The Chicago Bulls adventures in the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League didn’t end with a title like it did in the glorious 2016 campaign. The 2019 squad went 2-3 and lost their consolation game to the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, 85-73.
With Wendell Carter Jr. out due to surgery, and Shaq Harrison waived after the first game, there were only a handful of Bulls playing who will be on the main roster come October. Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison , and new two-way signing Adam Mokoka all got major minutes. Walt Lemon Jr., Justin Simon, Jonathan Holmes, and Windy City Bull Mychal Mulder all got some burn off the bench as well.
While Summer League can be misleading at times when it comes to projecting exactly how prospects will play in the regular season, this years Bulls showed us signs. Some of the moments were good and others not so much.
Daniel Gafford could crack Chicago’s big man rotation
If you had to award an MVP award to anyone on this team, it would be Daniel Gafford. He was a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. Gafford averaged 13.8 points and 2.8 blocks per game during Summer League while also recording two double-doubles to go along with it.
Offensively, Gafford played effectively as a rim runner, using his athleticism to go and catch lobs from Chicago point guards. On the first play the Bulls ran in the tournament, he connected with Coby White for a nice alley-oop.
Glimpse of the Bulls' future with a Coby White to Daniel Gafford oop pic.twitter.com/ySBcuQ9jgQ— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) July 6, 2019
Gafford set a lot of screens and then quickly crashed down towards the rim. Playing off the pick and roll will be Gafford’s main role in his Bulls team.
He didn’t really shoot outside of the paint much at Arkansas and the same offensive mindset rang true in Vegas. While he was able at times to power through defenders with his back to the basket, It won’t happen the same way if gets time in the NBA. It’s still a good early sign he’s being aggressive enough offensively to go at his man when he notices a mistmatch. Gafford is able to strive off chaos on the offensive glass, leaping over players to slam home missed shots. He averaged 2.6 offensive rebounds per game in Vegas and will give Chicago a spark anytime he’s on the court.
Defensively, Gafford will be mainly situated in the paint and can help as a rim protector, coming over from the weak side to swat shots away. He isn’t afraid to go up and met guys up in the air with some tenacity. On the defensive boards he was aggressive fighting for rebounds anytime he got a chance, preven5int some demoralizing second chance points.
With WCJ, Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young, and (likely) Luke Kornet already in front of him, it’s a steep mountain to climb for Gafford. He will need to have an outstanding training camp and pre-season to get minutes, but balling out in Summer League should at least provide him a fair shot.
At the least it may have gained him some financial security, as Chicago signed Gafford under a very team friendly four year, $6.1M deal.
Coby White showed promise
While Gafford mostly shined during Summer League, White had a much more up and down tenure.
White struggled with turnovers, at times it looked like the game was happening way too quickly for him. There would be bad passes as he would try to force the ball to teammates when the window wasn’t there.
However, he had some some astute reads out of the pick and roll. White came off screens and when the near side pass wasn’t available, he fired an accurate ball to the corner.
Coby White obviously struggled shooting the ball in summer league, but I was impressed by some of his passes. Liked this lefty kickout on the move to Adam Mokoka for three out of the pick-and-roll: pic.twitter.com/3qH21HkI8d— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) July 15, 2019
Some of these plays, like the skip passes, weren’t being made when he was in college so White’s already showing improvement in the limited NBA time he’s had.
White frequently pushed the ball up the court, reinforcing the Bulls front office promise to be more of a running team this upcoming season. We saw it whenever White had the chance he raced up the court looking for an open man.
This is where Coby White is going to bring immediate value. Look at how fast he gets it up the floor even off a made basket. pic.twitter.com/In9Mrq51vE— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) July 6, 2019
The biggest offensive flaw White showed was shooting the basketball. There were concerns about his pull-up shooting ability, and in in Vegas he struggled everywhere, going a paltry 33.6 percent from the field with a mere 10 percent on threes at six attempts per game. White has shown in college he can be effective off the catch and shoot, curling around screens for open jump shots. However in Summer League he couldn’t seem to buy a bucket with his jumper.
Defensively, White did a solid job. He rotated over one pass away and dropped in to help on drives when the Bulls big men were pulled away from the paint. In the regular season Chicago won’t be able to use him on any player other than point guards, but for Summer League he was solid. His lacking wingspan could be an issue when it comes to contesting but he’s shown good situational awareness when defending and gives a ton of effort.
Expectations shouldn’t be too high on White coming into this season. This stint in Summer League is an indication that his rookie year will be more of a feeling-out one. It’s going to take some time for him to fully adjust to the pace of the NBA. The Satoransky signing gives the Bulls a good stop-gap at point guard as patience will be needed for White and his development.
The pressure is on Chandler Hutchison
As one of the elder statesmen on this summer roster, it was not a good second go-around for Chandler Hutchison. Hutchison ran the floor and attacked the rim consistently, but he didn’t complete shots efficiently at all, shooting an effective field goal percentage of 31.4. He still looked unpolished in some offensive areas of his game and it’s not welcoming to see a second year guy struggled in Summer League.
Defensively, Hutchison was fine and didn’t get overmatched by anyone he was guarding. His 7’1 wingspan aids him staying in front of his man and there weren’t any monumental defensive lapses. He can still switch effectively and move his feet quick enough to stay with smaller players. Hutchison is not an elite on-ball defender by any means but he isn’t a negative one either.
While it’s certainly not the end of the world he struggled in Vegas, the clock is ticking. The Bulls are thin at the wing positions with Otto Porter Jr. being the only other player who will get the majority of his minutes at three. Hutchison’s rookie season was cut short due to a foot, a good Summer League performance was seen as a soft landing that could have gone a long way in helping his stock. He didn’t do that and now there are even more questions surrounding expectations for him.
Adam Mokoka has some upside
The final player of intrigue was Adam Mokoka, who Chicago signed to a two-way contract out of France just before Summer League began. Turning 21 at the end of the month, he’s a project for the Bulls to develop.
Mokoka gets after his man on defense, hounding him every opportunity he gets. Mokoka can destroy pick and rolls by making smart reads and makes his man think twice about passing the ball. The effort alone he has defensively is enough to disrupt plays. At 6’5 he can match up against guards and will be in their face every step of the way. This is the same thing we saw with Kris Dunn coming out of college, a certain intensity picks up when their man has the ball. If he does get some minutes with the Bulls, he will strength their perimeter defense.
Offensively, he needs a lot of work. His jump shot release is quick and he isn’t afraid to let it fly, as shown by his 4.2 three-point attempts per game. There were numerous times in Summer League where he would step into threes confidently, a good sign for a young player.
But the percentages need to be better. He shot 33 percent in Summer League from deep and it’s where the majority of where his shots came from. Mokoka will attack closeouts when defenders run up to him on the three point line and can get up for some dunks.
His playmaking, as noted in the tweet below, has shown some improvement from years prior.
adam mokoka has gradually helped his stock this season. before last september he had two career games with 3 or more assists (almost 60 games not counting FIBA), now he has 22, including 4 with 7+. he's also continued to develop as an on and off ball defender with mega bemax pic.twitter.com/zA4otqE0F3— ricky scricca ☕️ (@scricca1) June 1, 2019
There still is a lot to like from Mokoka who played in Serbia last season. He didn’t really stand out as some star like prospect but did flash the tools to be an effective player in the NBA. Chicago will have him with the Windy City Bulls for the majority of the year so keep a look out for him in the G-League. He’s certainly looks like an interesting prospect to follow.