The Chicago Bulls’ new NBA D-League team, the Windy City Bulls, kick off their inaugural season tonight against the Long Island Nets. In what has been much needed for some time now, the Bulls finally have a system where they are able to develop younger players, better prepare them for the league. But they have to use it.
It was around this time last year when I wrote about the need for the Bulls to have their own team, ahead of Bobby Portis’ rookie season. In prior years when this wasn’t available, guys like Marquis Teague and James Johnson who weren’t ready for the league suffered. Three years ago, when Doug McDermott began in the rotation, then fell out only to have knee surgery and miss over a month of game action, he had no real way of getting back into a flow or game rhythm.
That doesn’t have to be the case moving forward. For guys who are not in the rotation or on the fringe of the rotation, this provides them a perfect opportunity to stay in game shape and in a rhythm so that when called upon they’re ready to perform. Which is the case for a few players on this year’s Bulls squad.
This week the Bulls assigned newly signed wing RJ Hunter to the D-League, which makes sense considering his case. He needs game reps, and to become acclimated to the Bulls’ current offensive system and defensive schemes. Two other players who could afford to see some time in the D-League are rookie Paul Zipser and second-year player Jerian Grant.
Thus far, Zipser has only seen garbage minutes while Grant has played sparingly. Especially for Grant, someone who’s struggled since becoming a Bull, spending time in the D-League to work on his point guard acumen and build his confidence back would be much needed. There’s potential with Grant that we’ve seen glimpses of, but it needs to be on a more consistent basis. And one way of working his way towards more consistency would be by spending time in Hoffman Estates rather than on the Bulls’ bench.
However, the two Bulls that probably need to spend time in the D-League the most right now are Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine. For the former, much has been expected of him in his second year, but so far much has been left to be desired. He works hard and plays his ass off, but it’s clear the game is still moving too fast for him on both ends. This is typical for young players, specifically big men.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg is giving him a chance to see if he can find his way, which is commendable. Although if the Bulls’ goal this year is to win and make the playoffs, Portis isn’t the answer because he simply isn’t ready yet. The best thing the Bulls can do for Portis is to have him spend a few games here and there in the D-League, to work on slowing the game down for himself, understanding the offense and how to be more patient on that end. As with Grant, there’s a tremendous amount of talent with Portis, but you have to be able to mold it the right way.
As for Valentine, his story is somewhat similar to that of McDermott’s in his rookie year. Valentine was set to be in the rotation for Hoiberg, as he was one of the first off the bench in the Bulls’ preseason opener. But during the third quarter a sprained ankle put Valentine on the shelf for the remainder of the preseason. Since then he’s been slowly working his way back, trying to find his way into the rotation again. There was a sliver of a chance when Michael Carter-Williams went down with his knee injury. The following game Valentine received one stint, but since then has been relegated to garbage minutes while watching Isaiah Canaan take over his role.
If Hoiberg for the time being is set on having Canaan continue in his role, Valentine needs to be assigned to the D-League. Right now, by sitting on the bench, Valentine is not getting the reps or experience he needs to work his way back into the regular rotation. When you’ve been out for a while with an injury like he has, it takes time to get back into a rhythm. Outside of practice, which as the season starts is hard to come by, Valentine hasn’t had much of a chance to do so. But the D-League would provide that for him, and a quicker route to working himself back into the rotation.
This isn’t saying these players need to spend months or even weeks on end with the Windy City Bulls. Rather it’s working with the schedules of both teams and finding the appropriate times when they could get some extra reps and actual game experience. Does that mean they might miss a game or two of the Bulls? Maybe, but it’ll benefit them in the long run when their number is called.
The Bulls have this amazing resource at their disposal now. A way to keep young players in their system, to develop them and prepare them for the show. They can’t let this go by the wayside, and it needs to be used as much as possible. For players like Zipser, Grant, Portis and Valentine, that time is now.