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The Bulls Need To Trust The System, and Stop Ignoring the NBA D-League

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The Bulls have been reluctant to utilize the NBA's D-League, and that needs to change.

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[Thanks to Tyler for today's post -yfbb]

In the past couple of years, the NBA Development League has seen a significant rise in its' value, and overall acceptance among NBA teams. Today, of the 30 NBA teams, 19 have their own affiliate, leaving 11 clubs without, and zero left for them to pursue. There are varying reasons why one of the 11 clubs may not have an affiliate, one may be due to finances, and another may be not seeing the actual value of the league itself. For the Chicago Bulls, the latter seems to be issue at point.

Over the last nine seasons, the Chicago Bulls have sent a player down for an assignment in the D-League a total of three times. One of those was James Johnson, while the remaining two were Marquis Teague. Aside from those, the D-League has been an after thought for the Bulls organization.

This situation of the Bulls and their relationship with the D-League percolated with myself more so than ever this past season. The much-heralded rookie Doug McDermott began the season in former coach Tom Thibodeau's rotation. However, through the first month of the season McDermott's play suffered as did his minutes, and eventually had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in December.

Upon his return in late January, McDermott was out of the rotation, Tony Snell having supplanted him. With the season in full swing, and hardly any practice time to be had, it left little to no time for McDermott to receive quality practice as a means of gaining reps and getting back into a rhythm. It was very apparent that McDermott wasn't going to crack the rotation, only scraping minutes, seconds most times at the end of a blowout. Thus, I began to beg the question, why not send McDermott, and even fellow rookie Cameron Bairstow to the D-League? Although both were around veteran teammates, which certainly helps to some capacity, neither of the two were getting any better by continually sitting on the bench during games, in addition to getting no reps in between.

And with another heralded rookie in Bobby Portis entering his first season with the Bulls, the previous question becomes relevant again. As a sophomore out of Arkansas, Portis was deemed to be a lottery selection in this past June's NBA draft. However, as the night wore on, Portis fell to the Bulls at 22, in what most called the steal of the draft. Portis played well in July's Las Vegas Summer League, and appears to be far enough along to warrant playing time in his rookie season. But it's probable that that won't come to fruition given the Bulls quality of depth in the frontcourt.

Of course, no one knows yet whether Portis will fit into Fred Hoiberg's rotation, but it seems bleak at this time. Furthermore, Hoiberg's exact thoughts on the D-League and its' value is unknown. Nevertheless, I spoke with two prominent D-League scribes to get their thoughts on the Bulls, Portis and the D-League.

The following questions were answered by Upside Motor's Chris Reichert (@Chris_Reichert), and Rolling Stone, Sporting News NBA and Upside Motor's Editor in Chief Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles).

Since 2009, Chicago has only assigned three players to D-League stints, one of those being James Johnson, and the other two Marquis Teague. Last season, Doug McDermott coming off an early season injury as well as rookie Cameron Bairstow could've used time in the D-League, but didn't. Why is it, do you think the Bulls, and even teams alike don't utilize the system more with their rookies or even second year players?

CR: I think that the value of the D-League has substantially risen over the past 2-3 seasons and some teams just have not jumped on board yet. The Bulls are one that most point to for lack of use in the D-League and rightfully so as they simply neglect the entire league at this point. I think not having their own team is a hindrance but it comes down to value. If they don't see value in having a team then why use the league at all? Hopefully in the coming years they can see the light and start to utilize this amazing resource at their disposal.

SR: With the Bulls no longer own the Iowa Energy, sharing the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with so many teams last season made it hard to develop players.

The Raptors, for example, assigned Bruno Caboclo to the Mad Ants and he only played 62 minutes in seven games. It was infuriating for the Raptors, who have a promising prospect in need of in-game reps, but it's understandable that the Mad Ants used him sparingly. As the only independent team in the league, they won't play someone if they aren't going to help them win games. The Hornets had the same issue. Noah Vonleh wasn't getting minutes in Charlotte, so they assigned him to the Mad Ants hoping he'd get some burn. He played 27 minutes over two games.

The Raptors have since established their own affiliate and the Hornets are hoping to do the same by the 2016-17 season. Also, the Pacers are in the process of buddying up with the Mad Ants. Teams are quick to act once they realize how sharing an affiliate with nearly half the league hurts development, and it certainly has a domino effect. Now that the Bulls have someone they need to develop in Portis, perhaps they're next.

Looking ahead to next season at a rookie like Bobby Portis, who has the potential to see minutes in his first year, although he probably won't as he is behind a line of quality frontcourt players. Do you think him spending time in the D-League, as far as getting reps and experience, be a wise move by Chicago, or should they keep him with the team in hopes some spot minutes arise?

