The Chicago Bulls showed the first glimpses of next season’s roster during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, posting a 4-1 record from July 8 through Saturday.
The tournament provided the first test for the Bulls’ younger players, including first-round pick Dalen Terry and second-year center Marko Simonović. Here are four things we learned from five summer league games.
Testing rookies is always the focus of the summer league. For the Bulls, all eyes were on Terry.
His scoring was respectable: 11.8 points per game on 57.6% shooting, but that’s not all the Bulls were looking for from the Arizona shooting guard. Terry is a sticky player, and his ability to elevate his passing and off-the-ball movement to an NBA level was a focus as he continues to work on his shooting.
Most importantly, Terry’s defensive vision translated directly to the summer league court. He averaged 3.6 steals, immediately meshing with big man Marko Simonović to slide for traps and provide off-the-ball defense. After the Bulls struggled with perimeter defense late last season, Terry’s performance showed promise as a defensive upgrade.
Terry’s summer league ended on a painful note: He left Saturday’s final game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a right hamstring injury after playing just 9 minutes, 49 seconds. The injury occurred when Terry attempted to make a cut after taking a pass from teammate Justin Lewis outside the 3-point arc. Terry appeared to slip on a wet spot on the floor, catching himself with both hands on the floor before straightening up and calling for an immediate substitution.
Although Terry initially appeared to grab his knee, the diagnosis of a hamstring injury seems less of a concern for the Bulls. The team has not released any further information about Terry’s injury, but the rookie was in good spirits later that day, congratulating the team on a strong summer league run in a tweet.
As long as Terry’s injury is short-lived, the Bulls should feel confident about the rookie’s first few games against NBA-level talent in Las Vegas.
Summer league was hit or miss for Simonović, the sophomore big man who focused on consistency.
Simonović opened strong, scoring 27 points and converting the game-winning free throw in overtime against the Dallas Mavericks. But he followed up that energizing performance with a one-point afternoon against the New York Knicks.
That second start was ultimately an outlier for Simonović, who finished the summer league on top with 26 points and eight rebounds in the final against the Sixers. He averaged 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds in five games, earning second-team honors for the tournament in a respectable improvement from his rookie season.
But will that buff be enough to break the rotation? The Bulls were happy to let Simonović develop in the G-League as a rookie, but they need him to become a more reliable backup option behind Nikola Vučević and Andre Drummond.
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Summer league is even more important for undrafted rookies like Justin Lewis and Javon Freeman-Liberty, who signed with the Bulls shortly before traveling to Las Vegas.
Lewis averaged seven points and showed glimpses of a mature approach to the floor, especially connecting with Terry. Freeman-Liberty saw slightly fewer minutes, but ran the offense confidently when he took over at point guard.
Both players are likely to spend most of next season with the Windy City Bulls, similar to Simonović as a rookie. But with Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball carrying injuries into the season, Lewis and Freeman-Liberty need to be prepared for emergency minutes.
The biggest news from the Bulls’ summer league came from the bench, not the floor. In an interview during the team’s third game of the tournament, the executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said that the Bulls are not optimistic yet on the recovery of Lonzo Ball.
The starting point guard has been sidelined since january with a meniscus injury in his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery. his rehabilitation was complicated by a deep bone hematoma in the knee, causing ongoing pain and forcing the Bulls to shut down their recovery plan several times.
“He is making progress. That’s all I can say,” Karnišovas said on July 12 during the NBA TV broadcast. “It’s getting better, probably not as fast as we’d like, but it’s getting better. Hopefully he’ll be ready for training camp, (but) those are just our hopes.”
Bulls players and coaches often cited Ball’s injury as the turning point of last season after a strong first four months. While Ball isn’t a solution to the team’s lack of size and shooting, starting a season without his starting point guard would be a big concern.