The Chicago Bulls may not have walked out of the United Center as a winner on Tuesday night, but Dalen Terry sure did.
Other than big man Nikola Vučević – who strung together a double-double to go along with a surprising four blocks and three steals – Terry put together easily the most impressive performance of the night. In his first-ever taste of NBA preseason action, Terry shot 5-7 from the field for an energetic 11 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Even more impressive, he did it all in just 18 minutes of action.
“It’s really really hard to create the kind of competitiveness that he has … his willingness to stay engaged in the middle of the 3rd quarter and play like he played was great to see. I thought he raised the energy of our team and certainly got the place excited. Obviously, we made a run and tied the game or went up by a couple of points. I think he really really loves to play and I love that about him.”
Terry’s performance left an instant impression on his new head coach, and how could it not? For a Bulls team that looked uninterested in playing preseason basketball against a more youthful and exuberant Pelicans squad, Terry was a breath of fresh air. There is a reason the team started the 4th quarter on a 25-9 run to take a 117-113 lead. And it was Terry reminding us that he was that reason with an emphatic jam midway through the 4th quarter.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the circumstances. The fact the No. 18-overall pick did this against the Pelicans’ scrubs is surely worth a note. It’s not like he poked the ball away from Chris Paul in crunch time or finished strong over Rudy Gobert for the go-ahead score. But he also isn’t expected to do those things at 20 years old. All the Bulls hope to see is a comfortable and confident player. And the fact they saw that the moment he stepped on the floor could be a pretty big deal.
Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: It’s more likely than not that Dalen Terry will spend the majority of the season outside a healthy Bulls rotation. The team is simply too deep in the backcourt to make easy room for him at the wing. And his lack of a reliable jumper at the moment is certainly working against him.
Having said that, Terry is pretty much the epitome of how this Bulls team wants to play. The front office drafted him because of his positionless skillset, high motor, and mature feel for the game. He jumps passing lanes, gets out in transition, invites contact, and prioritizes ball movement. Seeing how he can eventually fit into the picture isn’t difficult at all, which is perhaps why he could be given a shot sooner than later.
Ayo Dosunmu walked into last season in a very similar position to Terry. He obviously possessed a skillset that the coaching staff and front office found intriguing. However, an uphill battle to carve out consistent playing time stood in front of him. So what did he do? It’s simple (not really), he took advantage of every opportunity he got.
Dosunmu prioritized impressing in the areas where this team needed the most help. He locked in on the defensive end and hit some open 3s. Eventually, he was finding Vučević in his spots and putting pressure on the rim in the halfcourt. Dosunmu knew what he had to do to get and stay in the rotation, which is something it sounds like he’s already taught Terry:
“I feel like that’s the thing I can bring to the table from Day 1,” Terry said about his off-the-bench energy. “Obviously, I play defense. I thought I did an ok job tonight on the defensive end. I could’ve been better, but those are my ways of getting on the floor, especially talking to Ayo.”
Terry went on to single out Dosunmu again for giving him some words of advice. More specifically, he emphasized what his teammate said about building on each opportunity – no matter how small.
“Last year he just said whenever my name is called upon just make sure you build 3 minutes to 6 minutes, 6 minutes to 12 minutes. Just make sure when you go in the game you make a positive impact,” Terry said.
Again, Terry’s rookie year fate may not be destined to end up like Dosunmu. But it’s also not hard to see a world where it does after Tuesday night’s showing. All it takes is one blowout game or one small injury for someone waiting in the wings to make their presence felt. And all Terry does is pride himself on doing just that.
We’ll have to wait and see if the rookie can actually expand on this recent performance before we truly consider his chances of stealing a rotational role. But it sure seems like he already understands what it will take to make Donovan think twice, which is at least worth something.