The Bulls didn’t know they needed Ryan Arcidiacono until they did.
After signing the undrafted former Villanova Wildcat to a two-way contract in 2017, such a statement would lack credibility. Now, however, with Kris Dunn out injured and no other viable replacement on the roster, Arcidiacono has given the Bulls point guard rotation a level of respectability it typically hasn’t had.
Only days after scoring a career-high 22-points against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Arcidiacono followed up two nights later with another 22-point game against the Milwaukee Bucks, while also adding five rebounds, four assists and five steals. Arcidiacono is emerging as a legitimate role player. That wasn’t part of the script headed into the season, yet here we are.
A steady contributor
In turning over the franchise to a collection of high-variance prospects, there’s something to be said for unheralded players who play mistake-free basketball.
Ever reliable and always in the right position, Arcidiacono has found a level of trust from coach Fred Hoiberg that so few other stand-in guards have been afforded, playing 35.8 minutes over the last five games.
With poise and constant control, Arcidiacono rarely turns over the ball, ranking fifth among guards in assist to turnover ratio. Notable in itself, numbers like this become even more important given his backcourt partner, Zach LaVine, has a propensity to carelessly give away the ball.
Offsetting LaVine’s weaknesses with his steady play, Arcidiacono has become a justifiable makeshift starting backcourt-mate. Taking nothing off the table, the Bulls have benefited greatly from Arcidiacono’s presence on the floor, being only outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but the team has been a colossal disaster with him off the floor, being outscored by 17.7 points per 100 possessions.
Clearly, there’s some obvious noise in these numbers, thanks in large part to the massive drop-off to backups Shaquille Harrison and Cameron Payne. Perhaps that too is reflected in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus figures, which currently ranks Arcidiacono 42nd in the league. While these advanced metrics are malleable and subject to change, it’s hard to deny the impact Arcidiacono has brought this season.
An improved offensive player
Confidence can often dictate a player’s effectiveness, and that couldn’t be more true for Arcidiacono. Too afraid to shoot the ball in spot minutes last season, Arcidiacono only put up 31 threes in 24 games, making 29 percent of his attempts.
After a so-so Summer League performance, there was no indication to suggest Arcidiacono would be a transformed offensive player. And yet, somehow we find ourselves in a world where a once timid third-stringer has developed into a legitimate catch-and-shoot three-point shooter.
Playing primarily off-ball and allowing LaVine to control the offense, over his last six games, Arcidiacono has attempted more threes (35) than he did all last season. More importantly, he’s been converting at 45.7 percent through this stretch.
Left alone several times over by a Bucks defense more concerned with stopping LaVine, Arcidiacono connected on three corner threes, none of which were better than this one.
This is simply not a shot Arcidiacono even considers launching nine months ago, likely the ball would’ve kept moving to another player in a worse shooting position. Now, using a fake to create space, Arcidiacono is taking on the responsibility of converting the possession himself.
And so he should. Clearly improved as a jump shooter, the guard is confidently drilling 44.9 percent of his threes thus far this season, with 70.6 percent of his field goal attempts coming from behind the three-point line.
The Gritmaster has found his place
What sets Arcidiacono apart is his not only physical limitations, but him taking from that a self-awareness to compensate through effort. Arcidiacono has found his niche doing the small things most players would feel are beneath them.
For example here, diving into the stands in the rare chance a live ball can saved, Arcidiacono is prepared to throw his body all over the court if it means an extra possession can be had.
While it’s easier to quantify the number of spilled beers than the direct effect on the outcome of the game, there’s something to be said for these hustle plays.
More measurable is in another sequence of possessions, this time against the Bucks, where Arcidiacono is involved in consecutive scores. On the first, with the ball in his hands, he splits the defense and scores at the rim (and promptly hits the deck as he typically does). Moments later, now back on defense, keeping his eye on both the ball and his direct assignment, Arcidiacono plays the passing lanes and forces a Bucks turnover. The Bulls quickly turn defense into offense, with rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. scoring in the post only moments later.
Though he didn’t finish the play by scoring himself, Arcidiacono’s ability to read the defense and create a turnover enabled a typically stagnant Bulls offense to operate with ease in transition. For a team with such a small margin of error, these effort plays go a long way in leveling out any discrepancy in talent.
So was the case against the San Antonio Spurs. Finding themselves in another close contest after hitting a couple threes, Arcidiacono had a last second chance at stealing victory.
Capping off a career night with a game-winning basket would’ve been something. It wasn’t to be, though aptly Arcidiacono found himself sprawled on the floor, giving everything he could in the moment.
Examples such as this typify Arcidiacono’s team-first nature, and it’s why he’s quickly endeared himself to the locker room.
“I love all my teammates, especially Archie. He plays hard,” Jabari Parker said earlier this month. “That’s a person I aspire to be and I look up to him a lot.”
The Bulls may have stumbled into a solid contributor (and potential cult hero) in Arcidiacono, a silver lining to the injury-riddled start to this season.