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Daniel Gafford’s improvement is reason to question Arturas Karnisovas’s roster construction

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it’s not dishonest or biased to look at AK’s on-court results

Chicago Bulls Introduce Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley Photo by Chris Ramirez/NBAE via Getty Images

I think it’s correct to say that Arturas Karnisovas is still in a honeymoon phase with the in-town media as well as a large portion of the fanbase. Maybe we’ve all been hurt very much by GarPax for so long that it only makes sense that AKME gets a longer-than-usual leash.

Rest assured, this space still looks to judge the guy on his merits, from day one. His first decision was dithering on firing Boylen, that was bad. Ultimately firing him and hiring Billy Donovan, that was good. The trade deadline moves, looked to be good and now looking less good, we can look at the results and try to make honest calls, ya know?

So one move that AKME made, and we can try and assess, was dealing away Daniel Gafford midseason. He’s now looking very good in Washington, a team that made the playoffs in the widest/worst playoff field ever (a low bar his former team in Chicago didn’t reach) and still signed for barely over the minimum for two more seasons.

I don’t even know if it’s right to say trading Gafford was a mistake, as much as his change in play is an indictment of the larger and earlier mistake of his team not addressing the point guard position before the season.

KC Johnson at NBC Sports Chicago sort of approaches this point, but doesn’t follow through:

So this is what it looks like when Daniel Gafford plays with an elite point guard. That’s been the dominant impression from here watching Gafford, who is averaging 12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2 blocks in four playoff games for the Wizards.

This is not to diminish what Gafford has done since the Bulls traded him...Nor is it to suggest that Russell Westbrook is the sole reason Gafford is thriving.

It’s more a reminder of how often Gafford struggled during his 11 starts with the Bulls and how the NBA is so much about fit and opportunity.

There’s then a long bit where Gafford himself cites complacency and lack of confidence. But what Johnson doesn’t do is criticize the front office and their team construction. Like the lack of a point guard was just happenstance, ‘fit’ is something nebulous bordering on unplannable, or that improving the position would’ve required someone ‘elite’ like Westbrook (and his massive contract).

Karnisovas has had his wins in his year-plus running the show, but his total can-kicking of last offseason was bad, and looks to have also hurt the so-called ‘evaluation season’ he was planning to have with players like Gafford. I felt before the deadline that this lack of planning was not actually harming Gafford or the other young big men, but seeing Gafford’s improvement with a elite real point guard is new evidence we can take into consideration of our own evaluation of the new Bulls front office.

[To a lesser extent, it was another failure that Karnisovas didn’t address the position after the deadline either, even with a veteran minimum depth piece. Instead continually making excuses that it was a lack of practice time keeping the team from gaining cohesion offensively]

Fans like RokDeez Bulls Blog noticed pretty quickly that it wasn’t ‘confidence’ that is the difference with Gafford:

The inability of the Bulls’ guards to make the right reads in pick-and-roll, or penetrate the lane and threaten the basket, made Gafford nothing more than a put-back artist on offense. In Chicago, Daniel Gafford never had a chance to play to his strengths.

How have the Wizards put Gafford in a position to succeed? The answer is simple: They have point guards.

It’s not just that Washington has Westbrook, the superstar, that has help Gafford achieve success, they also have Ish Smith, the journeyman backup point guard. Smith has been a staple on my point guard wish list for the past I-don’t-know-how-many-years now. It seems like every post I’ve ever written looking at available point guards has included his name as a possible free agent or trade target. I get why he’s never been signed by the Bulls. He’s undersized and meant to come off the bench, not a sexy free agent signing to be sure. Counter-point: he’d also be the best point guard on the Bulls. That’s how sorry the state of the Bulls point guard position has been ever since the rebuild started. If he had been acquired at any point in the last 4 seasons, Ish Smith would have been the best point guard on the Bulls.

He then deftly goes where KC should’ve: how did Karnisovas’s poor first offseason impact the trade deadline and this coming year?

Would the Bulls have even made the trade for Vucevic if they were getting elevated play out of Gafford, or Wendell Carter Jr, or Chandler Hutchison via a competent point guard? Would we be okay with letting Lauri Markkanen “walk” in free agency this summer if he had a competent point guard making him better? How much time and money has this franchise wasted over the past 4 seasons because they didn’t have competence at the most important position in basketball? Daniel Gafford is a breakout in Washington because of Westbrook. Couldn’t that have happened here in Chicago? Shouldn’t it happen here in Chicago?

Arturas, you’re no dummy, get a damn point guard.

That conclusion - that the team needs to acquire at least a, say, top-20 starting PG - may be different given that Vucevic - a very good distributor for a center and one that doesn’t rely on great PG play - is here, a ton of trade capital was used up in getting him, and the free agent market may not be that stacked at the position this summer.

A debatable topic, that. But not so debatable is that Karnisovas needs to get at least a rotation quality point guard now, and it’s not biased or judging too early to say it’s a failure on AK that he didn’t do this in his first offseason.