Here’s a depressing question for all the Chicago Bulls fans out there: how many players not named Jimmy Butler on the roster do you trust with shooting long-distance shots and staying in front of their matchups defensively?
If your answer includes Rajon Rondo, then congratulations; you watched all of two games this season and both of them were in the NBA Playoffs. If your answer includes any of the Bulls’ other point guards, then you might be Gar Forman. If your answer includes Denzel Valentine, then bless your heart and its wishful thinking.
The sad reality of the matter is that once you get past Jimmy Butler, really the only other player on the Bulls that has a chance to be any sort of a 3&D threat is last year’s second round pick Paul Zipser. That’s an enormous red flag for any team that desires to remain competitive in the current NBA landscape. It also means that this draft is critical in terms of finding a player that can serve as a perimeter scoring option without sacrificing much (if anything) on the other end of the court.
Enter Terrance “2K” Ferguson.
Ferguson is an intriguing prospect that is perhaps one of the greatest unknowns in this year’s version of the NBA Draft. Ferguson was originally a blue-chip prospect in high school that had first committed to Alabama, then decommitted in favor of going to Arizona, then decommitted again to play overseas in Australia. He signed with NBL club Adelaide and wound up playing a supporting role on the squad despite starting in 17 of the team’s games. His numbers didn’t impress on the level that many expected, but his early understanding of his role and hot start to the year helped Adelaide finish first overall in the NBL’s regular season.
Now, Ferguson—just 19 years old as of a few weeks ago—finds himself locked into a first round draft selection, but where he could go is still very much up in the air. Some have him as high as a late lottery pick, while others have him as far back as the bottom third of the first round. The Bulls find their selection essentially in the middle of the draft, and given the uncertainty surrounding Ferguson at this stage, I believe he has a great chance to fall to the Bulls and help alleviate many of the problems that their current supporting cast has.
What He’s Good At
The most obvious positive that Terrance Ferguson possesses as a player right now is his overwhelmingly impressive athleticism. I’ll let these three dunks emphasize that:
But the benefit here isn’t just that he gets up; it’s that he gets up quick:
There are plenty of players across the NBA that can jam in this fashion, but not nearly as many that can reach the height of their jump as swiftly as Ferguson does. That ability to explode into the peak of his 38” max leap is one that not many athletes have, and it’s one that provides a noteworthy advantage in a variety of basketball areas given how many different elements of the game require jumping.
Right now, the area in which his lift helps him the most is by far his jumper. His release is already quick, and adding in the ability to rise up rapidly over defenders in the first stage of his shot is going to give him great looks from the perimeter almost whenever he wants them. But the speed of his jumper isn’t the only thing to like; it’s got a smooth release and his feet are always squared up to the basket before he catches the ball. In terms of makes, he was streaky this past season (he was shooting 38.7% from distance in the NBL this year before shooting just 25% the second half of the schedule), but his mechanics are so sound at this point that it’s really hard not to like him as a perimeter catch-and-shoot threat when you watch him on film. There is no better example of Ferguson’s success in this regard than his performance at the 2016 Nike Hoops Summit that saw him nail seven 3’s and had a normally mild-tempered Fran Fraschilla screaming from the commentator booth:
But getting back to his explosiveness, I also believe his prowess in that regard is going to help him become a great rebounder for his position. One can easily point to the fact that he only averaged around 2.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in the NBL to refute this, but I think that can be easily countered by explaining a few different factors.
For one, four of the top fifteen rebounders in the NBL last season all played on Ferguson’s Adelaide team, so rebounds weren’t exactly easy to come by for the young prospect since most of them were corralled by his teammates. In addition, Ferguson shows great instincts for tracking down the ball on long rebounds, and he’s consistently exhibited an excellent willingness to box out any nearby body around the basket when the ball is up for grabs. That last quality is one that made Robin Lopez such a valuable weapon for the Bulls’ assault on the glass this past season. Anyway, both of these qualities were on full display during this nice segment of his Draft Express strengths video (I will include the full video at the bottom of this article):
The last point I want to make about Ferguson is that he is already a high-effort player, especially on defense. He moves very well laterally, he anticipates and fights through screens much better than most players his age, denies the ball to players coming off of picks wonderfully, and he does a great job of recovering for contests in the event that he does get screened. His steal and block numbers aren’t what you’d want out of a player that you’d label “high-effort,” but the guy works very hard in a lot of areas that most rookies don’t, and I think that alone should lend some credibility to the idea that he has great potential on defense.
