Marko Simonovic played 858 minutes of basketball last season. Only 35 of those minutes came on an NBA floor.
The No. 44 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft was the front office’s second-ever hand-picked talent. Arturas Karnisovas and Co. kept him stashed overseas for one season before he flew to Chicago to sign a three-year, $4.3 million contract. Things then appeared set for the mysterious 6’11” talent to show Bulls fans what he could offer. But the opposite took place.
Despite eating up a full-time roster spot on a team that desperately needed more traditional size, Simonovic could only muster nine garbage time stints. Instead, the 22-year-old spent the majority of his time hidden in the G-League with the Windy City Bulls, only to now reappear ahead of the Bulls’ upcoming Summer League showcase in Las Vegas.
“This is a process,” Simonovic said after the latest Summer League training camp practice in Chicago. “I know that it’s not [done] in one year. It’s a process, and I need the time to understand everything and learn everything … I’m happy. I think I’ve improved a lot, but I [still] have a lot of room to improve myself.”
As low-profile as it may have been, improvement was surely reflected in Simonovic’s 28 games in the G-League last season. The big man averaged an impressive 17.0 points per game to go along with 9.8 rebounds (finished 3rd in total G-League OREBs) and 2.8 assists. He also shot a solid 52.9 percent from the field and 81.6 percent from the free-throw line.
While Simonovic struggled to show the kind of results that may have been expected from behind the arc (26.9 percent from 3 on 2.8 attempts per game), he still flashed his intriguingly versatile skillset. Whether it be dropping 7 dimes against the Maine Celtics or hauling in 22 rebounds against the Westchester Knicks, there were several moments last season where it was easy to see why the Bulls have been drawn to his potential.
Now, does that mean Simonovic is on his way toward clocking real minutes for Chicago this season? Absolutely not, but there is no doubt he’s closer to that goal than he was 12 months ago. Sheer experience playing the NBA style is obviously a big reason for that, but so is the fact that his body has taken a massive step in the right direction.
Simonovic said on Tuesday that he now weighs 240lbs. When he arrived in Chicago one summer ago, that number sat at an underwhelming 215lbs. Summer League head coach John Bryant suggested that this newfound strength has already come with its perks.
“I think everyone will be excited to see Marko’s ability … his hands have gotten better, along with his body,” Summer League head coach John Bryant said. “He probably hasn’t gotten the calls that he wishes he got, but he can finish through contact because of the body.”
Bryant also discussed putting Simonovic in sets with Ayo Dosunmu during training camp this week, praising his improved decision-making as a roll man. All things considered, if Simonovic wants to see more minutes on the floor this season, showing progress as a screener and finisher is pivotal.
Speaking of which, it’s hard not to wonder if the Bulls’ front office does view Simonovic as a possible contributor this season. The Andre Drummond decision locked up the backup center spot, but we all know the Bulls remain thin when it comes to frontcourt reinforcements. Perhaps the lack of aggression to add in this department is – in part – because of a belief in Simonovic’s ability to play real NBA minutes this season. To be sure, I think that belief could be far-fetched, but we can’t rule it out when we consider the big man does own a full-time roster spot.
If one thing is for sure, Simonovic at least believes he’s ready to offer the team more in his second season.
“I think so,” Simonovic said when NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson asked about earning a rotation spot. “More minutes than last year I think I can get. But we will see. I’m here every day to improve myself and to learn. That’s it.”
Summer League should provide a decent barometer for where the former second-round pick stands. Again, as his G-League performance suggests, he’s taken strides in shaping his body and learning where he fits within the NBA game. I’m not holding my breath for him to become a go-to, off-the-bench contributor for this win-now team, but crazier things have happened.
Anyway, check out Marko Simonovic’s full press conference below: