By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Forgive Chicago Bulls fans for wallowing in angst when each new NBA free agency period begins.
Many fans probably feel better expecting little or no news once the calendar turns to June 30, rather than hope for a big time signing. Even their few newsworthy off-season splashes of late — take the signings of notable players such as Carlos Boozer or Pau Gasol, or the ill-fated “Three Alphas” experiment — are remembered primarily for the players they missed out on.
It stands to reason, then, that no Bulls fan would expect the franchise (as presently run) to be front-runners for the superstar services of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, or even lesser lights like D’Angelo Russell. With those prizes going to the Brooklyn Nets (the easiest punchline in sports five years ago) and the Lakers (mired in their worst period in franchise history), it’s easy to say the Bulls screwed up once again. That analysis, for once in recent memory, is wrong.
Recent signings Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky lead Chicago’s free agent haul in 2019. Neither is a complete game changer, but both Young and Satoransky are solid NBA players who have been assets wherever they have played. If John Paxson and Gar Forman are trying to build a competitive team for the next two seasons, signing Young and Satoransky were smart moves.
The New Guys
Here’s a quick rundown on the new Bulls.
Young has been statistically consistent pretty much since he arrived in the NBA — from his second season on, he’s never averaged fewer than 26 minutes, 11 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal, and he’s played 63 games or more every year he’s been in the league. Last season, Young posted his best true shooting percentage since his rookie season and led the Pacers in wins above replacement.
If the 31-year-old Young was declining, the $41 million for three years the Bulls offered would still be decent for a veteran big with playoff experience, but Young hasn’t shown any signs of slipping. He’ll provide quality minutes, either off the bench or as a starter, and can rotate in the lineup at three positions.
In contrast to Young, Satoransky’s stats don’t suggest he would make a great impact. Sato’s peak season on the Washington Wizards amounted to a 9-4-5 line in 27 minutes per game, with shooting splits of 49/40/82. Not bad, but when measured against current Bulls point guard Kris Dunn, Sato doesn’t appear to be a major upgrade. Here are each player’s per-36 minute stats from last season:
Dunn: 13.5 PTS, 4.8 REB, 7.2 AST, 1.8 STL, 2.7 TO
Satoransky: 11.8 PTS, 4.6 REB, 6.6 AST, 1.4 STL, 2.0 TO
The difference between the two lies in their shooting and ability to run a team in the classic point guard fashion. Last year, Satoransky was miles ahead of Dunn in true shooting (59.0% to 48.4%) and effective field goal percentage (54.5% to 45.8%). He shot and made threes at a better clip, and he got to the free throw line on almost 30% of his shots (Dunn’s free throw rate was just above 19%).
The Bulls are most likely hoping for Satoransky to be a calming influence for them, as he was while spending much of the past couple years as understudy to often-injured Wizards PG John Wall. The Wizards were a well-documented maelstrom of drama the past two years, but coach Scott Brooks and teammates alike described Satoransky as a steadying influence in a January article for The Ringer.
Hitting Their Mark
There is something to be said for Bulls management missing out in free agency so predictably over the years, and plenty of people aren’t happy the Bulls put up so much money on Jabari Parker and Otto Porter last year. 670 The Score producer and host Herb Lawrence is particularly upset about these signings.
Herb’s anger is justifiable, but misplaced. Young and Satoransky are good pickups for this team.
We’ve seen what Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter can do. We’ve seen what Zach LaVine can do. Coby White should be solid and Daniel Gafford has the physical ability to be a late-round sleeper. And as many have pointed out, the summer of 2021, as of now, will feature a bidding war for the services of this year’s MVP, among other stars.
With that in mind, the Chicago Bulls are set up well for the future. They might not be the big winners of this year’s free agency sweepstakes, but they aren’t losers.
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media