The Chicago Bulls did not hit a home run in free agency last summer.
But, they also didn’t strike out looking with two outs and the bases loaded in Game 7 of the World Series like they have in recent seasons (three alphas experiment, Jabari Parker homecoming, etc.).
In fact, as the heat and humidity of summer gave way to the crispness of fall, many pundits looked at the Bulls free agency haul of Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young, and Luke Kornet and applauded the Bulls front office for the job they did in free agency. There was some palpable buzz around these guys. Chris Herring, Zach Lowe, and even writers on this site—myself included—are among those who evaluated the free-agent signings positively.
A 5-10 start to the season has stymied some of the optimism. While two of the three free agent newcomers have been adequate, their play hasn’t been worthy of the pat on the backs pundits were giving the front office over the summer when they signed in Chicago.
Evaluating a player with one advanced stat is always going to be a little problematic. However, player efficiency rating (PER) is one of the more well-known all-encompassing statistics available, so let’s at least start there.
League average PER is 15. Satoransky has a 13.4 PER and Young isn’t too far behind at 12.0. Kornet is even worse at 9.5.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this topic and see why each player hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that accompanied their arrival to Chicago.
At the cost of $43 million across three seasons, the 13-year NBA veteran is supposed to bring defense and rebounding toughness to this young Chicago Bulls team.
He’s done that to a degree but probably not as well as you’d hope. Opponents’ offensive ratings are just 0.5 points per 100 possessions better when he sits than when he plays. Still, at his best he can bring toughness to the Bulls interior defense.
Minimalistically, Young has helped buoy a Bulls team that is in the bottom half of the league in total rebounds per game.
From just statistical output, Young has been a tad disappointing on the boards. He is grabbing nine percent of the available rebounds this season which is the second-lowest rate of his career. However, the Bulls do grab just over one percent more rebounds when he is on the floor than when he sits.
What’s been most disappointing for Young is his offense; his shooting percentage is the lowest of his career, his 3-point shooting has been poor, and he’s done little to contribute to the Bulls worst-rated offense in the league.
Again, Young hasn’t been bad by any means, but the Bulls were probably expecting a little bit more from him—especially at that price. A 5-10 start to the season is an indictment on every player and maybe more so on a veteran player who plays a major role on the team.
In a microcosm of this free agent class as a whole, Satoransky is the victim of high expectations.
When the Bulls signed him, some openly wondered whether he was the most complete point guard to wear the red and black since Derrick Rose. A killer showing at the FIBA World Cup with the Czech Republic national team only solidified those expectations.
But with the exception of a few really good games, Satoransky has mostly blended in with passable but certainly not memorable play.
The indictment on Satoransky is the passiveness. This has been discussed on this blog before. His usage percentage is second to last on the team; for a starting point guard that is unheard of and probably contributes to the fact that you watch games and can’t remember most of what he does.
The Bulls offense is over seven points better per 100 possessions when Satoransky is on the floor so even in his very limited role he is making the Bulls significantly better. However, until he asserts himself he’ll struggle to live up to the high expectations that accompanied him to Chicago.
Barring major frontline injuries, Kornet may struggle to find meaningful minutes the rest of the season because he’s virtually unplayable on the defensive side of the ball (teams are over eight points better when he is on the floor).
We’ve all seen this or a similar highlight by now.
Kornet blitzing again.— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 3, 2019
This ain't it. pic.twitter.com/AsqtGYmhtX
The Bulls aggressively trapping ballhandlers on pick-and-rolls requires nimble, athletic big men who can trap, then recover to the roll man or elsewhere. Kornet isn’t that.
In his defense, Kornet blocks a solid 2.2 shots per 36 minutes (top 50 in the league actually). But it still is not good enough to offset his other limitations defensively.
Spending the summer, training camp, preseason, and 13ish games in the regular season thinking Kornet is better than Daniel Gafford is borderline criminal. Kornet, a $4.5 million asset across his two seasons in Chicago, will likely spend most of the rest of this season on the bench.