September 25th is the day players report to camp and practice as a team for the first time. The Bulls go into training camp with most of the same players from last season. But with two 1st round picks and new free agent additions, the Bulls rotation will have a new look. The new rookies Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchison will be looking for playing time, and they will be competing with veterans for minutes. The two rookies will need to use preseason to show they can have a positive impact in the regular season, and help the team win games. I see three potential training camp battles. The Bulls first game is October 17th against the Philadelphia 76ers, how these battles play out will determine the rotation for that game.
Robin Lopez vs Wendall Carter Jr
Battling for starting center position.
Dunn, Lavine, Parker, and Markkanen are locks as starters for opening night. The center position however is not as clear. Robin Lopez in his two seasons in Chicago has been the starting center, and has been reliable and consistent. You know what you are going to get from Lopez. Robin knows how he is effective and doesn’t try to play outside of his ability offensively. Offensively he is more effective than defensively. Effective inside the paint and from mid range. He is comfortable on the low block and finishing with a hook shot. Knows where he is more effective shooting the ball, takes most of his shots from the paint area and around free throw line. Not a liability defensively but not a strength either. Struggles away from the paint, but understands help defense well. Basically he understands how to effect the game in a positive way, and Hoiberg can trust him. But in June the Bulls had the 7th overall pick in the 2018 draft, and chose to draft 19 year old center Wendall Carter Jr.
Lopez is a 10 year pro, and is 30 years old. He normally would be the correct choice over a 19 year old rookie drafted 7th overall. But Wendall Carter Jr showed a defensive potential that Lopez does not have, and never will. You saw a player who can impact the game defensively, an area the Bulls should be most concerned with heading into the upcoming season.
The video highlights what Wendell Carter Jr can bring defensively. He has good instincts and understands rim protection. The last clip is something you would rarely see from Robin Lopez, Wendell shows he is able too defend on the perimeter as well as at the rim. Wendell also is skilled offensively. While he likely isn’t ready to have a huge role offensively, he doesn’t have too on this team. He can spread the floor with his range, from mid-range to the 3pt line. He will need to get stronger but seems he can be effective near the basket as well. But really what the Bulls should value for now is his defensive presence.
The one difference maker in the Robin Lopez vs Wendell Carter Jr camp battle is how much can Wendell affect the defensive end right away. Offensively Lopez likely will be more effective on a consistent basis, but defense is more of a need from the center position on this Bulls team. He was great in summer league, but that doesn’t compare to the regular season. The Bulls need to really use training camp and mainly preseason to see how much Wendell can affect the defensive end right away. If his impact on that end is consistently more effective than Lopez, than the Bulls should consider starting Wendell instead. But at 19 years old, expecting him to be that good right away is more unlikely than likely. But he should get every opportunity in preseason to play with the first unit. And even if Wendell doesn’t start, maybe he should be considered to finish games especially when defense is needed.
For now Lopez is likely the favorite to start, while Wendell will get around 20-22mpg to start. But depending how good he looks in training camp and preseason, that number should rise as well as possibly start.
Justin Holiday vs Chandler Hutchison
Battling for rotation time
Realistically only about 10 players will play in a game, sometimes even less. 5 starters, 5 bench players. At this point we know Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, and WCJ or Lopez will be in the rotation. The question really becomes who can become that 10th guy? Like the 1st battle I covered, this is again rookie vs veteran.
Unlike the first battle, the veteran Holiday isn’t as established and productive as Lopez. Holiday most of his career has been a low end rotational type player. While last year started at the wing for 72 games, he was more of a filler in a rebuilding year. He averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assist. Shot inefficiently at 37% from the field, which is below average for his position. From 3 shot 35% which is about average for his position. Defensively he is about average as well. Just using on/off ratings the Bulls were better defensively with him, but still a poor defensive team either way. Holiday at this point is a catch and shoot 3 point shooter while providing average defense. Again like with Lopez, with Holiday you know what you are going to get. With Hutchison it is not as clear, but we did get a glimpse of his potential in summer league.
