*All stats correct as of 3/26/2021
As per usual with the Chicago Bulls secretive front office, not much was known about exactly what the Executive Vice President – Basketball Operations, Arturas Karnisovas, and General Manager, Marc Eversley had planned for the trade deadline. The Athletic’s, Shams Charania, reported the Chicago Bulls to be “listening to Markkanen suitors”.
Neither of these came to fruition.
The Bulls did, however, swing for the fences, landing an All-Star center to team up with Zach LaVine. A new era of Chicago Bulls basketball is officially upon us.
2-Time NBA All-Star Nikola Vucevic Lands in Chicago
Just over a month ago, for the second time in his NBA career, Vucevic was named as an All-Star reserve. The former Orlando Magic center is having his best season, averaging a career-high 24.5 points per game and grabbing 11.8 rebounds per game.
Vucevic is also having a tremendous campaign from deep with more career-highs across the board with 2.7 makes on 6.5 attempts per game, calculating to a 40.6-percent clip from three.
An aspect that often goes under the radar with Vucevic is his playmaking. The former USC Trojan is a ball-mover and is currently averaging nearly 5 more completed passes per game than any Bulls player this year. However, he moves the ball with purpose, not just for the sake of it. This can be seen with his current career-high in assists per game, with 3.8.
If Vucevic had a more capable supporting cast in Orlando, this number likely would’ve been higher. NBA tracking data suggest the 6’11” center records 7.6 potential assists per night. Only Tyler Herro and Tobias Harris average at least 7.6 potential assists while having lower than 3.8 assists per game, both at 3.6.
In Orlando, Vucevic thrived in a two-man game with shooting guard Evan Fournier, who also found himself on the move this trade deadline day. When receiving the ball from a Vucevic pass, Fournier was converting from both the field and three at a higher clip than his season averages. This bodes well for a Zach LaVine and Vucevic pairing in Chicago.
LaVine: I’ve always wanted to play with a dominant big.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 26, 2021
LaVine was one happy Bull following the Vucevic trade.
Initial reaction to the Nikola Vucevic trade?
Zach LaVine: “I was excited… Gave a little bit of a yell in my house.” Said he and Vucevic were texting throughout day
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) March 26, 2021
Along with Vucevic, the Bulls welcomed forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The last two years for Aminu have been riddled with injuries, and he has only played 35 out of a possible 110 games. Prior to his tenure with the Magic, the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft had not played less than 61 games during each of his first 9 campaigns.
The 11th year veteran’s stats do not jump out as spectacular, averaging per-game career stats of, 7.6 points, 6 rebounds, while shooting 42-percent from the field and 33.3-percent from deep. His contribution can be found with his defensive intensity, versatility, and hustle.
With the offensive fire-power Nikola Vucevic and Lauri Markkanen will provide in the frontcourt, a defensive veteran glue-guy can help bring things together nicely, while also giving Thaddeus Young a bit more of a breather.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is familiar with Aminu, as he tried recruiting him in college before the Atlanta-native attended Wake Forest.
Billy Donovan has same phone number since his Florida days, and he recruited (and missed) Al-Farouq Aminu back then.
After Aminu landed with #Bulls in trade, Aminu's old number still popped up in Donovan's phone.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) March 26, 2021
Bulls Bring in Another European Big
The Bulls added even more toughness and hustle in their frontcourt with the acquisition of Daniel Theis from the Celtics. The undrafted German, who turns 29 in just over a week, stands as a somewhat undersized center at 6’8”.
However, similarly to Aminu, Theis adds some much needed paint defense to a team that ranks dead last in opponents points in the paint throughout the last 15 games. Theis is mobile for a big and moves his feet well allowing him to be a versatile defender.
When guarded by Theis this year, new Bull Vucevic only shot 28.6-percent from the floor despite being one of the league’s best offensive bigs. Domantas Sabonis, another talented offensive big in Indiana, could not record a single made field goal in 6 attempts against Theis.
Even former back-to-back MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, only converted 1 out of 6 field goal attempts when matched up with Theis this season. Do the Bulls have two “Giannis-Stoppers” with Thad Young and Daniel Theis now?
On the opposite end of the court, Theis is a well rounded player. He has improved his shooting to a 34.7-percent clip on 2.3 attempts from deep per game. He boasts an impressive mid-range shot, converting at a 52.3-percent clip. The former-Celtic is also a reliable lob-threat, finishing 14 alley-oop dunks this season.
Daniel Theis also received some praise and recognition from Bulls All-Star guard, Zach LaVine.
Zach LaVine called Daniel Theis a “difference-maker,” especially defensively and with hustle plays.
Said Troy Brown Jr. has guarded him in matchups with Wizards. Has respect for his defense and playmaking.