CR: I think any time young player can get live-game action it can benefit them. The problem with assigning Portis is the Bulls don't know where he will play as of now. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants have been purchased by the Indiana Pacers and now there isn't a shared team for NBA clubs without a team to use. If Portis can get minutes in the D-League then certainly it would benefit him and the Bulls in the longrun. If he's getting reps in the NBA he can still play in the D-League on other nights a la Mitch McGary last year with OKC.

SR: I think they should give the D-League a shot. It remains to be seen how the D-League handles assignees once the Mad Ants sale is official but it could be postponed until 2016-17, meaning the Bulls will likely be in the same position this upcoming season. Even so, Portis is much further along than a player like Caboclo. While he won't get the minutes and opportunities he would if the Bulls had their own affiliate, he's in a position to help D-League teams win ball games. There's no reason why he wouldn't get minutes.

The other option is the Bulls play the system, much like what the Hawks did. The flexible assignment system only allowed four NBA players (or two at the same position) on the Mad Ants at one time. Wait until the roster is full with NBA players and see if a team that runs a similar system to Fred Hoiberg's is willing to take on Portis. That way, he's getting the best of both worlds.

Even though the Bulls do not have their own affiliate (yet), some might point out Portis wouldn't be playing under Hoiberg's exact system, could it create concern for familiarity's sake? And regardless of what system Portis (hypothetically) would be playing in, there are still plenty of positives in spending time in the D-League for a rookie in Portis' position, correct?

CR: The benefit of having your own D-League team is consistency from top to bottom, so without that in place there is always a worry that players will have to learn a different system. In truth, if the Bulls send Portis down it will be to work on specific things and he can still improve those things without being in their system. Being comfortable with the lingo from each coach is important but players like Portis can still find value in spending time with another club in the D-League most certainly.

SR: It depends. While the odds of Portis getting minutes behind Noah, Gasol, Mirotic and Gibson as a rookie are slim, assigning him to the D-League for half the season (like the Rockets did with Terrence Jones and Clint Capela) might not pay off in the long-run because he'd be learning an entirely different system. But there's value in playing basketball in a structured environment rather than sitting on the bench all season long, even if it's only for a few short stints.

For confidence reasons alone, assigning Portis for a couple of games here and there to shake off some rust makes sense. And if an opportunity presents itself for him to get minutes with the Bulls, they can simply call him up.

Both Chris and Scott brought up similar points throughout their answering of the questions above. One subject that both pointed to in their answers, that may contribute to the Bulls lack of D-League involvement especially of late is the fact that Chicago does not have their own affiliate. Whereas prior, Chicago was affiliated with the Iowa Energy, and even the Fort Wayne Mad Ants were shared, those teams are no longer directly available. However that doesn't mean the Bulls are completely unable to utilize the D-League.

As Chris and Scott stated, the D-League does have the Flex Assignment System in place for those teams without their own affiliate. Per Upside Motor, the Flex Assignment System is as follows:

"Flex Assignment System: To accommodate assignments to Fort Wayne, a flexible assignment system will be utilized when an independent NBA team assigns a player at a time when the Mad Ants already have either the maximum of four NBA players on assignment or two assigned players at the position of the NBA player who is being assigned. In either event, the NBA D-League will identify to the assigning NBA team any singly-affiliated NBA D-League team that is willing to accept the assigned player, and the independent NBA team assigning the player will choose a team from among those teams to assign the player. If no singly-affiliated NBA D-League team is willing to accept the assigned player, he will be assigned to one of the non-NBA-owned single affiliate teams pursuant to a lottery."

While it's understandable that the Bulls may have some hesitancy in using the D-League since they do not have their affiliate (see Scott's examples in question 1), Chicago is still able to utilize the league via other available means. Moreover, Chris and Scott both agreed that any sort of playing time and reps in the D-League is more profitable for a young prospect then the bench throughout the length of a season.

This isn't meant to say that Portis, or even McDermott last year should've spent the entire year or even large portions of their rookie season in the D-League. McDermott and Portis having the opportunity to be around the veterans the Bulls have, more specifically with Portis, will be tremendous for his learning curve.

Nonetheless, spending a few short stints here and there can be beneficial to a rookie that was in McDermott's and possibly Portis' position. Much like what Chris pointed out that the Oklahoma City Thunder did last year with Mitch McGary, the Bulls could follow a similar pattern. Doing so allows the player to work on specific parts of their game, stay in game shape and an overall rhythm, but more importantly keep their confidence high. In looking back at last year, McDermott struggled immensely finding consistency with his shot and a rhythm offensively. Simply sending him down for a few games in the D-League could've done wonders for both areas.

The Chicago Bulls have an invaluable system available for their young players in the NBA D-League. Last season would've been an opportune time to utilize such system with McDermott and even Bairstow. But moving forward to next year with Portis in the fold and the depth in the frontcourt that he'll face, if minutes aren't presenting themselves on a regular basis, Chicago should start taking a hard look at the rising values of the D-League.