Deandre Ayton’s Rise Reminds Us What Veteran Leadership Can Do (And Other Bulls Bullets)

The Phoenix Suns – the same team that finished 34-39 last season, 10th in the Western Conference – are one win away from the NBA Finals. The appearance would be the team’s first since a loss to the *woohoo* Chicago Bulls in 1993, and a victory would be the first in franchise history.

•   A key reason the Suns find themselves in their current position is because of the breakout play from big man Deandre Ayton. As the spotlight has gotten brighter, as Ayton has only gotten better. The former No. 1-overall pick scored 19 points (8-14 FG) with 22 rebounds and an eye-popping 5 blocks. After the game, he took very little of the credit, and he also indirectly reminded organization’s around the league of something very important in the process.

•   And that’s what veterans can do. Look, I know not everyone is Chris Paul. A generational talent and one of the best point guards of all time is obviously going to accelerate the growth of a young player and the success of a franchise. At the same time, broadly speaking, this serves as a great example of what the presence of a truly respected veteran can do. Certain vets may not be able to replicate what Paul does on the court, but I’m sure they can replicate the kind of influence he has managed to have on a young high-upside guy like Ayton.

•   In some ways, I think this is what the Bulls tried to do with their acquisition of Vucevic, and I think it is what they will continue to do this offseason. A young foundation is in place with Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, and Coby White. Now, it’s time to sprinkle in the appropriate veteran talent to hold players accountable and clean up on-court mistakes. Vucevic should particularly help with the latter. He may not be the vocal leader some veterans are (or at least it doesn’t seem like it), but he has proven to be a guy who (1) makes the right play and (2) never gets too high. He has been fascinatingly consistent over the past couple of seasons, and I think that trait alone can be something the rubs off on the rest of the Bulls roster.

•   I’ll be curious to see who else the Bulls add to address things like vocal leadership and locker room accountability. I do genuinely believe Zach LaVine could step in the right direction in those departments after a stint with Team USA, but it also always helps to get that edge from someone with more playoff milage. I think it is why we see players like Jae Crowder or Patrick Beverley or Brook Lopez become even more important than expected as the playoffs go on. They bring energy, experience, and no fear of the moment. Hopefully, the Bulls can find a couple of those guys this summer.

•   I’m tempted to call last night’s Game 4 victory for the Suns an old-school slugfest, but that might actually come off as disrespectful to those that came before. A lot of what we saw was simply bad shooting. Sure, the defense had its moments, but I’m not prepared to give it all the credit for this season’s worst combined 3-point shooting performance. The arena must have hit subzero temperatures. And, honestly, a messy game like that needs to be one the Los Angeles Clippers pull off if they have any hope in moving onto the next round. Not only did they have the benefit of their home fans shivering with them, but not often is a team going to see Chris Paul and Devin Booker combine for 14-44 from the field.

•   Bleacher Report is still pitching Kemba Walker to the Bulls, and I’m still not here for it. While a package of Coby White, Tomas Satoransky, and Al-Farouq Aminu might be one of the more reasonable offers I’ve seen, I remain worried as ever about the combination of Walker’s contract (owed $73.6 million over the next two seasons) and long-term health. Not to mention, a score-first player, he does not exactly fit the kind of mold we expect to see next to LaVine and Vucevic.

•   You will never catch Kawhi not perfectly on-brand.

•   Also, since I know Patrick Williams reads BN Bulls content religiously, let me say this directly to him: “Yo, Pat, it’s okay to show more emotion than Kawhi. I know the comparisons are cool, but seeing a smile or two is cool too. K. Thanks. You look swole as hell, by the way. Excited for Year 2.”

•   Biggest bust of all time?

•   More Bulls representation at the combine.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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