This season hasn’t been very useful or interesting, but there may have been some worthwhile evaluation for the Bulls in learning that Kris Dunn isn’t the point guard of the future.
Posting a box plus/minus of -2.1 and a VORP of 0.0, Dunn’s poor play even in an injury-filled year has changed his future outlook with the team. It seems any mention of ’the core’ has shifted the soon-to-be-25 Dunn out and put Wendell Carter Jr. in alongside Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. We have seen flashes of potential from Dunn, like in his clutch baskets in the comeback against San Antonio, but these moments have happened too few and and far between, and it’s been mostly a year where Dunn has continued to struggle to generate efficient points and lacked ability to be the primary playmaker.
With that in mind, the Bulls have been linked to other point guards in the rumor mill and it’s another former top 5-pick who’s the most intriguing: Lonzo Ball.
In a trade season where we’ve mostly heard how players don’t want to be in Chicago, the Ball ‘camp’ has made it known they’d actually prefer a team like the Bulls because they lack an established point guard. In the event that Anthony Davis is traded to the Lakers, the Bulls could possibly jump in and be a landing spot for Ball.
Ball would be an interesting prospect to try out to be sure. He certainly can give Chicago production offensively while maintaining stability defensively.
The first which anyone talks about when analyzing Ball has to be his playmaking ability. With that attribute, Ball could be a smart fit on this Bulls roster. He’s currently averaging 5.4 assists per game and a solid 8.2 per 100 possessions, which would put him at second highest on this current Bulls team. Despite his assist percentage taking a drop from his rookie year (29.2 to 23.7), Ball still is a willing and smart passer who finds teammates for easy baskets. He is currently third on this Lakers roster in terms of potential assists at 9.5 and is always looking for an open man.
There aren’t many guys on this Chicago roster who can generate their own shot outside of Zach LaVine, which puts an emphasis on the Bulls having point guards who can find guys in the right spots. Most players need a player who can dish the ball to them when they come off a screen or cut towards the basket. Adding Ball would not only help guys like Wayne Selden and Chandler Hutchison, but more importantly the duo of Carter Jr. and Markkanen as well. Chicago could use Ball in the pick and roll along with their young duo in the front court to create mismatches in the defense for him to pick apart.
Along with his passing ability, defense isn’t a shortcoming for Ball either. He’s been a positive defender in his NBA career thus far, posting defensive box plus minus of 2.5 and 1.6 respectively. Like his passing stats, they have seemed to taken a drop this season but the framework for Ball being a good defensive player is there. He doesn’t get lost off the ball and doesn’t get caught over-committing on drives or pump fakes. Ball has good size, and does an ok job of contesting on shots with opponents shooting 43.6% against him (defensive field goal percentage). It’s not stellar numbers but considering it’s -1.4% less than what opponents usually shoot, it’s still a good sign nonetheless.
With Zach LaVine at shooting guard, the Bulls need someone in the backcourt next to him who can is at decent defensively. Like Dunn, Ball could play that role. He also switches decently well and is able to keep bigger guys in front of him. He also has ok hands as a defender, averaging 2.3 steals per 100 possessions which is second highest on the Lakers. There’s a nice clip on NBA Reddit of Ball switching onto 4 different Orlando Magic players and eventually coming up with the steal.
It’s always a nice sign when a young player is active defensively and can sense when plays are happening before they actually occur. While 2.3 steals aren’t a number which jumps out on the screen, it still shows Ball is a decent defender.
But there are certainly big holes in Lonzo’s game, thus why not only would the Lakers be so willing to package the former #2 overall pick for Davis but the Pelicans would possibly be amiable to routing him to a 3rd team like the Bulls.
And, as is the problem with Dunn, it’s mostly shooting. The Bulls haven’t had a floor spacing point guard in a long time and bringing in Ball won’t change that problem. Ball’s shooting form has been talked about his whole career, and the results have only encouraged the derision.
He’s not an efficient producer of points, with a TS% of 48.7 this year and a career average of 46.3. Ball currently shoots 32.9% from three and does so on nearly 5 attempts per game. But it’s not even the most bizarre part of his shooting profile: that would be his horrible free throw shooting. Ball is a career 43.7% free throw shooter and has shot even worse this year at 41.7%. It’s really weird for a guard to shoot so poorly from the charity stripe and it does pose a worrying concern about his shooting potential in general, as free throw percentage is an indicator of a good shooter. As much as Kris Dunn gets questioned about his shooting ability and he doesn’t generate enough attempts, he has raised his FT% to nearly 79%.
The positive with Ball in relation to Dunn here is his shot selection. This season, out of the 456 total field goal attempts he has taken, 369 of them have come from either three-point land or at the rim. There won’t be many cases where he catches the ball at the three-point line and takes a couple of steps in for a long two. But like with Dunn, defenses likely won’t respect Ball and that will hinder any opening of the floor. Defenses are more than willing to let guys like Dunn or Ball beat them from three and would rather help on other guys, creating a disadvantage for better offensive players players like LaVine or Markkanen.
This isn’t even to contemplate what it would take to bring Lonzo Ball to Chicago and whether it’d be worth that asset. But as a prospect, Ball is an interesting fit if the team actually wanted to get ‘younger and more athletic’. He’s only 21, still has at least two years left on his rookie contract, and has led a high-paced offense. The age factor along with the playmaking and defense would make Ball a solid acquisition. Getting him won’t be easy, but there should be reciprocated interest.