It may not be finals season just yet, but the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls just wrapped up their last exam of the year Wednesday night in an uninspired 119-87 home loss to the Detroit Pistons. The focus for management, coaches, and players now turns to this summer, where key development and roster decisions will take place. But until then, there’s plenty to unpack.
Today, let’s break down the guard portion of this rebuilding Bulls roster, evaluating who looks to have staying power, and who might be glad they rented instead of bought. Presented in alphabetical order, here is your 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls Report Card for guards.
Ryan Arcidiacono, PG
“Arch” originally started his tenure with the Bulls on a Two-Way Contract, but impressed players and coaches alike with his defensive tenacity, toughness, and facilitation. While he spent much of his time with the Windy City Bulls, he finished the season playing 24 NBA games, drawing high praise from Fred Hoiberg, who said “you won’t find a better teammate, a tougher kid, a guy who will organize your offense better than Ryan”. While he’s limited offensively and lacks ideal size and length at his position, Arcidiacono looks to be a quality third point guard, and a high character tone-setter for a young team looking to establish a winning culture.
Say what you will about the Bulls brass, but John Paxson and Gar Forman seem to have found NBA contributors in both of their Two-Way contract signees this season. Blakeney signed his Two-Way deal with the Bulls after an impressive Summer League campaign, and he continued to demonstrate his dynamic scoring and athletic ability both in the G-League and in flashes at the NBA level. Blakeney dominated in the G-League to the tune of an absurd 32 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 steals, enough to earn him 2017-2018 G-League Rookie of the Year. He appeared in 19 games with the Bulls until a broken wrist ended his season, but he still averaged 8 points and 1.7 rebounds in limited minutes. He’s not a defensive stopper or dynamic facilitator, but he’s not shy of the big stage and can score in bunches. He’s definitely worth a closer look.
Kris Dunn, PG
Possibly the least heralded piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, the former fifth overall pick was written off by many as a bust before his plane even landed in Chicago. While he showed flashes in preseason, an open finger dislocation sidelined him for the first four games of the regular season. But Dunn slowly worked himself back from backup point guard to starter, consistently demonstrated his All-Defense-caliber ability, and averaged nearly 15 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds during December and January. He developed excellent chemistry with Lauri Markkanen, and even earned himself a place in the 2018 Rising Stars Challenge. Despite missing 30 games total this season due to the dislocation, a concussion, and toe injury, he managed to score 20+ points nine times, and registered five 10+ assist games as well.
To take the next step in his development, Dunn will need to continue to limit turnovers, develop his ability to finish around the rim, and become a better spot-up shooter from distance–but rest assured he has all the tools and work ethic necessary to patch up those holes. Dunn’s ascendance this year as a legitimate starting point guard with All-Star upside is one of the main storylines of the Bulls’ season, and in Dunn’s words, he’s “got [his] swagger back”.
Jerian Grant, G
After Dunn’s finger dislocation, Grant was awarded the team’s starting point guard gig to kick off the season. He proved competent in superficially running the offense, but struggled to manufacture points for himself or his teammates–especially Lauri Markkanen–in creative ways. Hoiberg lauded Grant’s assist to turnover ratio, but that would prove to be fool’s gold; once Dunn made his return, it became increasingly clear that Grant’s isolation-heavy tendencies and lack of court awareness was better suited for a secondary role. In fact, it’s likely Grant played mostly out of position this season–he’s a far more productive off-ball scorer than lead guard handed the keys to an entire offense. Unfortunately for Grant, the Bulls are stacked with shooting guards, and with the rise of Cameron Payne as backup point guard, Grant’s outlook with the team moving forward has never looked murkier.
Justin Holiday, SG
The Bulls signed Holiday last summer to a team-friendly 2-year, $9 million contract, and he proved to be well worth it. He provided a high-character veteran presence to a Bulls team sorely lacking experience and leadership, defended at a high level, and fit himself into Hoiberg’s offense relatively seamlessly. When management began to cut his minutes late into the season in the name of “player development”, Holiday took the demotion in stride and maintained his positive outlook. He may be shopped this summer for a team seeking a two-way role player, but the Bulls surely value his skillset and team-first attitude.
Signed unceremoniously on March 26th to a 3-year deal worth $2.6 million guaranteed, the 28-year old journeyman quickly turned heads with his dominant scoring performances and fierce two-way competitiveness. In only nine games with the Bulls, he averaged 15 points per game, highlighted by a remarkable 19-point fourth quarter effort in a victory over the Hornets. The Bulls locker room quickly embraced Kilpatrick’s humble, hard-working demeanor, and he’s clearly proven he can score in bunches. With two more years of team options on his contract, he’s certainly worth a closer look from Bulls brass next season.
Zach LaVine, SG
The headliner of the Jimmy Butler trade last summer, LaVine’s season started in mid-January due to his rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his left knee, and was cut short due to tendinitis in the same knee. While LaVine showed no athletic limitations from his injury and flashed his highly-touted scoring ability, serious questions remain about LaVine’s fit moving forward.
He consistently found himself lost and out of position on defense, and would often reduce Dunn and Markkanen to bystanders on offense as he’d turn to isolation-heavy one-on-one ball. LaVine demonstrates a humble, hard-working attitude and hunger to be a star in the NBA, but he has yet to prove he can mesh well with the team’s core players or compete consistently on defense. As contract negotiations loom this summer, LaVine’s tenure thus far has created more questions than answers.
David Nwaba, G/F
Claimed off waivers last summer after he was released by the Lakers, the 25-year old Nwaba quickly established himself as one of the team’s hardest working, most competitive players. Nwaba’s strength, length, and athleticism allowed him to become a defensive stopper, and he was relentless in his pace and attacks to the rim. His motor was unmatched, and his tenacity on both ends of the court seemed to elevate the play of those around him. After the All-Star break, he even began to showcase a budding three-point shot, which will prove invaluable in lineups moving forward. Nwaba will be a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Bulls would be wise to keep him around for the long haul.
Cameron Payne, PG
Acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City last season for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, the 23-year old former lottery pick struggled to find his footing with a squad in the midst of a playoff hunt last season. He underperformed in Summer League this year, and was then sidelined for several months to repair a broken bone in his foot. Disaster, right? Well, not quite.
Payne returned in February, and quickly seized control of the backup point guard role. His pace, ability to penetrate with ease, and craftiness on defense proved impressive, as Payne reminded doubters why he was a lottery selection three short years ago. In his two and a half months of play, he strung together 12 double-digit scoring performances, and fit in seamlessly with Hoiberg’s style of play. As he gains confidence and experience, Payne will only continue to improve.
Denvel Valentine, G/F
Like Portis, Valentine entered the season surrounded with uncertainty. After playing behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade last season as a rookie, Valentine couldn’t seem to carve out a niche for himself in the rotation, and was pigeonholed into a spot-up shooter role that didn’t come close to utilizing his full range of abilities. This year, though, was an entirely different story–Valentine started 37 games this season, and saw a ten minute per game increase in playing time. He began to demonstrate the well-rounded passing and playmaking ability that served him so well at Michigan State, and turned himself into a well above average off-the-dribble 3-point shooter. Valentine’s upside is limited by his lack of athleticism and ability to get to the rim, but he’s done more than enough to prove his value in the rotation moving forward.