If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know I’ve been harping on the Bulls need for a competent point guard for several years now, and over recent months my clamoring has reached a fevered pitch. After all the pining, lamenting, and spread sheets, I’ve had enough. This will be the last post I write about the Bulls Point Guard Situation until the Round Table does something about it.
My opinion boils down to this: Anybody Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley bring in to be the lead ball handler for the Bulls is probably going to be an upgrade over what they currently have.
I’m not trying to disparage the efforts of Coby White, Tomas Satoransky, and Zach LaVine, what I’m saying is, the team will be better off with a player that has dedicated their career to running an offense. White made significant strides last season when it came to leading the offense, but that is still a secondary skill he is developing. White is several seasons away from being a reliable lead ball handler. Likewise, Sato is a solid second unit point guard, that is capable of competently holding down the fort while a starter gets some rest, but he hasn’t been effective when tasked with leading the offense as a starter. Zach LaVine is a supreme scorer, but is limited as a point guard due to below average vision and understanding of how to run an offense. He has worked tirelessly to improve both of those areas of his game, and he has, but he is not a natural lead ball handler, and his unique scoring skills are wasted when he is forced to play that role full time.
After the trade for Nikola Vucevic, it seems more important than ever that the Bulls find someone that can run the offense. By pairing the two All-Stars, Vucevic and LaVine, the Round Table has shifted the expectations for the franchise from “rebuild” to “relevance.” When you have two All-Stars on the roster, a trip to the playoffs is the goal and anything less than that is failure. In order for the Bulls to reach their full potential, and not only make the playoffs but thrive in them, they need a lead ball handler.
There has been a lot of talk among fans this offseason about which point guard the Round Table should target. Free agents, trades, draft prospects, there isn’t a scenario left in the basketball universe that hasn’t been thoroughly explored, analyzed, and critiqued by Bulls fans. The excitement for a potential point guard upgrade is at an all time high. Even during last season, the rumors of the Bulls interest in New Orleans Pelican, Lonzo Ball, had fans buzzing with excitement, and while those rumors have died down a bit, it hasn’t stopped the hunger for a point guard from growing.
So what should the Bulls do?
I’m not really sure.
The only thing I’m certain of, is that the Round Table can’t do nothing. They have to find a competent point guard to start along side LaVine and Vucevic.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they break the bank and pay Chris Paul $30 million for one season of service. It also doesn’t mean that they should trade everybody, and every future draft pick, for Damian Lillard. There are affordable point guards that can help the Bulls get to the playoffs without putting the franchise into the league’s Luxury Tax, or emptying the cupboard of draft assets.
What a lot of fans have forgotten about in their fervor for a point guard, is that the Bulls need a heck of a lot more than just a starting point guard on this roster. The end of the GarPax era was tragic, not just because of the constant losing, but because it left the Bulls bereft of talent at the wing position.
The failure of the Bulls coaching staff to develop Lauri Markkanen and Chandler Hutchison really hurt the wing depth of the franchise. Most basketball experts argue that the wing is far more important in the current NBA than point guard play. I’m not sure I completely agree with that statement considering what we’ve gone through the past 4 seasons here in Chicago. Even so, it’s obvious, even to an idiot like me, that competent, 2-way play on the wing is an important factor in building a successful franchise.
Just look at the four teams playing in the Conference Finals of this year, they all had exceptional wing play: Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Cam Johnson for Phoenix, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and PJ Tucker for Milwaukee, Paul George, Marcus Morris, and Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers, and the platoon of John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic for the Atlanta Hawks. Wings are important, and the Bulls currently only have the potential of Patrick Williams and the enigma of Troy Brown Jr on the roster.
The Bulls are caught between two worlds. They are trying to compete for the playoffs, but they are also trying to build a stable of young talent that can pick up where this current crop of veterans leaves off. Patrick Williams, Coby White, the hope of a developed Devon Dotson, and the possibility of a stashed Euro Savior, Marko Simonovic, are all the Bulls have when the future comes knocking. Not only does this franchise need a point guard and wings, it needs talent for the future.
