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Observations from Chicago Bulls Summer League

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls have played their first two Summer League games in Las Vegas, and they’ve drawn a little more attention from Bulls fans than they normally might. That’s because new coach Fred Hoiberg is at the helm and it’s giving a preview of what the Bulls might look like.

It also doesn’t hurt that Doug McDermott, who looks to take on a more prominent role in Hoiberg’s new offense, is playing there. And Bobby Portis, who the Bulls somewhat lucked into, is also there to make things interesting.

All of these observations come with a massive caveat: It’s Summer League. The level of competition isn’t the same. The readiness of the teams playing isn’t exactly at even D-League standards. Most of the players will never see an NBA court and they’ve had a couple of weeks to get to know one another.

So, what you’ll typically see is a lot of really bad, vomit-inducing  basketball, turnovers, blown assignments, jacked shots and so on. Trying to find something in all the mess is a bit like dumpster diving. If you dig around long enough, though, you might be able to find a bit of value.

The first thing that jumped out was the pace and sets are very different from the Tom Thibodeau offense Bulls fans might be used to. There was a lot of high pick-and-roll action, and when I say high, I mean very high, as in Cameron Bairstow two feet behind the arc.

Surprisingly, he’s been shooting from deep too, going 2-of-7 through the first two games. I mean that’s not lights out, but he won’t be the one shooting from there during the regular season. It’s easy to see Nikola Mirotic getting those kind of looks.

The other thing that was happening out of those looks is the paint was wide open and the Bulls guards like Ramon Galloway and Vander Blue, as well as Doug McDermott, were getting great cuts to the basket and scoring pretty effectively on them in Game 1.

Again, not looking at just the Summer League roster, but considering the regular season team, it’s easy to see Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and even Aaron Brooks prospering from looks like that.

The entire offense is more open and spread out without bigs stacking up the lanes. It’s clear that this is something Hoiberg emphasizes. Through most of the first two games, there was very little camping out in the lane. It seems like the days of having two bigs hovering near the basket and trying to shoehorn a pass into one of them are over.

The second encouraging thing, if you’re a Bulls fan, was seeing Portis’s competitiveness in the first game. Clearly, he wanted to show something to the No. 1 overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, and he obviously did, scoring 23 points on 14 shots and grabbing seven boards. Meanwhile Towns had just nine points on 11 shots with nine boards.

Portis showed range too, hitting on three of his four attempts from deep. And perhaps the best part was when a Timberwolf dared to try and compete with him for a rebound, he slapped the ball and practically snarled at the audacity of his opponent.

This kid has a Joakim Noah-like fire in him that’ll serve him well as a Bull.

The second game for both the Bulls and Portis didn’t go nearly as well. In fact, a lot of it was Summer League godawful basketball. The rookie made just one of 10 shots and the Bulls were -20 with him on the court.

As a team, Chicago was just 22-of-70 from the field and 3-of-25 from deep. It was enough to have you have feeling nostalgic for Thibodeau. A lot of the missed shots were wide open and just didn’t go in. That’s Summer League ball.

The one encouraging thing was McDermott showing up for a brief spell and running off 11 straight points for the Bulls in the third quarter. The other side of that was it was the only 11 points he scored during the game. So, make of that what you will.

One other noteworthy thing is that during the first game, Gar Forman was interviewed and divulged that Tony Snell has been beefing up. According to Forman, Snell is up to 225 pounds now. That’s up 25 pounds from last offseason and 45 from when he was first drafted.

That certainly could make him a better defensive factor playing the 3.

The bottom line is that the Bulls are banking on internal improvements, as Forman has mentioned multiple times. Other than Portis and the unusual signing of Cristiano “Who Is That?” Felicio, the roster is identical to last year.

But with the first glimpses of the new system, more favorable to the Bulls’ best offensive players and the expected growth of their youngsters, there’s at least something fans have to hang the hat of hope on.


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