This highlight reel really showcased the potential Hutchison showed in summer league. Hutchison was labeled as an athletic SF who can play defense, and we saw that. Hutchison showed he can move well laterally, has good hands, and a good IQ and understanding on how to play defense. The one thing that surprised me was his play vision and ball handling. Hutchison was 2nd on the team with assist in summer league with 18 assist. He handled the ball well, and was able to get to the paint and create for others or himself. While he didn’t finish consistently at the rim, he did shoot the 3 ball well. He was 8-16 from 3 in summer league.
Hutchison showed a potential to affect the game in a way Holiday can’t. Hutchison showed not only more defensive potential, but showed an ability to be more of a play maker than Holiday on the offensive end. But this is just from summer league. Training camp and preseason will determine a lot in this battle. To me this battle should be considered an open competition. Hutchison potentially can bring more than Holiday can, but the question is how good can he be right now. That’s what preseason will have to determine. Can Hutchison adjust to the NBA quick enough to help the Bulls win right away? We know what Holiday can do, and what he will bring to the team and he can help. But if Hutchison can outplay Holiday in preseason, then Hutchison should be considered ahead of him in the rotation. Both should equal time with the 2nd unit, and see who has more impact with that unit.
Ryan Arcidiacono vs Antonius Cleveland vs Derrick Walton Jr
Battling to make regular season roster
The Bulls must have their roster at 15 by Oct. 15th, and as of right now the Bulls have 17 players under contract. The Bulls must waive two players by Oct. 13th, so they can clear waivers by Oct. 15th. The Bulls have 17 players under contract, only 14 of them are guaranteed. There are three players under contracts that are fully non-guaranteed. Those 3 players are Arcidiacono, Cleveland, and Walton Jr.
Those players are the 3 that are likely to be battling it out for that last spot. It’s possible none of them make the team, and the Bulls only carry 14 going into the season. Or even possible Bulls keep 2 of the 3, and waive someone like Asik who is likely to see DNPs most of the season. But Asik’s 11.2 million guaranteed makes that an unlikely scenario. What is most likely to happen is only 1 of the 3 make the team. While the two other two are waived. One of them can be brought back on a two-way contract after they clear waivers, and one or both can be brought back on a G-League contract as well.
Arcidiacono and Walton Jr are both point guards, while Cleveland is more of a shooting guard. Neither of the three have much NBA experience, all 1 year players with none of them playing more than 24 games. And neither of them played a significant role with their respective teams. There isn’t anything the 3 players do that separates them from each other. Really what it comes down too is what do the Bulls need more? Point guard? Shooting guard? The Bulls have only have two point guards on the roster, Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne. While the Bulls have Lavine, Holiday, Valentine, and Blakeney at shooting guard. That’s four shooting guards compared to just two point guards. Cleveland would have too really impress in camp to make the roster. To me the real competition is between Walton Jr and Arcidiacono. The Bulls could use an extra point guard, and one of the two has to show why they are the one. Arcidiacono has a slight advantage over Walton Jr. Arcidiacono played in the system last season, and has a better idea of what Fred is looking for and how too run the offense.
(Arcidiacono stats via basketballreference.com)
(Walton Jr stats via basketballreference.com)
The stats are their G-League numbers. Watching both players and looking at the stats, Walton Jr seems to be the better scoring point guard. Arcidiacono shot the ball exceptionally well last season. His passing vision and and shooting ability is what he brings to the NBA. I imagine Arcidiacono has the edge on Walton Jr in this battle purely based off the fact he played with the team last season, and the team seems to like him. He was one of the better G-League players last season, and thrived running the system down there. Walton Jr likely will have to really impress to win the spot over Arcidiacono, but either one could be brought back as a two-way player as well. I believe Arcidiacono will win this battle, but the idea of bringing Wralton Jr back as a two-way player could happen if he plays well.
If the idea of the new season wasn’t exciting enough, these 3 battles will make preseason really interesting to watch. There is a lot to look for, and how these players play should have impact on how the rotation and roster looks come October 17th.