As the Chicago Bulls look to get the tank rolling on a rebuild, there is still no clear answer at point guard.
The point guard of the future is supposed to be electrifying in nature. Explosive off the bounce, quick off the catch, able to finish amongst the trees. Capable of seizing control over games, quarterbacking the team on both ends of the floor. The Chicago Bulls should be starting rookie Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard on opening night on Thursday, October 19th against the Toronto Raptors. Bulls fans know as well as anyone the impact a playmaking point guard can have on a team. Instead, Chicago passed on the high-flying Smith Jr., who many think could be one of the best players to come out of the 2017 Draft, in favor of Lauri Markkanen. While Markkanen has a chance to become a wonderful NBA player in his own right, Chicago has a logjam of big men on their roster. The Bulls didn’t even interview Markkanen prior to the draft. Chicago wrongfully neglected to address the point guard position on draft-night with the assumption that their point guard of the future is already on the current roster. So here we are.
In Chicago’s second season without former hometown hero, Derrick Rose, they will turn to a trio of young, unproven point guards to lead the team to the lottery. Take a closer look at that trio, and you’ll see that Cameron Payne has no realistic chance to become the starting point guard. Payne, set to miss three to four months rehabbing from foot surgery, will likely struggle to crack the rotation at all once he returns to the hardwood. A series of unfortunate injuries, plagued primarily by foot issues, has prevented Cam Payne from building on-court consistency. That leaves the Bulls with two realistic options for starting point guard: Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant.
Last night we saw a sneak preview of what we might see from Hoiberg’s offense. Jerian Grant and Kris Dunn split time, with Grant starting the game. Grant looked better than he did last season. Chicago played at a much faster pace; more reminiscent of Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State offenses Bulls fans frequently hear about. This style of play significantly benefited Jerian Grant, who distributed the ball with ease, finishing the game with a game-high nine assists and just one turnover. Grant looked more comfortable running the point without ball-stoppers like Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler slowing things down. Last year, it was clear that Jerian Grant didn’t respond well to his lack of involvement in the offense due to Butler and Wade’s favoritism of isolation basketball. One thing Grant did to separate himself from the other inconsistent 2016-2017 Bulls’ point guards was hit open threes. With Payne and Dunn known for poor jump shooting, it looks like Grant will again be the Bulls most reliable shooter at point guard.
Kris Dunn, the “key” piece of a paltry return on the Jimmy Butler trade, is a player the Bulls front office have long coveted. It only makes sense that they found a way to get him in a Bulls uniform, after failing to trade for him on draft-night in 2016. Dunn played well in his preseason debut with the Bulls, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes. He had three assists, three turnovers, and two steals. Dunn was aggressive on defense, which is his primary strength. He used his length, a 6-foot-9 wingspan, to cause deflections and create some turnovers. Dunn was 1-for-2 on threes and finished on several drives to the basket. Dunn has been criticized for inconsistent shooting, and last season he proved critics right by shooting 29% from deep. However, in college, Dunn went from shooting 28% from three as a freshman to 37% on 3.4 three-point attempts per game as a senior. Kris Dunn might be running out of time, but he can still develop into a more confident shooter.
Both Jerian Grant and Kris Dunn made a case for the starting job at point guard in the preseason opener after neither player showed much promise last season. Similar to the way Fred Hoiberg tinkered with the starting lineup last season, I think we will see a mixture of Dunn and Grant starting at point guard throughout the season. We may also see Cam Payne or Denzel Valentine spend some time running the point. The battle for the starting job will likely continue deep into the season, and that’s a good thing. The inter-squad competition will ultimately add value to the young players on the Chicago’s roster, be it in the form of trade value or value-added to the Bulls in the future. On a team striving for a high draft pick, Hoiberg and the Bulls can patiently experiment with lineups throughout the season. After all, losing in aesthetically pleasing fashion should be the primary goal for the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls.