Dec 6, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Julian Phillips (15) goes to the basket against Charlotte Hornets guard Ish Smith (14) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
There haven’t been a ton of reasons for excitement or optimism around the 8-14 Chicago Bulls, but rookie second-round pick Julian Phillips is becoming one of them.
With Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso missing time over the past few weeks, including LaVine missing Wednesday night’s 111-100 win over the Charlotte Hornets, Phillips has gotten a shot at legitimate rotation minutes (not just garbage time).
For now, it’s just flashes. In his short six minute stint, Phillips took off for a transition layup. He’s had other opportunities of late to show off his athleticism, and while the game is moving fast, he’s showing signs of life.
He’s not putting up numbers just yet, but when he’s out there, his presence is palpable.
Phillips has blown up in four games at the G League level, averaging 19.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and two assists on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 52.2 percent on threes.
Phillips projected more as an athlete and defender than a scoring option, but his numbers speak for themselves.
“In college, I played with a lot of great guys,” Phillips told CHGO ahead of Saturday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. “On that team we had almost four or five people close to double figures in that like 9-11 point range. So there was a lot of ball for everybody. But I definitely think it’s something I’ve been able to do throughout my career.”
Phillips didn’t get the chance to get into his own offense as much during college, but he’s been doing exactly that at the G League level, and that’s helped usher him into more of a role with the big league team.
“The speed of the game is a little faster, guys are bigger, stronger,” Phillips said. “But just trying to play, find everything I could do for the team to help. Whatever that role is for me, I try to do that at a high level.”
For now, that role is defending, running in transition, and getting the ball up when it comes to him on the perimeter.
Phillips hasn’t shot the ball well, but his mechanics are fluid and lightning quick. He’s getting the ball up without hesitation, and shooting at high volume with Windy City (5.8 three-pointers attempted per game).
“It’s not too much tweaking, just really fundamental with the shot,” Phillips said of working with Bulls new shooting coach and Director of Player Development Peter Patton. “When you catch it, have your wrist cocked, follow through, hold your elbow after. He harps on the fundamentals.”
The volume has been perhaps the most impressive.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s another part,” he continued. “You got to shoot ’em. So I’m definitely getting up volume when I can.”
The Phillips experience is a work in progress. He’s an ultra-twitchy athlete jittering around the court, still clearly learning the NBA game.
But he’s new and he’s exciting. Hopefully he continues to carve out a role for himself while he has the chance.
“It’s hard to find those kind of minutes,” Billy Donovan said ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. “But I also think guys have earned their way in, and I think Julian’s done a good job considering the fact that he’s had to step into a role where guys had been out.”
Until then, Phillips is doing what he can to prove he can be productive.
“They just want me to do what I do,” he said of how he can earn more minutes. “Be all over the floor. Show my athleticism. Bring a lot of energy. Play as hard as I can. Make the right plays. I just try to do that at a high level.”
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