(670 The Score) The Bulls are taking action to back their words that they’ll be getting a longer look at their unproven youngsters down the season’s stretch.
Chicago will insert center Cris Felicio and guard Davis Nwaba into the starting lineup for a significant time, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Tuesday. They’ll replace veteran center Robin Lopez and wing Justin Holiday in the starting unit.
Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen — the three foundational players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade — will continue starting.
Additionally, Jerian Grant is being removed from the rotation while Cameron Payne will become the team’s backup point guard.
“I don’t want to give a certain number of games, but it’s going to be a sufficient time,” Paxson said. “Again, we’ll make decisions along the way. Hopefully they’ll play really well and gain some confidence.
“This is all going to be very fluid, but we need to get these guys out on the floor. We really do.”
The move has a two-fold purpose. It will give the rebuilding Bulls an extended evaluation of unproven young players as they decide who should be a part of their long-term vision. What’s left unsaid by the Bulls publicly but most important is that it figures to lead to the accumulation of more losses, which would increase the team’s chances of receiving a better selection in what’s projected to be a strong NBA Draft this June.
The Bulls are currently 20-37, which is the eighth-worst mark in the league.
“The position we’re in, as a young basketball team at 20-37 with a lot of young guys on this roster who we haven’t had, several we haven’t had a chance to see play much this year and for us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us going forward, this is something we have to do,” Paxson said.
“It’s not a tryout. It’s to learn. What’s hopeful from the player’s standpoint, they gain confidence in who they are, get comfortable out on the floor and play well. I still think we have a lot of really good young talent.”
Felicio, 25, is averaging 3.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 31 games this season. His on-court play has regressed a great deal after he agreed to a four-year, $32-million deal as soon as free agency opened last July 1. He had fallen out of the team’s rotation, only receiving mop-up duty of late.
Nwaba, 25, is averaging 6.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 45 games, including three starts. He’s been in the team’s rotation for most of the season when healthy.
Payne hasn’t played in an NBA game yet this season as he has rehabbed from yet another foot surgery. He was acquired last February in a trade deadline day deal but struggled mightily in his few opportunities.
“As a point guard, especially when you’re running with the second unit, the way Fred wants to play, play with pace, defend your position, compete every night and stay within yourself,” Paxson said of what he wants to see out of Payne. “His role is to get us into offense quickly, efficiently and then make the right play with the ball.”
Lopez (12.3 points on 52.7 percent shooting) and Holiday (13.2 points) have been stalwarts in the starting lineup all season, combining to start every game save for one when Holiday was on paternity leave.
“In our position, we have to think of the big picture,” Paxson said. “That’s what we’re doing. I know it’s never easy for a lot of players. But one thing I’ve been impressed with this group all year long, they are bonded together. They like one another. They support one another. I don’t see that changing.”