The departure of Tom Thibodeau from the Chicago Bulls last year set the table this season for highlighting areas in need of improvement throughout the team and organization. As the season progressed, one of the more glaring issues with respect to Thibs' departure became the inability for the Bulls to find a consistent quality backup at point guard.
Over the five seasons prior to this past one, BaB readers and Bulls fans alike became quite familiar with the concept of "Thibsdust," a term referring to Thibodeau's uncanny ability to get the most out of backup ball-handlers. It started with C.J. Watson during Derrick Rose's MVP campaign, and the tradition continued with the likes of Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin in subsequent seasons. Even Aaron Brooks in his lone season under Thibodeau managed to average 11 points per game off the bench to go along with a solid 38.7% shot percentage from beyond the arc on nearly four attempts per game. Whatever the case, Thibs managed to unearth the most out of his backup guards to the point that the role became an afterthought to much of the Bulls' faithful.
It only took one season under Fred Hoiberg for the magic of Thibsdust to totally wear off. Brooks' play mostly went in the tank as he struggled to barely shoot above 40% from the field and cooled off significantly from three-point range. Though Kirk Hinrich somewhat rebounded from his abysmal campaign the season prior, he still failed to shoot above 40% from the field for the fifth straight season and eventually found himself shipped off to Atlanta. This was a curious move in that it only amplified the backup guard problems for the Bulls, as the lack of personnel forced Hoiberg to run more lineups with E'Twaun Moore as the point guard following the all-star break. Though Moore performed admirably overall, his main position is still shooting guard and his unrestricted free agent status means there is no guarantee he comes back next season.
Most years, addressing a backup role through the draft is a solid course of action. It allows young players to learn and develop with consistent minutes without asking too much of them too early on in their careers. However, the 2016 NBA Draft does not offer any clear-cut solutions for the Bulls in this respect thanks to their selection falling outside of the top ten. Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray will both presumably be gone well before the Bulls have an opportunity to select them, and trading up for either one of them is strongly ill-advised given the lack of fair-return trade partners. Wade Baldwin's rising stock means he could also be gone before the Bulls have an opportunity to select him.
So, if the Bulls desire to address their backup guard role and bolster the talent on their roster going forward, it would be wise for them to consider Dejounte Murray with the fourteenth pick.
What He's Good At
Murray's greatest strength is easily his ball-handling. There are few players in the NBA at 6'5"+ that are capable of the ball-on-a-string tricks Murray regularly executes against opponents. Whether it be crossovers, between-legs, behind-backs, spins, hop-steps, or euro-steps; Murray can already do it all with the ball and with the type of athleticism that few others possess at the position.
Murray is also a much better finisher around the basket than one would expect given his currently slender build. This is attributed to a few different elements of his game. Murray had arguably the most dangerous floater in all of college basketball last season, as he sank a greater total of them than any other prospect in this year's draft (on a solid 45% conversion rate). In addition, Murray also plays with consistent aggression and without fear whenever he moves towards the basket, whether it be with or without the ball. This is further reflected in the fact that Murray averaged over seven rebounds per game in college per-40 minutes.
Defensively, Murray needs to get stronger in order to keep up with the physicality of modern-day guards, but he is already an extremely keen defender when it comes to generating turnovers. Whether guarding the ball-handler or cutting off passing lanes, Murray's aforementioned aggression combined with his keen hands and 6'9.5" wingspan make him a machine at generating steals in crucial situations (2.2 spg per-40).
Where He Needs Improvement
The immediate glaring concern regarding Dejounte Murray is that he played last season at only 170 pounds. For a player that stands 6'5", that almost seems unhealthy. Fortunately, Murray's wide shoulders indicate a frame that can easily support the addition of muscle, and he has plenty of time to do so given he doesn't turn 20 years old until September.
Murray's shooting stroke outside the paint also leaves something to be desired. He shot just under 46% from 2-PT range for the season while taking more than four jumpshots per game, and he also shot an abysmal 28.8% from beyond the arc. Despite this, he still managed to average at least one make from three per game, which illustrates his confidence in his scoring ability. However, if he desires to be successful at the next level, he will have to get better at scoring from areas outside of the paint in addition to shooting off the dribble (25% for the season on 59 attempts). His shooting stroke, though smooth, could use some improvement in other fixable areas.
Finally, there's Murray's decision making. As a passer, Murray shows promise given his Jamal Crawford-like bounce passes, ability to find the open man when double-teamed, and good instincts in other basketball areas. However, this element of his game is hampered by his score-first mentality, as he frequently passes only as a last resort which resulted in an average of over three turnovers per game. Even so, Murray still shows flashes of excellent playmaking potential thanks to his superb ball-handling and the attention he commands when he gets into the lane.
With an opportunity to play alongside more experienced teammates (he played on a team with thirteen underclassmen and one senior at Washington) and proper coaching, there's no reason to believe Murray can't become an adept facilitator at some point in the future.
Why He Makes Sense for the Bulls
Were the Bulls to select Dejounte Murray with the fourteenth pick, he'd fit right in for a variety of reasons. Among them, Murray played in what was the fastest paced offense in major conference college basketball last season. This means he'll have little trouble adapting to the transition-oriented and quick-into-set system Hoiberg desires to run.
In addition, Murray's combo-guard status means he could be a serviceable backup for both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler heading into next season. It would be much harder to get away with playing both Rose and Murray on the floor together at the same time given their lackluster perimeter shooting, but spreading the floor with players like Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis would mitigate some of the lost spacing. Conversely, playing Murray alongside Butler allows the Bulls to vastly outmatch most back courts from a size perspective while keeping their opponents' defense appropriately stretched.
Above all else, however, Murray makes the most sense at fourteen if the Bulls wish to start planning for the future right away. The next offseason is already shaping up to be the most controversial the Bulls have had in a while given that Rose, Mirotic, and Taj Gibson will all be unrestricted free agents. Rose's future with the team remains an enormous question mark given the money he currently commands, his eye on the incoming TV money, his play over the last two seasons, and management's history of seeking hometown discounts when retaining free agents. Murray would give the Bulls some quality talent insurance for the near future regardless of what happens with Rose's free agency.
Though still a project in various respects, Dejounte Murray appears to have all the upside in the world. Jamal Crawford has already taken Murray under his wing, citing him as his favorite prospect from his hometown he has had the pleasure of mentoring during his fourteen year career. At just nineteen years old, he has plenty of time to add the muscle to his frame he will need to succeed at the next level, and his uncanny abilities in several crucial areas of the game given his age all point to someone that could be an all-star caliber talent. Even if the Bulls do not select him, I anticipate Dejounte Murray eventually making defenders look frequently and consistently foolish regardless of where he ends up.