It’s time. For the first time since the Jordan era, the Bulls are opening a season as defending champions and begin their quest to secure another banner to hang in the Advocate Center. I’m kidding as they don’t hang banners, but they did get a trophy so the Bulls do have a chance to get some extra hardware for their trophy case in the Advocate Center. Sure, it’s just Summer League, but to be fair, this might be the most excitement we’ll have all season.
Ultimately, Summer League is about acclimating prospects to the speed and competition of the National Basketball Association, but it can also be a window into how second (or third) year guys develop. For example: Boston’s Jaylen Brown has been on a tear in the smaller Utah Summer League and looked like a man amongst boys. In contrast, Dejounte Murray, who I’ve been and still super high on, has looked terrible. This gives organizations and their fans an idea of what to expect from these prospects moving forward. For the Bulls, we have three second year players that project to be rotation players next year: Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, and the newly acquired Kris Dunn. The Bulls also have third year guard Cameron Payne playing Summer League and rookie Lauri Markkanen making his debut. Four of those guys have never played Summer League basketball for the Chicago Bulls and all five project to be in the rotation next year. Bulls fans will be able to get an idea of what to expect from these young players.
Don’t be surprised if Paul Zipser has a dominant Summer League. He surprisingly broke into the rotation last year and made some solid contributions to the Bulls. Zipser has the tools and the abilities to develop into a “three-and-D” player as he shot 37.7% from three and had the 6th best defensive rating on the Bulls post All-Star break. He may surprise some people in Summer League, but that doesn’t always translate into NBA success. I would imagine he’ll be the starting small forward for the Bulls this season so I’m really watching to see how his three-point shot is looking. Was that 37.7% a fluke? I don’t think that it was.
Cameron Payne is making his second consecutive Summer League appearance, but his first as a Chicago Bull. Summer League appearances heading into your fourth season as a professional is kind of unprecedented, but the Bulls still don’t really know what they have in Cameron Payne. He usually performs well there – he averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4 assists last year in Orlando – but it hasn’t translated to NBA success. I think the ceiling for Payne is the Aaron Brooks type of energetic scorer off the bench, but my hunch is he just won’t be able to put it together at this level.
Denzel Valentine is the lone returning Summer League champ and the guy who drained the game winner in the finals last year. He had a difficult rookie season with inconsistent playing time, injuries, and a crowded backcourt featuring guys who just needed the ball in Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and eventually Jerian Grant. Valentine was lauded as a playmaker before last season and never really had the opportunity to show that side of his game and instead became a spot-up shooter, which worked pretty well after the All-Star break when he averaged 7.3 points and shot 38.4% from three. I’m hoping for a huge summer from him and I’m expecting him to solidify his spot in the Bulls rotation next year.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen will be making his professional debut on Saturday and fans seem split on him. Some think he’s just the token white shooter and some think the Bulls should’ve went a different direction with Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, or even Donovan Mitchell. Honestly, I was furious the Bulls passed on Malik Monk, who I think could be the next Ben Gordon or become a player in the mold of Ray Allen and I love Donovan Mitchell and wish he was a Chicago Bull. But the Bulls took the best player available and a guy that does fit their need. The Bulls are loaded with guards with potential and they’re still looking for a quality big man. We’re not sure if Nikola Mirotic will be retained even though the Bulls are trying and he hasn’t been consistent his entire career. Bobby Portis continues to be atrocious on defense and doesn’t have the size to play center. Robin Lopez is here, but he could be a very nice trade piece come February and I think he could net a first round pick for a team that may be trying to contend and needs a big man. Markkanen makes sense. I remember the first time I saw Markkanen play at Arizona and I was like, “Man, this guy is nice. I’d like him on the Bulls.” Well, here he is. He’s a versatile big man that can score and drain threes. It may take him a year or two to adjust to the NBA, but he’s going to be good. He fits Hoiberg’s scheme and the trend of the modern NBA perfectly.
The guy I’m most excited to watch in Vegas is Kris Dunn. I was really high on Dunn last year and even had several people that watched way more college basketball than I did tell me that he would be the best player from that draft. I don’t know if that’s true, but here he is coming off a rough rookie season and with a fresh start. He will see a lot of time this regular season and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of what he could be. First impressions are he’s quick, athletic, and has a great feel for the game. He’s also a tenacious defender so it’s easy to see why John Paxson wanted him. Remember his comments about Derrick Rose and defense a couple of years ago?
“We couldn’t keep people in front of us, and that’s important,’’ Paxson said of Rose and his defense. “Especially, that always starts with your guards, especially your point guard, creating, setting a tone. That’s an area Derrick’s really going to have to work on this summer. We need our point guard to set the tone defensively, there’s no question about that.’’
The Bulls haven’t had that at point guard for a while. Kris Dunn could provide that intensity on the defensive end and more. The Bulls are going to be patient with him and allow him to grow. I think he’s going to be a nice fit.
Summer League play begins Saturday with the Chicago Bulls facing the Dallas Mavericks. Here’s their complete roster and below is their complete schedule:
- vs. Dallas Mavericks – Saturday, July 8th at 4:30pm EST/3:30pm CST
- vs. Atlanta Hawks – Monday, July 10th at 4:00pm EST/ 3:00pm CST
- vs. Washington Wizards – Tuesday, July 11th at 6:00pm EST/5:00 pm CST
- July 12th – 17th is the Summer League tournament