, however, are less than exciting. Shaq needs a shot. His speed can get him to the rim, his defense can put him in an NBA rotation. But if he wants to be a positive player for the Bulls, he is going to have to learn to shoot the basketball. With a lack of wing depth on the Bulls roster, the likelihood that they play heaps of 3 guard rotations is pretty high. Harrison is probably going to be guarding scads of larger players all season long. As strong and well conditioned as he is, I fear the nightly mismatches will prove too much of a grind for his body to take. He is best suited to play a running, slashing, 2 Guard position, but I expect he’ll see a lot of time at the “3.” There are several keys for Shaq Harrison this season. He absolutely must start hitting his jump shots, and it’s imperative his body and conditioning stand the test of an entire season of mismatches. He’s got a tough slog in front of him, but I believe Shaq Harrison is up for the challenge.

Speaking of wing depth, Chandler Hutchison had a less than stellar Summer League, giving a lot of his supporters (myself included) some pause before he starts in on his second season in the NBA. Hutch is one of the few true wing players we have on the roster, and the Bulls seem to be putting a lot of confidence in a second year player who is a slow learner and was recently injured. I’ve always thought Chandler Hutchison could be a solid player in the NBA, but I’ve also said, on multiple occasions, that it will probably take several seasons for him to reach that potential. I am not a fan of the Front Office putting so much responsibility on Hutch. It seems to me that the Bulls expect Hutchison to be their primary back up on the wing, either taking over for Otto Porter Jr at the 3 or Lauri Markkanen at the 4, depending on how they work their rotations. The key for Hutchison will be how well he’s recovered from his foot injury. He looked slow in Summer League. He wasn’t quick with his defensive rotations, he didn’t play with the gusto of his rookie season. I hope that was just the normal rust that accumulates after recovering from an injury. I hope he was taking it easy as a safe guard against other injuries. I know we will see improvement from Hutch this season, slow and steady wins the race, but I’m worried that too much is being placed on his shoulders. As the primary backup at the Wing position, he’s a good, young player with potential, but no matter how often Stacey King might say it, he is not a young Scottie Pippen. He should not be relied upon like he is a young Scottie Pippen. Hutch’s game is not Pippen’s game. The two should not be compared to one another, EVER. It’s an insult to one of the greatest basketball players of all time. I’m sorry, I’m on a tangent. I’m just afraid that the Front Office buys into the rhetoric and aren’t seeing who and what Chandler Hutchison truly is; a developing mid-level NBAer. Maybe I’m coddling Hutch. Maybe he’ll take the opportunity this season and soar to greater heights than I imagine him reaching in his career. Even so, betting the success of a season on the play of an unproven project player, it’s a ballsy move by GarPax to say the least.

Did someone say foot injury? It seems like a decade since we last saw Denzel Valentine suit up for the Chicago Bulls. His ankle sprain, that extraordinarily required reconstructive surgery and kept him sidelined for all of last season (the 5th worst in franchise history), now raises questions about how effective he’ll be as he returns to the NBA. Before the surgery, Valentine was proving himself to be a capable 3 point shooter and passer. He finished the 2017-18 season as the de facto backup point guard, and played well enough that he felt comfortable claiming he should be a starter in the league. His bold confidence and claims aside, the Bulls did miss Denzel Valentine last season. They missed his floor spacing and facilitating, and he seems like the kind of player that would thrive in a multi-ballhandler system. His ability to play both on and off the ball make him the perfect player for Boyball. The key for Valentine will be how well he returns from his ankle surgery. I can see it going two ways. One, he could be a shell of his former self, even slower and less athletic than he has been in his short NBA career (which is pretty slow and unathletic, truth be told). Or two, this surgery and his subsequent rehab, could push him to new levels of speed and athleticism, levels we’ve never seen during his time with the Bulls. It is possible that Valentine could come back from this injury, confident in his ankle for the first time in years, bursting with strength and energy that only a new ankle can give, and just explode on the NBA scene. I’m hoping he has a resurgent year, just as Zach LaVine did last season. I think Valentine is another important piece to the Bulls bench, and his health could be extremely important to the success of the team this season. Just like Chandler Hutchison, the Bulls are taking a risk relying on Valentine to come off the bench and play meaningful minutes. But with the bold confidence and bravado that he possesses, maybe the trust the Bulls show in Denzel Valentine will be well founded.

Next time on the RokDeez Bulls Blog State of the Roster we’ll look at some of the “Glue Guys” of the roster; the players whose work, production, and leadership keep the team together. Until then, thanks for reading, and GO BULLS!