After a wild run to a Summer League championship last year, the 2017 Chicago “SummerBulls” had a major letdown this time around in Las Vegas, going 2-3. Other than their blowout win against the 76ers in the consolation game, the team looked out of sync and poor on both sides of the ball.
Here are five observations from the “SummerBulls” adventures in 2017.
5. We still don't know who is going to be starting at point guard this season
In the first game of Summer League, head coach Randy Brown decided to play Cameron Payne and Kris Dunn in the backcourt together. It did not go well. Dunn looked very uncomfortable playing off the ball as the shooting guard, and Payne looked absolutely lost on the court. To Dunn’s credit, he did play great on-ball defense and showed some flashes of offensive ability in terms of going to the basket.
Both players didn’t play much in Summer League, with Dunn registering one game and Payne playing in two. Yet in the short time they were there, they did not give Fred Hoiberg any vote of confidence. Who knows who Hoiberg is going to choose to be starting at point guard when the season starts, but based on performance right now the leader should be Jerian Grant.
4. Denzel Valentine disappointed
When most second year guys play in Summer League, teams are looking for improvements on their game. Working on the mistakes and flaws which appeared during their rookie season. For the Chicago Bulls the second year spotlight was on Denzel Valentine, who had a tough initial season in the NBA thanks to a lack of playing time and injuries. Everyone was looking to see if Valentine had improved, especially when it came to being more versatile on offense and defense.
Sadly at the end of this Summer League campaign at 23 years old, things weren’t looking good at all. Valentine only averaged 13 points per game and did so on 35 percent shooting from the field.
While it was certainly good to see Valentine be aggressive and get his shots up, he has to do more than just shoot three’s. Valentine still hasn’t shown any ability to drive to the hoop when catching the ball at the top of the three-point line.
When Valentine gets the ball, he is either— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) July 13, 2017
1) looking to shoot a 3 off a screen or
2) picking up his dribble at the FT line + passing out
It was the same old thing each time, and he has to be more creative to catch defenses off guard. Chicago views Valentine in a bigger role this season and he can’t just be one-dimensional offensively. Let’s also hope his three-point shooting picks up again once the regular season starts.
3. A Mixed bag from Lauri Markkanen
After selecting him with the 7th pick in this years draft, expectations were high for Lauri Markkanen. His Summer League wasn’t the best overall, but he flashed some potential of playing stretch four for Chicago.
The main hype around Markkanen when was a prospect was his ability to shoot, but wasn’t on display in Summer League. In his three games playing for the Bulls, Markkanen shot just 29% from the field. It is an adjustment coming from the college ranks to the pro-level so some regression was expected. He did knock down the occasional three, however, and the overall threat of his shooting ability did stretch defenses out. Thankfully, Markkanen was able to find other ways to score and displayed some ability to play in the paint.
On defense he displayed some good lateral quickness, especially on PNR defense where the Bulls would trap the ball handler as soon as he came off the screen. His rebounding ability was good in Summer League, averaging 9 of them per game, but there are still concerns about it. Markkaken still needs to get tougher and not get boxed out so easily if he wants to have any chance of being a solid rebounder.
Overall it was a mixed performance from the rookie. The shooting will come along in due time and it was nice to see him show some flashes of being a solid power forward for Chicago.
2. Antonio Blakeney deserved that two-way contract
There is no debate that Antonio Blakely was Chicago’s best player during Summer League. The former LSU player stood out in a big way and earned himself a well deserved two-way contract. He averaged 16.8 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and showed off his athleticism while doing it. He was Chicago’s most consistent threat on offense with his shot making, which include his ability to shoot from three. Blakeney was out to prove he belonged in the league and a good SL will certainly help his chances.
Blakeney also wasn’t afraid to take the ball to the hoop and dunk it on people.
Even at 6’4, Blakeney has a hop in his step and gives the Bulls what they need in being an athletic guard. On a roster where Chicago doesn’t really have a lot of scoring guards, nabbing Blakeney was a solid move.
Overall, Antonio Blakeney has a lot to work on in his game, having only spent two seasons at LSU. Hopefully he can do that while playing for the Windy City Bulls this season.
1. It looks like this season is not going to be fun
It’s never a good sign when you play five of your rotation guys as starters in a SL game and they get blown out. It may indicate how the season was going to play out. This was a chance for Chicago’s young core to show some signs of life as a unit, which sadly did not happen at all.
The signings of David Nwaba, Justin Holiday, and Blakeney can help their team athleticism, as does bringing back Cristiano Felicio. But those guys aren’t players who can turn around franchises. Chicago needs a player who displays the potential to be an All-Star and someone who they can build around (or “build with”). Right now they don’t have any of those guys and Summer League displayed it. It’s tanking season.