Like an oasis in the desert, basketball is here, if only for a few short weeks. I’ll take what I can get.
Summer league is just getting started up, and the Bulls have played two games already, winning one against the Lakers and losing to a depleted Cavaliers team. In summer league, wins and losses don’t really matter too much, as most of the contributors to those outcomes won’t be playing in the league. So, I’ll be focusing on three main players: Daniel Gafford, Coby White, and Chandler Hutchison. I’ll give a little overview of their performance thus far, and since we’re all about positivity this summer, I’ll end each section with something you should be excited about.
Let’s start with the positives here on Gafford. The first game, he put up 21 points on the Lakers. He didn’t do nearly as well against the Cavs, but it looked like he was dealing with a rib injury in the first half, yet played through it. Gafford looks as advertised: runs the floor, rebounds well, and finishes lobs. He gets put-backs, can overpower smaller defenders, and while he doesn’t have a refined post game, he can get a bucket off of a back down. He looks good, especially for being the 38th pick in this year’s draft.
Here’s the thing, though: Gafford should look good. His archetype as a player thrives in Summer League. He’s playing against (and with) people who miss a ton of shots, and he’s playing against physically weaker opposition. These games were almost designed for athletic big men to show out. That’s not to take anything away from him, however. Taking advantage of opportunities is a skill, and that skill should help out Gafford in the long run.
Something you should be excited about is that Gafford plays hard. He’s on the floor more than any other player on the team, diving for loose balls. One play, in particular, stood out to me: In the Cavs game, Gafford found himself sealed topside in the lane, giving the opposing center a clear lane to the hoop if the entry pass was accurate. The entry came from the wing, and Gafford dove to the ball, disengaging the seal and batting the ball out of bounds. Risky play, yes, but a play that saved a bucket. That kind of play will drive renown spirit connoisseur Jim Boylen wild.
One play you should be excited about is again, against the Cavs. Gafford caught the ball beyond the three-point line at the top of the key, and took his man off the dribble for a layup. If Gafford can make plays off the dribble and not just rely on lobs and dump-offs, he’ll stick around for a while.
How do you evaluate a point guard in Summer League? If you value shot-making, you’re down on White. If you value facilitating, you’re not very high on white. If you value speed, White’s your MVP. Coby is showing what a lot of scouts saw before the draft, speed to get to anywhere on the court, rough half-court possessions, developing-but-not-there-yet decision making, and struggles finishing around the rim. What’s shocking so far is Coby’s 3-point shooting–he hasn’t made one in 11 attempts. He’s had a respectable stroke from mid-range, but beyond the arc, he’s had no success. Coby was a good shooter in college, so I think this will pass. What I’m seeing from him is that he’s not trusting his mechanics right now, that his low release is on the back of his mind as he loads up from NBA range. I’m sure he’ll come around shooting wise.
Coby’s handle has looked very tight in Summer League. He dropped one Cavs defender for his best highlight so far with a smooth move and finished with a fade away that would make Dirk Nowitzki proud. Some scouts doubted his handle coming out of the University of North Carolina, so him improving that is a great sign.
With Coby’s passing in the half court, he’s making a lot of first reads. He’s having trouble with getting the ball to the roll man, and rather than going to his second or third look, he’s trying to force the ball into somewhere it just doesn’t fit. He has shown some flashes, making skip passes to open shooters in the corner and making good reads in transition. It’s understandable why he’s struggling, but I would like to see more nuanced passing decisions in the future.
Time for a little old-man-yells-at-cloud rant. Coby White needs to box out. After a shot, Coby would turn around and watch the ball, and there were multiple times where his man would slip by and be in play for an offensive rebound. If he wants to stay on the rebound side, that’s perfectly fine. It makes sense, as then it’s just a short pass to him so he can sprint up the floor with the ball. He needs to box out or go for the rebound, though. Either start running and have the big man throw an outlet pass, or box out, or go for the rebound yourself. It’s a small complaint, but it’s a pet peeve.
Something you should be excited about is his help defense on the perimeter. Coby has been excellent as helping against the drive from one man over and getting back to his own man before the ball is kicked out. His defense, in general, has been pretty good, but closing off other driving lanes has been one of his biggest strengths so far.
Hutch only played in one game so far, but there was a decent amount to look at as he returns to the sport after an extended time off. Honestly, Hutchison was a bit of a disappointment in that game. I thought he took a lot of floaters and off-balance shots instead of attacking the rim aggressively. Floaters are a good shot as a change of pace, but I want to see Hutch attack the rim and use his athleticism and smarts to get his shots even closer to the rim. Hutchison should be one of the best players on this team since he has a year of NBA experience under his belt.
Transition is obviously the place where Hutchison (and almost everyone else on this summer league roster) thrives. The more shots he can get in the open court, the better he’s going to be. What I’d love to see is him grabbing the board and taking it up himself, and just get into track meets with opponents. That should be good practice for what Jim Boylen does this regular season.
Something you should be excited about is Chandler’s defensive awareness. He consistently made the correct rotations, coming from the weak side to challenge at the rim. He seems to be a leader on this roster, and I hope that continues through the year.
Ethan McDougall is on twitter as @mcdougiee1. He is way too into Summer League.