Chicago’s first-round draft pick Dalen Terry will be the main attraction when Summer League starts later this week, and Bulls’ Summer League head coach John Bryant did not mince words about that fact when speaking with reporters recently at the Advocate Center:
“We want to feature Dalen [Terry] as much as we can,” Bryant said. “We want to feature Marko [Simonović] as much as we can. We want to feature these guys who are ours as much as we can. Then [for] everyone else, we’ll sprinkle in opportunity as much as we can.”
One of those players hoping to see a “sprinkle of opportunity” is a local product who went undrafted last month despite earning an All-Big East second-team bid last season.
Javon Freeman-Liberty – who played his high school hoops at Whitney Young on Chicago’s West Side before heading to Valparaiso and eventually DePaul – will be looking to stick with the Bulls or perhaps another team in the NBA in the coming weeks. I recently spoke with DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield to get his thoughts on Freeman-Liberty (or simply JFL as we DePaul fans know him), and Coach Stubbs gave Bulls fans an idea of what they can look forward to as JFL hits the Summer League stage.
“Javon is one of those types of guys that can give you some highlight-reel plays, you know he can get to the rim and finish, and with his athleticism and finishing ability, he can bring a little excitement.
A very, very good basketball talent. A very good teammate. You know what I can’t say enough about is his IQ and his feel for the game. Javon picks up on things very easily and it’s almost like having another coach out there on the floor. An extension of the coach and what you want to do as a coach and I think that’s one of the most impressive things about Javon.”
Despite leading the Big East in scoring last season at 21.7 points per game (which was eighth in the nation), JFL went undrafted, which sometimes can work out better for fringe NBA Draft players. After all, going undrafted means that players are free to sign a Summer League deal or a two-way deal with any NBA team they desire. In this case, JFL got to land with his hometown team.
Freeman-Liberty getting this NBA opportunity came as no surprise to Coach Stubblefield, who said that he had discussions with teams regarding JFL leading up to the NBA Draft, an event that Stubblefield had no reservations about him entering.
“I did talk to some teams in regards to Javon, and again when the season was over, I had a conversation with Javon where we kind of talked about where he was at and where I thought he was at. During the pre-draft process through the workouts leading up to the draft, Javon felt comfortable putting his name in the draft. Ultimately the final decision came on whether Javon wanted to keep his name in the draft or return to school, and he and his family made that decision to keep his name in the draft, which I definitely wasn’t opposed to. I wanted whatever was best for the young man.”
Now the 22-year-old guard has a shot to showcase what Stubblefield and he saw that prompted him to enter the draft, and he gets to do it with his hometown squad, an opportunity that Stubblefield says JFL is excited for.
“Obviously, he’s excited to be with the Bulls,” said Stubblefield. “He came from Chicago, grew up a Bulls fan. Being close to his family is something that he’s excited about. I think he’s definitely looking forward to it and excited to be a part of the Bulls organization.”
The six-foot-four guard will have to prove to the Bulls that there’s a fit within the organization. Chicago has a crowded backcourt with Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Coby White, Goran Dragić, as well as other Summer League hopefuls. With so many players in the fold, it’s difficult to see JFL making the Bulls roster. Even so, he could always end up earning a G-League deal that would place him with the Windy City Bulls, or maybe even a look with another team by way of a strong showing in Vegas the next few weeks.
On the offensive end, JFL spent much of last season as the primary scorer for DePaul, but Coach Stubblefield feels that he can fit into any role thanks to his athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions or play on or off the ball.
With that said, JFL will need to prove he can also shoot at the NBA level, something that he’s worked hard on since coming to DePaul two years ago. Freeman-Liberty upped his three-point shooting percentage from 29 percent to 37 percent last season, an increase that Stubblefield attributes to hard work in the gym and an improved shot selection.
“Javon put the time in during the fall and the season at practice and after practice. Just getting up shots, catch and shoot threes, a lot of looks off the bounce. So, it’s really a testament to the amount of time he put in becoming a better shooter. Javon is extremely talented, and I think he was a better shooter coming into it than the 29 percent would indicate, and I think it was a matter of him taking better shots last season.”
With it being entirely possible that Freeman-Liberty’s time with the Bulls in Vegas is as much of a tryout for other teams as it is for the Bulls, I asked Stubblefield to give me the scouting report he would give to an NBA decision maker wanting to know what JFL brings to the table:
“He’s a great young man, and he has a great feel for the game and a very high basketball IQ, and I think he’s got major upside. He’s a very, very good athlete. He can play on or off the ball, he can guard multiple positions, and he’s very quick with the basketball as far as getting downhill goes. So, I think from a talent standpoint; there is a place in the NBA for Javon. He brings a lot of intangibles to the table. His athleticism, ability to guard on and off the ball and basketball IQ are things that I think can translate.”
Sounds good to me. But, regardless of the outcome, it will be fun to keep an eye on another local talent getting a look from the Bulls, especially after the success story that Ayo Dosunmu turned into last season with Chicago.
The Bulls are set to open their Summer League schedule on Friday when they take on the Dallas Mavericks at 3:00 p.m. CT at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.