How Many Assists for Lonzo? Johnson’s Contract, LaVine Stays Late, and Other Bulls Bullets

Note to self: Question how many assists Lonzo Ball can average per game next season and Bulls fans will throw virtual rotten tomatoes at you.

•   Yesterday, I sent out what I thought was a very reasonable tweet. I implied that averaging 7.0 or more assists per game – something that only 13 players did last season – is not particularly easy. And, while it is possible Ball could pull this off on this new-look Bulls, we have yet to know exactly what his role will be in the construct of this offseason, especially with a better half-court playmaker in DeMar DeRozan also in the starting backcourt.

•   Numerous people then clapped back at me stating that (1) Ball is now in the best offense of his career and (2) he has reached 7.0 assists twice already over his four years in the league. People also kindly mentioned (#notreally) that New Orleans was a terrible spacing team last season and Ball still averaged 5.7 assists, so he’ll easily reach 7.0+ a night with players like LaVine and Vucevic alongside him. Look, as I said, it could happen. But … I also don’t really care what he did before. The fact of the matter is this Bulls team is a different beast, and this is all a numbers game.

•   Ball is a transition player. He will push the pace on this Bulls team and get his fair share of assists in these situations. But Ball is also not a particularly strong half-court playmaker. Racking up assists is easiest for the guys who dribble a lot, play in isolation, and … well … have the ball in their hands. Ball will be this starting lineup’s fourth offensive option. When it comes to half-court sets, DeRozan is actually the better playmaker because of his skills in the pick-and-roll. His ball-dominant presence alone will take away opportunities from Ball. Not to mention, when we factor in that he has actually been an improved distributor with age (career-high 6.9 assists last season), head coach Billy Donovan will likely want him to run a good chunk of the offense. BBall Breakdown had my back on all of this:

•   We also have to factor in the presence of Zach LaVine. But he’ll be playing more off the ball! Indeed, but he is still Zach LaVine. The guy will have the ball in his hands when he wants it, and he will be running more half-court offense than Ball. We also can’t sleep on Nikola Vucevic, who is a really solid post-passer! He is someone who has averaged at least 3.6 assists per game over the last three seasons, and he is also someone who has demanded the ball enough to be the 3rd-most frequent post-up player in the league.

•   By the way, none of this is to bash Ball! He is still my favorite pick-up of the offseason, and I’m very high on his long-term potential in Chicago. However, we have to remember the kind of player he is and the kind of teammates he has. Yes, I think he will get more creative offensive liberty than he did in New Orleans, but I also think he will still play a spacing/catch-and-shoot role more often than not in the half-court. The Bulls in general will be running a pretty equal-opportunity offense, and a lot of the first-hand creation will come from the PnR, which will be dominated by DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic. My peak for Ball this season with a fully healthy starting lineup would probably still be right at 7.0 assists per game, but I currently think he falls short of that at around 6.0.

•   Also, it’s a good thing to have this many players who can help create! Life becomes that much harder on opposing defense, and there is a lot of different lineups Donovan can look to run!

•   After a busy start to the week for the Bulls in the free-agent market, we learned that all of the team’s new signings were actually non-guaranteed deals. What this told is that Arturas Karnisovas is prepared for a training camp battle to make a clear decision on the final few roster spots. All things considered, I think that is an approach Bulls fans should be plenty happy with, especially considering the options this Bulls team brought in are all rather young and unproven. Now, with that said, I don’t think this competition will begin without a frontrunner.

•   Alize Johnson clearly feels like the best to be on the roster come October 20th. The biggest body and a high-energy rebounder, he gives this roster something they don’t currently have in a true backup power forward. Also, while Johnson’s contract is non-guaranteed, the Bulls signing him to a two-year deal – with the first guaranteed money coming a day before the season – could suggest they view him as the most likely roster candidate.

•   Not only did we learn that Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, and more are currently in Chicago to practice together at the United Center, but LaVine’s Instagram story from last night told us he was at the Advocate Center until 1 a.m.! As a cliche jock would say … THE GRIND NEVER STOPS!

•   Chris Fedor of Cleveland dot com wrote that Denzel Valentine is “interested in coming to Cleveland.” Um, I think he probably should be interested in going to any team at this point, right?

•   This should be cool!

•   Can’t wait to see Kukoc get some long-awaited recognition this weekend.

•   You have my attention.

•   Now … do the Bulls!

•  Don’t mind if I do!

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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