As the semifinals approach on the Summer League tournament, only one team remain undefeated. The Bulls have won all five games they have played despite facing quality opponents like the Spurs, the Celtics or the Wizards, their Saturday foe. Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine combined for 31 points and 19 rebounds and led Chicago to an 88-85 victory over Washington.
The Bulls might not have the elite prospects other teams boast but their size and physicality is unmatched and it has been enough to allow them to be one of four squads standing. Portis and Cristiano Felicio have given opponents all sorts of trouble as they are both big and have experience dealing with NBA-caliber bigs after getting some minutes last season as rookies.
Denzel Valentine is a big wing who contributes on the boards and can score at this level. On Saturday he had 14 points and 10 rebounds and connected on four three-pointers. Jerian Grant, another player with NBA experience, gives the backcourt a playmaker who can run a team (eight assists against the Timberwolves), even if his scoring has no been particularly efficient. Then off the bench they have Spencer Dinwiddie to provide a change of pace when needed.
That core has had too much talent and size for Summer League opponents. The Bulls have hurt teams from inside and the perimeter and someone always seems to step up their game when other struggle. They have to be considered the favorite to win the tournament at this points, yet even if they don't raise the trophy the performance of the young players has to be encouraging thinking about next season.
Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are gone and while Robin Lopez is expected to start at center, there will be minutes available at the big men spots. Portis got some last season due to injuries to teammates and did well for a rookie, averaging seven points and five rebounds. Felicio didn't have a defined role but showed flashes of ability when he got to be on the court. Next season they could both see their playing time go up, especially if the perpetually on the block Taj Gibson is finally traded.
Derrick Rose is in New York and Jose Calderon had to be traded away to make room for Dwyane Wade. The Bulls will surely look to add an experienced backup point guard but Grant might have a shot at earning the role. His poor shooting in Las Vegas doesn't bode well for his chances but if he can handle the ball, get the team into its sets and defend, he could be valuable even on a third string role.
Similarly, with Mike Dunleavy gone Valentine could get a look as a rotation player right away. Jimmy Butler and Wade will start at the wing and Doug McDermott will likely be the first sub for the small forward position but after that, it's wide open. Tony Snell never managed to secure a permanent role and Nikola Mirotic will likely play power forward exclusively next year. If Valentine can hit open three-pointers like he did on Saturday and do the little things, Fred Hoiberg will find some minutes for him.
Everyone knows that roles are not earned in July, so impressing in Summer League can be meaningless. For the Bulls young players, however, this has been an opportunity to get their names in consideration. So far, they have definitely taken advantage of it.
2 other things we learned
Bruno Caboclo is still two years away
The Raptors surprised everyone when they picked a little-known Brazilian teenager named Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time Fran Fraschilla famously proclaimed that Caboclo was "two years away from being two years away" to illustrate just how raw of a prospect he was. Two years later those words seem prescient because after playing two NBA seasons Caboclo still doesn't look ready to contribute.
In Friday's loss against the Timberwolves, Caboclo had five points on five shots, five personal fouls and a whopping seven turnovers. Coming into the game he was averaging 12.5 points but shooting 38 percent from the field. He has had nights in which he has not been assertive at all. That's not what is expected of a player with his experience.
Caboclo is still just 20 years old and has intriguing physical tools. At some points he won't be able to coast on potential alone, though.
Jamal Murray could be a special scorer
Like most rookies who are given a big role in Summer League, Jamal Murray has struggled with efficiency. It's hard to judge his shot selection when he has the green light this early in his career but some of the decisions he's made have not been good. Yet even when he didn't have great performances there were flashes of potential. On Saturday it all finally clicked for him on a 29-point performance in which he scored from inside and out and came up big in the clutch, even on a loss.
Murray proved in college that he can hit threes coming off screens and that ability to be a threat without the rock will come in handy next to the ball-dominant Emmanuel Mudiay. He'll very likely play off the bench behind Gary Harris, at least initially, so he needs to improve when it comes to creating his own shots. He's showed that ability in Summer League, using ball screens expertly to get open. If he can continue to improve on that area, he might make the Pelicans regret taking Buddy Hield over him.
Play of the night
Tyler Ulis for the win!
Timberwolves 81, Raptors 79
Bulls 88, Wizards 85
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