Where He Needs Improvement
For all of Ferguson’s physical gifts, he’s still wiry in the limbs and lacking in strength. He’s got an average frame for his size and will almost certainly get stronger given his young age, but his frailty at this stage has caused him some problems in areas that would otherwise provide even more optimisim. Unfortunately, this issue has plagued his play on both sides of the court in a few ways:
Ferguson fights through screens very well, but becomes almost helpless against strong bigs when forced to switch and defend in the post (he at least tries to hold his position, which is a good sign). He projects as a good perimeter defender—especially against guards—but right now gets bulldozed far too often by wings driving to the basket with superior strength. It’s really a shame considering Ferguson clearly isn’t afraid of any defensive responsibility thrown at him, but currently can only effectively operate when moving side-to-side on the perimeter against a smaller ball-handler or denying a player from the ball when coming off a screen. Asking more than that from him defensively at this point is unrealistic if not impossible, but adding solid muscle mass to his frame during his professional development stage will go a long way towards improving his defensive versatility.
Offensively, Ferguson’s strength issue has severely affected his confidence and ability to finish in traffic, which is disappointing for a guy with his kind of aforementioned explosive athleticism. He gets knocked off balance easily by physical defenders keeping up with him on drives and—though he doesn’t shy away from contact—he’s definitely not strong enough at this stage to avoid letting it affect him on finishes. This also explains why Ferguson shot only 20 freethrow attempts in the 30 NBL games he played this past season.
Other minor issues include his pedestrian handle, his ability to create his own shots, and his offensive decision making. The latter is something that affects almost all NBA rookies, but the other two are problems that I don’t believe will really have an impact on his ability to be successful with the Bulls (which I’ll dive more into below).
Why He Makes Sense for the Bulls
How many 3&D guys did the Bulls have to put around Jimmy Butler last season? The fact that Paul Zipser became a cornerstone rotation player that logged over 130 minutes in six playoff games for Chicago should tell you that Fred Hoiberg was grasping at straws all year for anybody that could competently shoot threes while not surrendering those points right back on the other end. With no reason to believe that the front office is going to aggressively pursue complementary options this coming free agency period, that means it’s going to be critical for the Bulls to hit on their draft picks in a few weeks to give Jimmy Butler some much-needed assistance when it comes to a supporting cast.
Terrance Ferguson would be an excellent selection in that regard because he’s already very well-aware of what his role is going to be as an NBA player. As a Bull, he’s not going to be asked to create offense for his teammates given how many facilitators and high-usage players the Bulls already have. Rather, Ferguson is going to be a guy that finishes possessions via looks created for him by other players. He’s going to be curling around picks for fast catch-and-shoot opportunities in the mold of how Hoiberg used to use Doug McDermott. He’s going to be an excellent outlet option on fast breaks for quick transition threes or athletic finishes ahead of a recovering defense. Put simply, Ferguson’s going to be a guy that vastly helps the much-needed modernization of the Bulls’ offense.
However, perhaps most importantly, Ferguson is someone that is going to be able to provide these things without completely imploding on defense in the fashion of McDermott and Denzel Valentine. He may not be equipped yet to keep himself from getting plowed by strong wings heading to the basket, but the guy is still a 6’7” shooting guard that at least has the tools and level of effort necessary to stay in front of backcourt players and deny shooters looks from the perimeter. If Dwyane Wade does in fact take his $24 million option, wouldn’t you want someone ready to go right behind him that will immediately show some defensive aggression whenever Father Prime needs a rest? After all, Zipser can’t back up both Wade AND Butler.
In terms of a projection for Ferguson, it’s difficult to say at this point given how little we’ve gotten to see of him over the last year, but a comparison I like that I’ve heard quite a bit is a rich man’s Terrence Ross. That may not be a flattering parallel for some given Ross fell out of a lot of people’s favor this past season (including Toronto’s), but I make that comparison strictly from an offensive perspective. Ferguson’s not the type of player that should ever be one of a team’s primary offensive options, but he certainly provides plenty of offensive value as a freak athlete with a great perimeter jumper. Elsewhere, with time and the necessary strength conditioning, I believe Ferguson has the potential to become a much more well-rounded player than Ross given the aggression and instincts he’s shown on defense as well as his committment to helping his team secure rebounds.
If Terrance Ferguson is available when the Bulls are on the clock, I would be more than happy to see him take his talents to Chicago. Our beloved Ricky O’Donnell has him going 15th to Portland in his latest mock—and has had him as high as 11th overall in previous mocks—but I’m optimistic Ferguson will fall a bit given the depth of the draft and his underwhelming overseas numbers. He can provide everything the Bulls are looking for in their supporting cast right now, and he’s one of the youngest and most athletic prospects in a draft class bursting at the seams with talent.