The lack of young talent and wing depth on the Bulls roster is depressing, and it means the Round Table has more than just the point guard situation to address this offseason. So far, the Bulls have been relying on the playmaking and hustle of 14 year veteran Thaddeus Young to fill the holes both on the wing and at point guard. Last season, the Bulls ran the offense through Thad, using him as a “Point Forward” with Williams at the 3. They also used Young as the small ball Big, with Lauri Markkanen and Williams as the Forwards. Sometimes, Coach Billy Donovan ran a 3 Big lineup at opponents with some combination of Vucevic, Thad, Daniel Theis, and/or Markkanen all on the court together. The Bulls leaned heavily on Young throughout the year, and it mostly paid off. Thad had a tremendous season for the Bulls, possibly the best of his career, but they can’t rely on him to be that productive in the future, nor should they.
The Bulls offense last season was interesting, and sometimes quite effective. The use of 3 Bigs in the lineup at the same time, caught some opponents by surprise, and made for some fun matchup problems, but running the offense through Thad, and overpowering opponents with 3 Bigs, were both gimmicks born out of necessity. The Bulls didn’t have enough talent or skill to run a traditional pick-and-roll offense. When it comes to the playoffs, you need that rudimentary basketball of collapsing a defense, attacking the rim, and/or finding the open man, in order to win. Which brings us back to the need for a competent point guard.
Who’s out there, and who makes sense for the Bulls?
I’m not about to make another spread sheet with all the potential point guard options for the Bulls, the good news is there are many. What I will do is run through a few players I think fit the divergent timelines of the Bulls roster. Let’s start with free agents:
There are several elder statesman of the point guard position that could really help the Bulls “win now.” Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, and/or Goran Dragic are all excellent lead ball handlers, with oodles of experience. Each of them play the position a little differently from the other, but I think Donovan would be able to fit any of them into the Bull’s schemes without a problem. These players would be short term solutions to the Bulls long term problem.
Conley has everything you’d want in a point guard, even if he’s lost a step or two with age, he is still able to create, score, and defend at a high level. Lowry still has the energy and shot making that he has always had. The added bonus of having won a championship, only enhances his leadership skills. I think Dragic is just a slight step down from Conley and Lowry, when it comes to skill and leadership. There are reasonable questions about his effectiveness on offense after a tough 2020-21 campaign, but he’s still a dedicated, experienced point guard that would pair nicely with LaVine and Vucevic.
When it comes to slightly younger free agent point guards, players that will not only help the Bulls compete for the playoffs, but should be around after Vucevic, Young, and Satoransky are gone, I’ve got 3 names on my shopping list: Spencer Dinwiddie, Devonte’ Graham, and Lonzo Ball.
Honestly, the Bulls never should have released Spencer Dinwiddie when they invited him to training camp and pre-season in 2016. He outplayed every point guard on the roster that pre-season, but still found himself cut while guys like Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and Isaiah Canaan made the team. Dinwiddie spent that season on the Windy City Bulls before finding his way to the Brooklyn Nets, and the rest, as they say, is history. As much as I like Dinwiddie, there are still some issues to be aware of, he is 28 years old and coming off of a serious injury that forced him to miss nearly the entirety of last season. There is no guarantee he’ll come back as the dynamic, scoring, playmaking, and tenacious player that wooed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to Brooklyn. That being said, even if Dinwiddie is a shadow of his former self, he’ll still be an upgrade for the Bulls just based on his vision and positional understanding.
Devonte’ Graham and Lonzo Ball are 26 and 23 years old respectively, both strong defenders, and both capable of dishing out the assists. If there is a flaw to both of their games, it’s that they are perimeter oriented point guards. They are not drive-and-dish players, more like probe-and-swing. This might not be a big deal if the Bulls continue to run the offense out of the post with Vucevic and/or Young. Ball’s height, and Graham’s savvy ball skills, allow both to get the ball into the post with ease. It can’t be overstated just how special of a passer Ball is, and you can’t underestimate the shooting of Graham. Their age also allow them to grow with LaVine, White, and Williams. Either would be the perfect long term fit for the Bulls backcourt.
Free agency is the “easy” way for the Bulls to pick up a lead ball handler, but not the only way. As the NBA Playoffs start to wind down, the trade rumors are running rampant around the league. There are plenty of players that teams might be willing to part with if the Bulls are able to pay the price. I’ve got a list of about 9 point guards I think the Bulls should inquire about.
Marcus Smart – The Boston Celtic’s defensive stopper would be a great fit next to LaVine. Over the years, Smart has become more than just defense and energy (two things the Bulls sorely lack), he has also rounded himself into a decent enough playmaker. He averaged 5.7 assists per game last season, he is only 26 years old, and has competed in the playoffs every season of his 7 year NBA career. Smart would be a solid addition to the Bulls roster.
