Unless you count suffering an upset loss to the rival Miami Heat as meaningful, the Bulls’ five-game stint in Las Vegas for summer league play should be considered a success.
It’s just summer league, so reading too much into the trip is foolish, but for the players who are either under contract or are likely to be invited to training camp in October, some insight can be gleaned. No disrespect to the likes of big men Deon Thompson and Matthew Bryan-Amaning or shooters Andy Rautins and Matt Janning, all of whom had their moments, but only five players — draft picks Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, holdovers Marquis Teague and Malcolm Thomas and free agent Andrew Goudelock — who played for the Bulls on UNLV’s campus have a legitimate chance of setting foot on the United Center floor come winter.
The team raced out to an undefeated record in its first three games, earning the second seed for the inaugural year of tournament play in the summer league, before losing to that persistent thorn in the side of the franchise Thursday night in a defensive slugfest that resembled a regular-season contest in its ugly nature, then closing things out with a win over the Dallas Mavericks in the consolation bracket Friday evening.
Each of the aforementioned quintet displayed some intriguing potential, though none of them played a completely flawless brand of basketball while receiving the bulk of the minutes Bulls assistant and summer league head coach Adrian Griffin doled out. More importantly, however, is the question of whether any one of them could emerge as a contributor for the Bulls.
Here’s a look at how they performed:
Andrew Goudelock: 19 points per game, 47.1 percent field-goal shooting, 52.2 three-point shooting in five games
After shuttling between the D-League and the Lakers the last two seasons (including a start and 20-point performance in the first round of last season’s playoffs), Goudelock is looking for his next NBA opportunity, and with the Bulls prioritizing outside shooting and losing a similar shot-creator in Nate Robinson, it’s a potential match that makes some sense on paper. More of a combo guard than a traditional shooting guard or a true floor general due to his size limitations and shoot-first mentality, Goudelock came out of the gates firing and was highly successful, scoring league-high totals of 26 and 31 points in the Bulls’ first two games, wins over Memphis and Denver, on efficient 9-for-15 and 10-for-13 (5-for-6 from three-point range) shooting nights. He showed the ability to score in a variety of fashions — from transition and getting into the paint to loft high-arcing floaters, to knocking down pull-up jumpers off the dribble and hitting long-range shots off screens — as well as the ability to initiate offense as a point guard on occasion.
He cooled down in the team’s next two affairs, struggling with 4-for-13 and 2-for-14 games against Portland and Miami but bounced back in the finale win over Dallas with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Unless Goudelock is offered a guaranteed contract by another team, expect him to be at training camp. But while the Bulls could always use another shooter to hit shots off Derrick Rose’s penetration, signing another free-agent big man to relieve All-Star center Joakim Noah could be of greater value. If the team decides to keep 14 players on the roster, however, Goudelock is a no-brainer.
Erik Murphy: 11.6 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 54.8 percent field-goal shooting, 50.0 percent three-point shooting in five games
A second-round pick who will be on the team partially for financial purposes, Murphy also brings another dimension to the Bulls’ personnel. The Florida product is stretch power forward, something nearly every NBA team has in the copycat league, and while Murphy is highly unlikely to see significant action as a rookie, he brings a different skill set than every other big man on the Bulls. After a rough start in his first game against Memphis — he missed all six of his three-point attempts and failed to grab a single rebound — Murphy bounced back, scoring 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range against Denver, before displaying some toughness by playing through a broken nose (he previously broke it at mini-camp at the Berto Center before making the trip to Las Vegas) on a put back against Portland, a game in which he scored 10 points and snatched five boards. After another modest outing in the Miami loss, Murphy had his best game of the event, a 19-point, 13-rebound, three-block evening Friday.
While he certainly needs to get stronger and he’ll never be a high-flying athlete, Murphy also flashed some solid ball skills and had a willingness to mix it up inside, as evidenced by his rebounding in Thomas’ absence against Dallas. It’s probable that he sees scant playing time as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him be utilized as a situational substitute in his debut campaign.
Tony Snell: 11.8 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game in five games
The No. 20 overall pick last month had his share of ups and downs in Las Vegas, but overall, it’s hard not to be optimistic about his long-term upside. The lanky swingman proved to be a smooth ballhandler, functioned as an oversized playmaker, was active on both the glass and the defensive end of the floor and displayed a high basketball I.Q. and a nice shooting stroke, even if his shots didn’t fall consistently. On the other hand, he sometimes lack assertiveness on offense and will definitely need to add strength to his spindly frame in order to be effective as a professional, but his unselfishness and ability to adjust when something wasn’t working shows maturity.
There were positives in every game — three steals against Memphis, 7-for-9 free-throw shooting against Denver that showed his aggressiveness in getting to the rim, four assists against Portland that displayed his passing, 12 rebounds against Miami and 5-for-8 three-point shooting against Dallas — but more impressive than his numbers were his seemingly unflappable demeanor and versatility, which included guarding strong and athletic power forward Thomas Robinson of the Trail Blazers in Thomas’ stead and grabbing defensive boards, pushing the ball himself and initiating offense.
Like most rookies under Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a first year of watching from the sidelines and learning from the veterans in practice is expected, but with his poise, shooting and potential on defense, getting more than just spot minutes isn’t totally out of the question. Either way, his length, versatility and high ceiling have already made him part of the organization’s future plans.
Marquis Teague: 18.3 points per game, 4.8 assists per game in four games
While summer league was important for getting the rookies some experience and evaluating free-agent talent, like Jimmy Butler last year, the primary objective for the Bulls was Teague’s continued development. The 20-year-old point guard was like night and day compared to last summer, playing with much more confidence, having added some bulk, running the show with the expertise of a player with some NBA experience and even showcasing an improved jumper, his biggest weakness as a rookie. Teague pushed the pace at every opportunity, and against set defenses he attacked off the dribble to either create easy shots for his teammates or finish at the rim himself. Although he scored at a high level, Teague also tried to get others involved, sometimes resulting in turnovers because he was playing too fast. On the defensive end of the floor, he did a good job pressuring opposing point guards by using his length and quickness. He still can’t be considered an above-average outside shooter, but projecting him as a player who can one day at least keep defenders honest isn’t a stretch anymore.
With Kirk Hinrich also returning to the lineup, it isn’t a lock that Teague immediately becomes the Bulls’ backup point guard, but due to the veteran being able to play both backcourt positions, if Teague can continue to improve, he could seize that role in the regular season and possibly even play with Rose in tandem — he exhibited great chemistry playing alongside Goudelock — on occasion.
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Malcolm Thomas: 11.0 points per game, 15.0 rebounds per game in three games
Thomas, the other player who spent time on the Bulls last season, virtually duplicated his showing in Las Vegas last summer, again dominating the glass and being a big presence on the interior in general. He missed two of the team’s contests — sitting out the Portland game with a slight injury — but made an impact when he was on the floor. Still raw offensively, Thomas has made some strides in developing his post-up scoring game, though he still needs to polish his back-to-the-basket moves and improve his finishing around the rim. Defensively, his length and athleticism ensure that opponents are aware of him in the paint, and as a rebounder, his high activity level resulted in him setting a summer league record with 22 rebounds against Denver.
At this point, Thomas should find a home in the NBA because of his defined role, but as he doesn’t have the size to effectively play center on a nightly basis in the regular season and power forward is one of the team’s deepest positions, his odds of being back in a Bulls uniform are reduced. But if a veteran free-agent big man both desired by the organization and willing to come to Chicago for the league minimum doesn’t present himself, Thomas could be the best available option.