As the Bulls formally introduced Arturas Karnisovas as their new executive vice president of basketball operations, we were given a brief insight into the type of system and player we should expect Karnisovas to target.
I like high pace; moving the ball. We were able to be a very good passing team in Denver. It’s a very entertaining brand of basketball. I like multi-positional players. I like guys with high basketball IQ that play off each other. But that takes time.
Taking this quote as gospel and applying this ethos to the current players on the roster, it’s worth examining who does (and doesn’t) fit this description.
If intelligence, versatility, and general court awareness are traits which Karnisovas values more than most...few Bulls possess such qualities. This should hardly be a surprise; if the Bulls had correctly identified and acquired this type of player over the years, maybe John Paxson still has his old role.
This is part one of an analysis into the Bulls roster in this new era: the ‘core’.
Players who Karnisovas will need time to evaluate
Karnisovas has cited the “great young core” the Bulls have drafted as a key driver for him being attracted to the job. For that reason, we have to assume Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Coby White are players who intrigue Karnisovas. In some respects, though, they also contrast the preferred type of player Karnisovas would typically target.
Both Zach LaVine, and to a lesser extent Coby White, have shown to be incredible individual scorers in isolation. But neither has actively shown they can be anything more (or less) than high usage catalysts within a stagnant, ball-pounding offense — the exact style Karnisovas wants no part of.
However, Karnisovas’s Nuggets invested in guard Jamal Murray, who possesses an innate ability as scorer similar to LaVine and White. Though flawed, the talent the Bulls have in the backcourt is tantalising, which is why we should expect both to remain with the team in the immediate term, in a hope Karnisovas and his eventual coaching hire(s) can mould both into better, all-round players.
Where LaVine and White have a propensity to overlook teammates within the offense, Lauri Markkanen is inversely too frequently lost in the shuffle. While that can be blamed on the lack of awareness of his teammates, or the incompetence of Jim Boylen, at some point Markkanen needs to own his own struggles.
And if the third-year forward is too comfortable falling down the offensive hierarchy, what else can he do on the floor to justify his value? His rebounding numbers have diminished. The seldom-seen playmaking ability has been on a long-term hiatus. As a one-position defender who can’t guard the rim or defend centers, building a defense around him is not possible.
Karnsiovas will need time to understand who Markkanen is and can be, but he has only one season to do so before Markkanen concludes his rookie contract. For now, being a 7-foot forward with ball skills and a theoretical shooting stroke will be enough to keep Markkanen around.
Players who undeniably fit
Despite the roster being littered with one-way players with more questions than answers, there are a couple who immediately meet the exact archetype of player Karnisovas will appreciate: Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr.
Despite missing most the season, the theoretical version of Porter remains the best and most versatile two-way threat on the roster. In Porter, the Bulls have a rare forward option who guard multiple positions while being a legitimate sniper from 3-point range — something the Nuggets so desperately needed during Karnisovas’ time in Denver.
As for the younger players the Bulls have amassed over the last three seasons, Wendell Carter is likely the most intriguing prospect to Karnisovas.
Despite the Bulls insisting on Carter being nothing more than a dribble hand-off option or a rim-roller on offense, Carter does have the tools to be a fulcrum within the offense — even if we have yet to see it an NBA level. Karnisovas is likely familiar with the tools Carter showcased in college, and has has just left an organisation which values passing and decision-making within the frontcourt.
Carter isn’t a Jokic-like passer (no one is.), but a more apt comparison from Denver is Paul Millsap. Millsap was a gifted passer who ran parts of the Hawks offense through the elbow, generating three to four assists per game. Moreover, the ability to swing from defending the perimeter to rotating back and helping at the rim only enhances the comparison between Carter and Millsap, something Karnisovas will undoubtedly appreciate.
While Carter may have an unquantifiable knack to read and effect the game using his guile along, that isn’t something we can categorically say about the other young Bulls on the roster.