DEERFIELD, ILL. — The most prominent addition to the Bulls’ roster is technically Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season. However, the newcomer expected to make the biggest impact is Mike Dunleavy Jr., who signed a two-year, $6-million free-agent contract in July.
Entering his 12th NBA season, the acquisition of the veteran sharpshooter wasn’t exactly considered a high-profile offseason move, but for a team bringing back so many holdovers, especially rotation players, Dunleavy’s experience and skill set could prove to be a perfect fit.
Known for his outside marksmanship — he shot a career-high 42.8 percent from three-point range last season for Milwaukee — the 6-foot-9 small forward brings more to the table than just spot-up shooting. Through two days of training camp, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has already been impressed by Dunleavy’s versatility.
“[Dunleavy] had a very good practice, moved very well without the ball and passed the ball well, and of course shooting,” Thibodeau said after Saturday’s morning session.
“We saw [in the practice] that Mike can play with Jimmy [Butler], he can play with [Luol Deng],” he continued. “Then, you can slide Mike, Jimmy and Luol to the four if you wanted to.”
Thibodeau added Sunday: “He’s learning his teammates. Obviously he knows the league, but he’s learning a new system. But I think shooting helps everybody. In addition to the shooting, the passing. Anytime you add a guy that can pass the ball like that it helps make everyone better. The transition right now is going very well, he’s got to continue to work, but I like the versatility. The fact that he can play with a lot of different guys is big for our team.”
Whether or not Thibodeau breaks from his typical lineups to go small and use Dunleavy as a stretch four on offense (with Deng possibly guarding the position on the other end of the floor) or not, the veteran figures to have a major role off the bench for the Bulls. Likely Deng’s primary backup at small forward, along with Butler and Kirk Hinrich, when the latter slides over to shooting guard, that will probably comprise the team’s regular wing rotation.
It’s still early in training camp, but Dunleavy, who has also played for Central Division rival Indiana and Golden State, the team who drafted him third overall in 2002, the son of the former NBA player, head coach and general manager of the same name is making a quick adjustment to a new system.
“I’m learning on the fly, trying to get the concepts down, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty much just basketball and just going out there and just playing. Mistakes that are made, they’ll be corrected and hopefully you don’t make them again,” he told CSNChicago.com after the Bulls’ first of two practices Sunday. “I just think there’s a standard, there’s a level of expectation of excellence and he holds [Thibodeau] us accountable to that, but also, each and every guy on the team holds each other accountable, and that’s the framework and the base of a great team, and hopefully that’s what we’ll be this year.”
Dunleavy acknowledged the ability of himself and his new teammates to play in various roles, believing the ability of several players to do different things on the court makes the Bulls a stronger group.
“Coach will handle all that, but we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle multiple positions with different types of lineups and that’s a plus for us,” he explained. “We may not have the deepest team in the league, but we’ve got a lot of versatility and I think we’ll be able to cover up for it.”
While Thibodeau lauded Dunleavy’s underrated passing and ability to move without the ball, obviously it’s his shooting that made him so desirable with the Bulls. Playing with a playmaker like Derrick Rose, with whom Dunleavy shares an agency, is something he believes will directly benefit his game.
“With him, he’s just such a dynamic player. He makes so many plays for himself and others,” Dunleavy said of being on the court with Rose. “You’ve just got to make sure you’re in the right position, ready to shoot or ready to make a play because each and every time down the court, he’s got a chance to do something unique.”