After winning it all in last years Summer League, the Chicago Bulls are ready to defend their title. Once again the Bulls will be heading down to Las Vegas to participate in the NBA Summer League. A tournament where teams try to learn about their young players and also find fringe guys they can stick on the end of the bench. There are always outliers like Cristiano Felicio who stick out in Summer League and work their way to a spot in the NBA. For most of these guys, however, they are trying to impress G-League or European scouts who could offer them contracts at the end of the tournament. Like last year, the Bulls were one of the last teams to announce their squad. Let’s take a look at the roster and get to know who exactly is playing for the Bulls.
Guys We Already Know
Kris Dunn was picked up in the Jimmy Butler trade and he was someone that the Bulls really coming out of last year’s draft. Dunn really struggled last year and despite being the 5th pick overall, things are not looking up.
Currently, Dunn’s defense is exceptional and that’s where he will make his biggest impact. He registered a defensive box plus/minus of 1.5 last season and that will be on display in Summer League. His length really helps him crowd opposing players while also helping with contesting jumpers and getting a hand into passing lanes. He doesn’t need any help on that end of the court.
He has a lot of things to work on offensively though. Dunn registered an offensive box plus/minus of -3.7 and he’s basically a non-factor shooting the ball. It’s not a good sign when your starting point guard shoots a true shooting percentage of 43.2 percent, an eFG percentage of 41.4, and a three-point percentage of 28.8. This is something that has to get better if defenses want to start respecting Dunn on the perimeter.
After an impressive first Summer League campaign (which ended in a buzzer beater in the championship game), Denzel Valentine struggled in his rookie year. There were some positives, but overall it wasn’t a successful first year. Injuries to his ankle didn’t help at all. Even though the competition of Summer League is way lower than anything he will face in the NBA, this could be a good opportunity for Valentine to prove why he deserves more minutes this season.
If Valentine wants to really improve, he has to show strides in his offensive versatility and defense. His three-point shooting was decent last year at 35.1 percent and he was able to help Chicago space the floor offensively. Other than that there wasn’t a whole lot he did. Valentine almost never put the ball on the floor last season, averaging only 1 drive per game according to NBA.com’s stat tracking. In order to keep defenses honest, Valentine has to do more on offense than just shoot threes. Valentine showed in Summer League last year that he’s a crafty player and can make things happen with his passing. He has to gain confidence in his own ability to drive past guys who are flying at him to defend the three.
Valentine also struggled to keep guys in front of him defensively and this essentially was the main reason why he lost a lot of his minutes last season. If there is something to keep an eye on, it’s to see if Valentine makes some effort to become a better defender
While Valentine struggled, the same couldn’t be said for the guy who was drafted along with him in Paul Zipser. A virtual unknown heading into the season, Zipser impressed the Bulls with some decent play in the second half of the season and ended up becoming a key contributor for Chicago. It’s evident that the Bulls views Zipser as a piece of their future moving forward and want him to develop into a starter one day.
He still has a long way to go in terms of development but he has good tools to build off. Defensively Zipser is fine, using his length to help stay in front of his man and contest on jumpers. He’s not the most athletic player on the court but he’s able to hold his own. If there was something for him to improve on it’s his shooting. Zipser shot 33.3 percent from deep last season and registered an eFG percentage of 47.3. While those numbers are solid for a rookie, he has to do better moving forward. By adding a more consistent jump shot, it would make Zipser more dangerous offensively. We saw against Boston that he can get to the rim and score over bigger players but what really held him back was he couldn’t shoot that well. Let’s see if that changes in Summer League.
After playing only 11 games for the Bulls last season and 31 overall, it makes 100 percent sense that Cameron Payne is playing in Summer League despite being in his 3rd year in the league. Things aren’t looking up for Payne at the moment and he will have to show some signs of life during this tournament. He has to work on all aspects of his game. Payne needs to prove that he can at least run an offense and not be a negative on the floor. There wasn’t much to go off of during his time with the Bulls last year and when he was on the court it was disastrous. If Payne wants to a shot at getting any point guard minutes this year, he needs to have a good Summer League.
Guys We Don’t Know a lot about
Once again, most people will have their eyes on Chicago’s most recent draft pick in Lauri Markkanen. He’s a fantastic three-point shooter, averaging 42.3 percent from deep at Arizona, and can be a great stretch four for Chicago. Spacing the floor will be Markkanen’s greatest attribute to this team. The Bulls desperately need outside shooting and let’s see if Markkanen can continue being an outside threat in the NBA.
This will also be a time to check out Markkanen’s flaws and see how he can possibly improve them moving forward. His lack of length isn’t something he really can’t control but it could be exposed as he won’t be able to protect the rim that well. Markkanen can work on becoming a better overall defender and becoming more versatile offensively. One thing to look for is how he is when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks closeouts from defenders.