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) March 26, 2021
Also from the Celtics, the Bulls receive guard/wing Javonte Green. Green has not had many opportunities in Boston, only averaging 11.1 minutes throughout 73 games in his first two seasons in the NBA.
The undrafted Radford college product is an athletic finisher that could give LaVine a run for his money as the highest-flier in the Windy City. Green uses his athleticism well on the defensive end to stay with his man.
One area of the 27-year old’s game that is yet to develop is a reliable shot from deep, although he has seen improvement from last year. In the 19-20 season the Virginia-native shot 27.3-percent from behind the arc, but has upped that to 31.8-percent for this season.
The third player acquired in this trade, and fifth from all trades, was Wizards outcast Troy Brown Jr., who had lost his place in his team’s rotation. Only aged 21, the former Oregon wing was selected 15th in the 2018 draft.
Brown played some impressive basketball last season, which was only his second season in the league, averaging 10.4 points per game, 2.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 34.1-percent from deep and 43.9-percent from the field.
The Wizards drafted Deni Avdija, taking minutes away from Brown this season. Rumors emerged before the deadline that Brown’s days in Washington were numbered.
RUMORS: The Washington Wizards' front-office has been "very active" and are expected to make at least one move at the trade deadline to bring in an impact player. A source tells @HoopAnalysisNet that Davis Bertans, Troy Brown Jr. and Moe Wagner have all been made available.
— Brett Siegel (@BrettSiegelNBA) March 21, 2021
Brown, like the other arrivals, fits the Karnisovas and Eversley ideology as he possesses a versatile skill-set. He has shown flashes of ball-handling, playmaking, shooting, and playing good defense. A true jack of all trades master of none, type player.
Wishing Five Former Bulls Good Luck in the Future
Coming into this season the expectations and hopes for Wendell Carter Jr. were high. The Duke alumni averaged 10.9 points per game while grabbing 7.8 boards. In similar fashion to the first two campaigns, Carter’s final season was full of offensive hesitations and inconsistent interior defense.
This caused him to be relegated to a bench role, for the first time in his NBA career, for the final seven games of his Bulls tenure. Carter is still young, only 21, and has plenty of time to find a role in the NBA, but ultimately Karnisovas and the Bulls felt their timelines did not match.
Daniel Gafford was another departure the Bulls said goodbye to. The former second-round pick was not a consistent contributor in the head coach’s rotations towards the end of his time with the team. After playing in 23 of the first 25 games, the 6’11” center only participated in 8 of the final 18 games.
His struggles in the post defensively and his inability to consistently get defensive rebounds likely led to his removal from the regular rotation. However, on his day, the 22-year-old did provide some unmatched energy levels off the bench, similarly to former-Bull and Arkansas product, Bobby Portis.
The third center traded from the Bulls was Luke Kornet. The 7’2” Texas-native saw his minutes per game cut in half, and then some, by Donovan. Although advertised as a “stretch-big” Kornet struggled with his shot, only converting 26.1-percent of his 23 attempts this season.
The often-injured Otto Porter Jr. was the fourth of five players to depart from Chicago. As with his first two years with the Bulls, Porter faced an injury, this one keeping him sidelined for 14 games. Despite pre-season assumptions, rookie Patrick Williams took over Porter’s projected role for the season as the starting small forward, making the Georgetown star expendable to the Bulls.
Porter’s back injury concerns saw his playing time closely monitored, averaging the least minutes per game since his second year in the league, just 21.6 minutes. Porter was still effective for the Bulls, averaging 9.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and shooting a tidy 40-percent from three.
The final Bull to be moved at the deadline was Chandler Hutchison, who had not found any consistent playing time under Donovan. He was out for a significant period with Covid, and then with personal reasons. Many theories have floated around about what these personal concerns were, but in a professional manner, the Bulls kept all this private.
This signals strong “player-first organization” vibes, as the front office has preached since their arrival.
Hutchison played in the first four games for the Bulls, including one against his new team, the Washington Wizards. Since New Year’s Eve, Hutchison has only played in 3 contests, all of which were only in garbage time.
Karnisovas’ Trade Resume Starts With a Bang!
This trade deadline day will go down in Bulls history. Windy City fans rejoiced on social media as they finally have proof that there is a competent front office leading the world-famous, Chicago Bulls, back to relevancy.
Not only are these moves pushing the Bulls to playoff expectations for this season, but they have given Chicago the chance to be a very attractive destination for future free agents.
It is an exciting time to be a Chicago Bulls fan, and although there may be growing pains with the limited practices in this unorthodox season, the Bulls can see a clearer path to being a top team once again. The Bulls got better, a lot better.