As the Chicago Bulls' 2014-15 roster continues to take shape during the offseason—while the free-agent pool gets ever shallower—fans can turn their attention to NBA Summer League action for their basketball fix.
For the Bulls, all eyes will be on 22-year-old NBA sophomore Tony Snell and incoming first-round draft pick Doug McDermott.
Those two young swingmen are ready to compete side by side under Summer League head coach Adrian Griffin. At the same time, however, they’ll be in direct competition with one another for rotational minutes next season.
Snell brings a defensive mentality that fits smoothly with Tom Thibodeau’s system, but McDermott brings three-point sharpshooting and a confidence on the offensive end that Chicago sorely needs.
They’ll be the biggest storylines, but surefire roster additions like McDermott and Snell aren’t the only intriguing prospects fans should keep their eyes on.
Snell is the only player on the Bulls’ Summer League roster (aside from forward Lance Thomas) who has at least one year of NBA experience under his belt. That experience showed in a big way during Chicago’s first game.
In the Bulls’ 86-70 win over the Los Angeles Clippers July 11, Snell finished with a game-high 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He drained five treys, snatched four rebounds and added a steal to the box score.
“The hard work I put in this summer, I think that was the big difference,” the New Mexico product said after the game, as per Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com. “I feel real comfortable, once I got the flow going. I was a little rusty at the beginning, threw a couple turnovers at the beginning. But that’s part of the game. Just got to move on, keep pushing.”
Snell’s perimeter shooting was the biggest takeaway, but he also drove to the basket and finished strong with a highlight dunk.
Overall, the performance was exactly what Chicago fans want to see. Snell’s length and effort on the defensive end is his calling card, but the confident shooting from deep can add another dynamic.
He shot 32 percent from long range in 77 games for the Bulls as a rookie. Look for that mark to improve if Snell continues to put work in.
The youngster has also added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame during the offseason, according to NBA.com’s Adam Fluck. That could ultimately pay the biggest dividends.
“The NBA is a very physical game and in an 82-game season, you’ve got to have a certain type of physicality,” Griffin said, per Fluck. “I think Tony has done a good job over the last year of staying consistent in the weight room and it’s paying off for him.”
Snell’s professionalism and maturity is exactly what coaches want to see. That may give him the edge heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
The Creighton product taken No. 11 overall in the 2014 draft had a respectable Summer League debut.
On the bright side, he finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. However, he also committed four turnovers and finished 2-of-8 shooting from the field.
McDermott obviously cannot be judged too closely based on one game, since his vastly successful collegiate career speaks for itself. During a four-year stint at Creighton, McDermott shot higher than 40 percent from beyond the arc in each season.
Still, it’s clear that the rookie must make adjustments before he’s comfortable at the professional level. He said as much after the contest, noting the speed of the game.
The 22-year-old said the following, per Sam:
It’s crazy, crazy fast, and that 11 seconds (the difference between college basketball’s 35-second shot clock and the NBA’s 24-second shot clock), it makes a huge difference. It’s a lot more quick decisions, and you’ve got to react quicker. So it’s going to take a little time to get adjusted to, but I think I’ll be just fine.
Those adjustments occurred sooner rather than later, as Dougie McBuckets put on a show July 13 against the Denver Nuggets.
The first-round selection drained five threes and all 12 of his free throws en route to a game-high 31 points. Chicago cruised to a 103-76 blowout victory.
McDermott has the ability to thrive as a spot-up, three-point shooter at the next level of competition. It will be interesting, though, to see whether he or Snell earns more minutes in the early going next season. Both have looked solid in Summer League action.
The Bulls selected Australian-born Cameron Bairstow in the second round (49th overall) during the 2014 draft. As such, there’s no guarantee Bairstow will make the final roster.
The 6’9” Aussie had eight points and six boards against the Clips, but he also committed four personal fouls and three turnovers.
He dominated during his final collegiate season at New Mexico, averaging 20.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, but he’s fighting an uphill battle to join a crowded Bulls frontcourt.
Even if Chicago opts to release veteran power forward Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause, it will still have Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, as well as Anthony Randolph and Greg Smith.
Bairstow’s hustle and strength in the paint is a selling point, but the Bulls already have established talents onboard.
If Bairstow latches on in the NBA with Chicago or elsewhere, it will be due to his hustle and strength on the interior. Referees have racked up foul calls against him during the Summer League, but oftentimes, Bairstow has been on the raw end of the deal.
Snell (former first-round pick), McDermott (2014 first-round pick) and Bairstow (2014 second-round pick) are the marquee names to follow in the Summer League. They’ve already been touted as NBA-caliber talents.
A player to watch who is still battling for his shot at the pro level is point guard Lazeric Jones.
Though the 6’1” point guard led the 2011-12 UCLA Bruins in scoring by posting 13.6 points per game (to accompany 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals), every organization passed on him during the 2012 draft.
Prior to that letdown, Jones said, “I’ve been working out my whole life trying to make it to this level,” as per the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch. “So whether I get drafted or not, I feel like I’ll get to this level whether it’s playing for a summer league team or something. I’m going to get there.”
Jones is working to make his NBA dream a reality. That dream would undoubtedly be even more special if it came to fruition with the Bulls.
The UCLA product is a Chicago native and played on the same high school team as former MVP Derrick Rose.
“I feel like every kid who grew up in Chicago wanted to play for the Bulls,” Jones said, per Bolch.
If he performs well enough, perhaps he’ll get that chance.
After all, the Bulls are lacking depth in the backcourt.
Aside from D-Rose, the only point guard on the roster is the defensive-minded Kirk Hinrich. He’ll return for more than the veteran’s minimum, as per the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson. D.J. Augustin, meanwhile—who was tremendous for Thibs after getting picked up during the season—has signed a two-year deal to join the Detroit Pistons, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Rose, as we all know, is extremely injury-prone. Hinrich has had health troubles of his own, and he’ll turn 34 years old in January.
Jones is averaging 10.5 points and four assists after two games. He's picked his spots well and runs the offense with a level head. He could provide depth at the position as someone who previously played with Rose, but he’s a long shot to make the roster.