Even if they fall short of the playoffs, expect a number of rival executives to keep tabs on the Chicago Bulls when the NBA’s free agency market opens up in August.
With two All-Stars already in house, they’re guaranteed to be active in looking for ways to improve the roster.
Their point guard rotation remains the weakest link. So expect Arturas Karnisovas and company to start there.
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Chicago is Going Point Guard Hunting
In his latest for Bleacher Report, Every NBA Team’s Updated 2021 Free-Agency Big Board, Greg Swartz listed three top free agency targets for each of the NBA’s 30 franchises.
When it came to the Chicago Bulls, he listed two point guards: Devonte Graham of the Charlotte Hornets (which you can read about here), and Indiana Pacers’ sixth man T.J. McConnell.
The latter of which is an intriguing option, largely because of his defensive chops. Swartz mentioned McConnell’s nose for the basketball and team play among his appealing qualities:
McConnell among the NBA’s best backup point guards, a defensive menace who always looks to others before shooting it himself.
A six-year veteran and the NBA’s current leader in steals, he’s averaging a career-high 8.3 points, 6.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game this season.
Whether McConnell or someone else, anticipate Chicago to look into an upgrade at the point guard position, after striking out on a potential trade deadline deal for Pelicans starter Lonzo Ball.
They opened what they hoped would be a window of contention when they paired LaVine and Vucevic a month ago, but it’s possible that window is closing quicker than they’d like.
Chicago’s just 5-10 since the trade deadline, and all but eliminated from the playoffs with 14 games to go.
Typically this kind of immediate free fall incites a big offseason move, or high dollar free agency spending spree.
Maybe for the Chicago Bulls, it means chasing a guy like T.J. McConnell.
Focusing on Defense
Per Basketball Reference/Stathead, McConnell’s the only player since John Stockton in 1986-1987 to average more than six assists and one and a half steals off of the bench in NBA history.
You could certainly say that kind of player could help the situation in Chicago.
The Bulls have been miserable on defense all season long. They’ve got the NBA’s 22nd ranked Defensive Rating at 112.5 points per 100 possessions, and they’re allowing 50.2 points in the paint nightly.
But a big chunk of their issues stem from point of attack coverage and slowing down opposing lead guards.
Otherwise, exactly McConnell’s specialty.
Yet as high as his IQ is, the 29-year old’s defense wouldn’t be without his on and off ball movement. Chris Herring, a Senior NBA Writer for Sports Illustrated, discussed the frisky point guard’s speed in his latest feature:
Along with leading the league in steals, McConnell flies around at 4.36 mph on the defensive end—the NBA’s fastest average speed, according to data from Second Spectrum. And it’s no surprise that the floor-burned floor general wore a huge bandage on his right knee earlier this week. He regularly dives and collapses onto the hardwood, where he’s recovered more loose balls per 36 minutes than any other player.
Chicago isn’t a team home to even one player with that same mindset, or of the same grain on the defensive end.
Landing one is the next step in their path back to the playoffs.