The Chicago Bulls’ carousel of backup point guards for Derrick Rose has been interesting over the years. Kirk Hinrich, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin and most recently Aaron Brooks have taken the reins of leading the second unit in the Tom Thibodeau Era. Each guard in the group provided bright spots here and there, but none of those options gave the Bulls a long-term solution at backup point guard. That needs to change this offseason.
Gar Forman and John Paxson have fallen in love with signing mini-point guards to veteran minimum contracts. That sounds ideal on paper, but smaller point guards are easily exposed come playoff time. Augustin and Brooks are the latest examples as both excelled in the regular season only to get demolished in the postseason (Professor Andre Miller did the damage in 2014 and Matthew Dellavedova torched Brooks on both ends this postseason). The Bulls’ front office needs to look at the draft this time around to find someone who won’t crumble in the playoffs and can provide the Bulls with a point guard of the future. Delon Wright of Utah and Jerian Grant of Notre Dame figure to be perfect solutions for Chicago in the upcoming draft.
At No. 22, the Bulls most likely aren’t going to find a future All-Star. The next best thing the Bulls can do is find someone who can step in and contribute right away. Chicago thought it found that in Doug McDermott last year, but players reliant on scoring aren’t always going to transition easily to the NBA. The players that often find the most success early in their careers are ones that won’t make mistakes, can defend and know their roles. The Bulls thought they found a long-term backup point guard in Marquis Teague in 2012, but he was far too raw and lacked the readiness to be an NBA role player. Wright and Grant will both be 23 years old by the time next season starts, but both can contribute immediately without the downside of someone like Teague.
Wright started his collegiate career in junior college before dominating at Utah. He averaged a ridiculous 15.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor in his two seasons at Utah. His line from this season of 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game has only been done 26 times since 1997, according to Sports-Reference. The only players to do it twice are Elfrid Payton, who just had a terrific rookie campaign, and Wright.
Wright projects to be a lockdown defender with terrific size for the point-guard position. (He measured in at 6-foot-5.5 in shoes at the combine with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan.) Although he can struggle with his shot at times, his three-point percentage increased from 22.2 percent his junior season to 35.6 percent his senior year on over double the makes. His 83.6 percent free throw percentage this past season bodes well for his future improvement as a shooter.
Wright isn’t a freak athlete (had a poor 31-inch max vertical at the combine), but he’s crafty and knows how to get the job done on both ends. He reminds of Shaun Livingston in that regard. He would be an immediate upgrade over Brooks at backup point guard as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects Wright to have the best Wins Above Replacement Player among all rookies. Grant of Notre Dame might have even more upside than Wright.
Pelton isn’t as optimistic about Grant, projecting him to have the 49th-best WARP among rookies, but I wouldn’t look too much into those numbers. Grant is overlooked because of his age and late improvement, which tend to hurt player projections in the NBA. Grant was an absolute terror his senior year at Notre Dame, putting up a line of 16.5 points, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 57.2 percent on two-pointers. All of that added up to an outstanding 25.5 PER.
Grant didn’t partake in the athletic measurements at the combine, but there’s no doubt he’s a terrific athlete. Natural athleticism runs in the family as his father, Harvey Grant, played in the NBA for 11 seasons and his younger brother, Jerami Grant, just finished up a solid rookie season with the Sixers. He also already has some Bulls legacy in his blood as his uncle, Horace Grant, won three championships in Chicago.
Length is part of the Grant pedigree as well, as Jerian has a terrific 6-foot-7.5 wingspan. That length helped him finish an outstanding 73.1 percent of his shots at the rim, according to Hoop-Math. That’s over 10 percent better than D’Angelo Russell (62.2 percent), who projects to be the first point guard taken off the board. Like Wright, Grant struggles with his jumper (shot just 34.5 percent from downtown for his career), but that shouldn’t be a problem if he’s a terror on the defensive end and a playmaker offensively.
The Bulls have had success with seniors in the past. (The jury is still out on McDermott.) Jimmy Butler, who Chicago selected with the No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, has become a borderline superstar. Kenneth Faried, Draymond Green and Chandler Parsons are other recent examples of seniors who have thrived in the NBA. If seniors enter the NBA knowing their role and don’t try to be the stars they were in college, then you’d be hard pressed to find better fits for contending teams. Delon Wright and Jerian Grant can be that for the Bulls this June and provide them with reliability in the playoffs next April.