Ricky Rubio – While getting a little long in the tooth at 30 years old, Rubio is still one of the best playmakers in the league. He is also familiar with LaVine and Young from their early years together in Minnesota. But with Rubio comes the inevitable questions about his shooting and defense. The concerns, while completely justified, might actually make it easier for the Bulls to acquire the man. They might not have to give up as much in a trade for an aging, flawed, point guard as say any of the other point guards on my “trade for” list.
Jalen Brunson – The Dallas Mavericks point guard off the bench for the past 3 seasons is an all around solid basketball player. At 24 years old, he is young enough to fit with the Bulls future plans, and ready to start in the league. His basketball intelligence makes up for any of his athletic deficiencies, and he would be an excellent piece in a possible sign-and-trade deal featuring Lauri Markkanen. Brunson is the kind of “fly in the ointment” player that Bulls fans fall in love with.
So far, my trade options have been more practical than sexy, but all that changes right now. Three sexy trade options that might break the bank for the Bulls would be: Damian Lillard, De’Aaron Fox, and Dejounte Murray. The rumors about Lillard and Fox’s availability have all been speculative, but an actual report surfaced this weekend in the Athletic that the San Antonio Spurs are open to trading both Murray and one of his backcourt mates, Derrick White. The Bulls absolutely have to get involved in talks with San Antonio for one, or both, of these players. Murray is one of the top, young, up-and-coming point guards in the game, and Derrick White is no slouch as a lead ball handler either. If those players are available, the Bulls HAVE to see if they can afford at least one of them. While a trade for Lillard and Fox might be nothing more than a fantasy, Murray or White are actually available, let’s see how aggressive AK and Eversley are willing to be.
Let’s dream a little…
Damian Lillard is one of the best players in the NBA. If he really is unhappy in Portland and looking for a new home, Karnisovas has to at least see what the asking price is. A superstar like Lillard could take the Bulls not just from “rebuild” to “relevant,” but from “rebuild” to “contending.” Lillard on the Bulls could be as transforming as Chris Paul on the Phoenix Suns. The obvious question is, do the Bulls have enough assets and talent to trade for Lillard? No, they do not. Is there a third or fourth team that could get involved to help make the trade happen? Absolutely. I don’t know how it could or would work. I’m guessing the Bulls would probably lose both Patrick Williams and Coby White in the trade (maybe even Vucevic), along with future 1st round draft picks, but if Lillard is pushing to get out of Portland the price might not be as high as I expect it to be, especially if a third or fourth team get involved.
De’Aaron Fox is a really fun, budding superstar, that is playing for one of the most dysfunctional teams in the league, the Sacramento Kings. With ongoing tensions between Fox and Marvin Bagley III (or at least Bagley’s father) it’s possible that the Kings would be willing to part ways with their run-and-gun point guard, especially after the success of rookie ball handler Tyrese Haliburton. I seriously doubt Sacramento would be dumb enough to trade Fox, but it never hurts to find out. Again, the asking price for Fox might be too much for the Bulls to cover, but his skills are worth the inquiry.
Dejounte Murray would be a great fit next to Zach LaVine. His defense is solid, and while he is not a great perimeter shooter, he’s better than bad. He has improved his stats every season he’s been in the league, and his combination of playmaking and defense would simply make the Bulls dangerous. Acquiring Dejounte Murray makes sense as part of a sign-and-trade with Lauri Markkanen. Murray is making a modest $15.4 Million next season, and is signed through the 2023-’24 season with his salary steadily climbing to a maximum of $17.7 Million in that final year. That’s a bargain, and pretty close to the $20 Million, or so, a year Markkanen is expecting to be offered in restricted free agency. I’m not sure how interested San Antonio is in Markkanen’s skill set, but if there is anyone that can actualize his maximum potential it’s Greg Popovich and the rest of his coaching staff.