Other than Markkanen, Chicago’s best pure three-point shooter will be Brady Heslip. He was an absolute sharpshooter at Baylor, knocking down 301 triples in his three years with the Bears and also shot 46.5 percent from deep during his senior year. After that it’s been tough for Heslip to find any playing time at all in the NBA. He’s spent his time in both the G-League and over in Europe, playing in Italy and Bosnia. Heslip was the 2015 Bosnian Cup Grand Final MVP where he averaged 18.3 points during Bosnian national league games.
Heslip will almost certainly be playing for another shot in Europe or trying to impress a team to signing him to a two-way contract. Although he is 6’1, Heslip can stretch the floor and is great coming off screens for catch and shoot opportunities. Defensively he will have problems, mainly due to his size. He could be a great spark offensively for some G-League teams or even in one of Europe’s major basketball leagues.
Antonio Blakeney, who declared for the 2017 draft after two seasons at LSU, will be fighting for point guard minutes during SL. Blakeney led LSU in scoring last season, averaging 17.2 points on 45.8 percent from the field. Despite going undrafted, Blakeney could be of interest for a potential landing in the G-League.
He’s very athletic and that type of potential could attract some teams into taking a flyer on him. Blakeney only played two seasons at LSU and there is a lot of his game left to develop. An ideal situation for him would be finding a G-League team that could aid him in his progression towards becoming an NBA ready player.
My first thought no matter what when I read Ryan Arcidiacono’s name is him passing back to Kris Jenkins for the buzzer beater that won Villanova the NCAA title two years ago. Flash forward two years later and now the former Wildcat will find himself in the Summer League again. He was on the Spurs Summer League team and made it all the way to pre-season before getting cut three games in. He spent the rest of his season with the Spurs G-League associate, the Austin Spurs.
Arcidiacono actually signed a deal with Italian team Juvecaserta Basket this week so his appearance in Summer League will be for future opportunities. If Arcidiacono impresses in SL, he would be a great bench guy for some teams. But him already signing a two year deal to play in Serie A makes him a tough signing for an NBA team.
Todorovic actually has a cool connection to Chicago in that he actually was involved in a brawl with a former Bulls player Tornike Shengelia during a Liga ACB game.
This isn’t his first shot at trying to get into the NBA as he entered the draft last year but went undrafted. Todorovic started playing basketball five years ago in Europe and has been playing in its major leagues for three years. He’s spent his last two seasons playing for Spanish club Bilbao Basket.
For Todorovic, this will be an opportunity to maybe latch on a G-League team and once again, gauging league interest. He will most likely return back to Europe after this.
After arriving at the University of Florida as a five-star recruit, forward Chris Walker ended up leaving the program after two seasons and went undrafted in 2015. He played for the Rockets in the past two Summer League’s and eventually latched onto their G-League team after each time. Despite missing on expectations during his time with the Gators, he’s still worth a look for most teams.
Walker is 6’10 and has all the tools physically to be a solid player. His 7’3 wingspan allows him to defend with ease and be a menace on that end. That wingspan also helps him get up in the air and throw down some dunks in the process. If Walker can play to his potential, he can be a really good player in the NBA. That hasn’t been the case so far. This is another chance for Walker to prove to an NBA team that he can be a worthwhile project to develop. A two-way contract is the likely end goal otherwise it’s back to the G-League for Walker.
Brimah is also a former NCAA champion, having won with the UConn Huskies during his freshman year of college back in 2013. He spent four years at Connecticut and played 103 game for them.
Chicago has a crowded front court so this will mostly be a tryout for other teams, who are maybe in need of some big man depth. Brimah is 7’0 and can be a solid rim protector, as he averaged 2.6 blocks per game during his senior year. A spot in the G-League is in sights for him.
Benimon will be one of the older players on the squad, being 25 and having some prior NBA experience. This is also his fourth Summer League, having played for the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Brooklyn Nets prior.
After playing college ball at Georgetown and Towson for two years each, Benimon went undrafted in 2014 but found a team in the Idaho Stampede. He impressed in his first season in the G-League, earning All-Star honors while also being named to the All-NBA G-League team. He had a ten-day with the Utah Jazz but has played his last two seasons in China. Going back to playing ball in China will likely be the end result of Benimon’s Summer League adventure but for a team that may need big man depth, he could be valuable.
Despite being only 23 years old, Nikola Jovanovic has been playing professional basketball since 2012. After playing his basketball in his home country of Serbia, Jonvanovic went to Slovenia for the 2016-17 season and had a great year. He averaged 16.6 points per game for his club team, Union Olimpia, and won ABA League MVP. This is his second time testing NBA waters, having gone undrafted last year.
Jovanovic could be an interesting play at power forward and obviously his accolades overseas add to the intrigue. However, a return back to Europe is certainly the most likely scenario.
The Bulls first summer league game is at 3:30 central today on NBATV and streaming on ESPN3.