(670 The Score) The Bulls officially opened training camp Tuesday, though it was in an unusual fashion with COVID-19 protocols in place. Players were only allowed to work out individually on the first day. Group activities are set to begin this weekend.
While it was different, we did hear from some of the Bulls’ most important figures. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, coach Billy Donovan, guard Zach LaVine and big man Lauri Markkanen all had virtual media sessions. Here are five takeaways as camp got started.
Confidence in Coby
The Bulls were arguably the quietest team in the NBA’s wild and condensed offseason. They used their No. 4 overall pick to draft Florida State forward Patrick Williams and only added wing Garrett Temple in free agency. They made no trades, and they’re in line to bring back 13 of the same 15 players from a team that went 22-43 last season.
Other than adding Kansas guard Devon Dotson on a two-way deal, the Bulls did nothing to address their need for a point guard. Which means 20-year-old Coby White will be tasked with filling the role, even as some believe his best position will be off the ball.
White has displayed the ability to get his own shots but needs to improve his passing. He averaged 2.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers in 25.8 minutes per game last season.
“I feel good about it,” Donovan said of the Bulls’ point guard situation. “The one thing about Coby, although he just completed his rookie season, I think he got a lot of valuable playing time and a lot of valuable experience last year. So generally I think you see players when they get that kind of experience generally make a jump and make some growth. Coby's a very competitive guy, he's a hard-working guy and I would anticipate he'll make a jump.”
Otto’s availability of utmost importance
Since the Bulls acquired forward Otto Porter Jr. in a trade with the Wizards in early February 2019, he has played in just 29 of a possible 93 games due to injuries. When healthy, the 27-year-old Porter provides the Bulls with a steady two-way presence on a team that has too many one-way players.
When Porter is out or hampered by injury, the Bulls are exposed at the small forward spot, where Chandler Hutchison hasn’t yet proved himself as a reliable or even healthy option. Perhaps that’s why Donovan identified Porter’s availability as the biggest X-factor in the Bulls’ season.
“For Otto, with the amount of time he’s missed, certainly him being healthy is the most important thing to our team,” Donovan said.
While Donovan didn’t directly state it, his comments implied the Bulls will monitor Porter’s minutes, which wouldn’t be a surprise. The Bulls did so last season, when Porter averaged 23.6 minutes in 14 games.
“He’s been back here,” Donovan said. “He’s been working, which has been great to see. He’s on the court. I’ve always felt like before, even his time in Washington he’s smart, he’s got a rally good feel of how to play, he can make a shot. He’s a good passer.”
More in store for Carter
For most of former Bulls coach Jim Boylen’s rocky tenure, center Wendell Carter Jr. was an afterthought offensively. Carter averaged 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists last season, but he was rarely a focal point offensively.
Donovan seems to have bigger plans for Carter. As part of wanting more movement from the Bulls in the half-court setting than what he saw in reviewing film, Donovan wants to put the ball in Carter’s hands in the high post here and there.
“He can be a facilitator for us,” Donovan said. “I think he's got very good vision, he's a good passer for a big man.
“It takes time for players to carve out their identity offensively and really carve out an identity of what they can hang their hat in, night in and night out. So, I do think that Wendell is somebody that's very bright, he's a smart player, he's an unselfish player and I think he's a guy that can make people around him better.”
Donovan added he wants Carter to have the freedom to shoot and operate from the perimeter more. Carter has averaged 0.7 3-point attempts per game in his two NBA seasons.
Temple gives Bulls more flexibility
Karnisovas was asked for a scouting report on the 6-foot-5 Temple, who joined the Bulls on a one-year, $5-million deal. He was short and succinct.
“Versatility, experience, leadership,” Karnisovas said. “Those would be my three things on Garrett.”
Responding to a separate question about the team’s point guard situation, Karnisovas also indicated that Temple is comfortable handling the ball. Temple projects to fill wing minutes off the bench to open the season and would be in line for a much bigger role should Porter be hobbled by injuries again.
Get used to it
Before parting ways with the Thunder in September after five seasons, Donovan was in the NBA bubble in Orlando as Oklahoma City finished its regular season and lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs. He believes playing a season amid the COVID-19 pandemic outside of a bubble environment will be the biggest challenge of his players’ careers.
Players who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to miss at least 12 days, according to the NBA’s safety manual outlining protocols.
“This is going to be extremely inconvenient,” Donovan said. “And I think the best thing you can do is go in with an attitude and a mentality that it's going to be challenging. You know, the no fans, the way you travel, the way you have to practice, the testing, all the things that go into ensuring people's safety. It's different. And it can be challenging. And I think complaining about those things and those things becoming an inconvenience, you just have to accept, we all have to accept that we're dealing with a different time right now and this season for all of us is going to be like no other season in NBA history.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.