Derrick White is the other intriguing name from the Spurs that has come up as “available.” White has been used as an off-ball guard while Murray is on the court, but he has been used as a lead ball handler with the second unit, and thrived in that position. He gets to the rim and finishes at a decent clip (62.8% FG from within 3 feet of the rim) while maintaining a respectable 3 point percentage (35.7%). He averages a modest 3.4 assists per game with 1.3 turnovers, but that jumps to 6.7 assists and 2.5 turnovers per 100 possessions. Trading for Derrick White to be your lead ball handler is risky, he is still unproven in that role, but the data and the video that I’ve watched on him lead me to believe he has the potential to fill that role. White would be another prime candidate for the old Lauri Markannen sign-and-trade. He’s making between $17.5-$19.3 Million a season through 2024-’25, which would probably matchup well with a Markkanen contract.
The last two point guards that the Bulls should inquire about are both “projects.” These are guys that will probably not help the Bulls win next season, but could be excellent lead ball handlers in a couple seasons. I’m talking about Collin Sexton and Killian Hayes.
With the emergence of Darius Garland as a solid point guard, Collin Sexton has found himself playing as the off-ball guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many would argue that’s where he belongs, at 22 years old, he’s shown enough improvement as the a playmaker over the past couple seasons that I think he deserves a little more time to grow into that role. The obvious issue is that his skills and timeline overlap with Coby White, so it might not be worth it to trade for a “roster redundancy.” I’m still in love with Sexton’s potential, and his ability to get to the rim, I’d be willing to make a modest trade for his talents. If the Bulls are interested in Sexton, they have competition. Rumors have recently surfaced that the New York Knicks are aggressively pursuing a trade for young point guard. Unlike the Bulls, New York has the assets to make a trade like that happen. While Sexton has a solid skill set, and shown improvement, he’s probably not worth getting into a bidding war with the Knicks.
Killian Hayes was all the rage last draft. His flashy passing, and fast break skills absolutely translated to the NBA. Unfortunately, an early injury put a pin in most of his first season development as an NBAer, and the tanking efforts of the Detroit Pistons paid off in the best way for the franchise. With the 1st pick in this year’s draft, Detroit is likely to select Cade Cunningham, a player that would make Hayes and his on-ball skills superfluous. It might be too early to try trading for Hayes, Detroit might ask for too much in return, but I think it would be smart for the Round Table to at least ask about his availability.
We’ve covered free agent point guards, we’ve speculated about possible trade targets, let’s briefly look at the Draft. I haven’t done my usual draft prep this year because the Bulls only have a 2nd round draft pick, but I do plan on going more in depth on the draft in an upcoming post. For now, I’ll throw a few point guard names out that the Bulls might think about drafting.
Jared Butler from Baylor: 19.9 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, with 5.7 assists, and 2.3 steals. Projected to be drafted just outside the lottery in the mid to late teens by most mock drafts.
Davion Mitchell also from Baylor: 15.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2.1 steals. Like Butler, Mitchell is projected to go mid draft, in the mid to late teens.
Sharife Cooper of Auburn: 21.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 8.8 assists. Projected as a late teens pick.
Daishen Nix played in the G-League: 11.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. Has the advantage of playing NBA adjacent, so there is little doubt his skills can translate to the big league. Nix is projected as an end of the 1st round draft pick.
Ayo Dosunmu from Illinois: 20.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists. Dosunmu recently worked out for the Bulls, and is projected to go early in the 2nd round of the draft. He might even be available when the Bulls pick at 38th overall.
Jalen Crutcher of Dayton: 17.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists. Crutcher also worked out for the Bulls and has a decent highlight reel. He is not projected to go in the draft but could be a smart undrafted signing like Devon Dotson was last season.
Obviously, in order to draft the guys projected to go in the 1st round, the Bulls will have to trade up/into the 1st round to make that happen. I’m speculating, but it’s probably easier to do trade into the draft then, say, trade for Damian Lillard. I wouldn’t expect any point guard draft pick (even Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs) to help the Bulls make a playoff run next season, but they could be just what the team needs in a couple, two, three years from now.
That pretty much does it for me and The Bulls Point Guard Situation. Something has to be done, and I’m not the one who can do it. I’ve laid out a bunch of possibilities, and I hope that through this lengthy post, Bulls fans realize that there are a ton of ways Karnisovas and Eversley can effectively fill the role of starting point guard both for next year, and the future. Hell, I didn’t even mention names like Ben Simmons, Patty Mills, or DeMar DeRozan, all gettable players, and all upgrades over what we currently have. Now that I’ve gotten all of that off my chest (I feel a lot better), I promise I won’t drag you into the point guard vortex again until the Round Table actually makes a move.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Raul Neto highlights to watch. As always, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!