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What we learned about Dalen Terry in Vegas Summer League

Will Gottlieb Avatar
July 15, 2022

LAS VEGAS — Summer League is a safe space.

It’s supposed to be anyway. Despite the snazzy newchampionship rings, Summer League is a chance to stretch players, explore their skill sets and give them a chance to show how they can expand their role. It’s a time to test players, not pigeonhole them. And that’s exactly what Chicago Bulls Summer League coach John Bryant was trying to do with the team’s first-round draft pick.

“The past couple of games we’re exploring with Dalen [Terry] what he can and cannot do,” Bryant said.

First, let’s remember the Bulls only have four Summer League games to judge so far with one more to come. It’s fun to look at the results here, but the process behind them is what’s more important. That allows you to understand strengths and weaknesses without making any irresponsible grand conclusions.

Terry has grown in each game. He scored nine points on 3-for-7 shooting against the Mavericks. In game two against the Knicks, he scored 13 on 3-for-7 shooting. He dropped 14 against the Raptors on 4-for-6 shooting and finished game four against the Hornets on Thursday with 20 on 8-for-12 shooting.

With things trending the right direction, what have we learned about where Terry’s skill sets lie right now, just a few games into his career?

Again with the small sample, Summer League caveat, Terry has proven to be extremely effective operating off ball, and relatively ineffective operating on ball.

Through his first three games, Terry had zero self-created baskets. He took one pull-up jumper and had a few headscratchers from trying to do a little too much to get space to take a shot.

Terry had some bad turnovers trying to “hit singles, not home runs” but that’s perfectly fine, and even encouraged in this setting — all in the name of seeing what he’s capable of.

“I think he’s looking for the home run play every time,” Bryant said.

“I’m trying to put (Terry) in different situations,” Bryant said. “We have him handling it in transition, having him in ball screens. We have him coming off ball screens, just trying to see how he can contribute at an NBA level.”

As Summer League progressed, it became more and more clear that Terry needs some advantage created for him, as he is not yet creating his own at a high level. That is not to say he will never be able to do it — just that he isn’t there yet. That leads him into some mistakes and turnovers, but also prevents him from utilizing the skills he is best at.

This is not a bad thing.

The more information the coaching staff has, the better positions they can put him in. And it showed in game four against the Hornets.

Credit to the coaching staff for putting Terry in a position to be much more dangerous as a scorer against the Hornets. Bryant used Terry in a slip-out of a pick-and-roll so he could attack the basket with the defense already shifting, allowing him to get all the way to the rim.

“It’s important to see what you can get out of these players because when he’s with the Bulls, it may not be the same,” Bryant said. “It’s my job to see how I can help coach Donovan and then report back to him and say we learned this, this and this about these players.”

Simplifying the game for Terry so he can utilize his skills and without having to worry about creating an advantage has worked wonders.

“We found a couple sweet spots on how to get him downhill, how to get him handling,” Bryant continued. “There’s a couple of times we had him in high angle pick-and-roll where he can get downhill and kick it out.”

Terry’s best assist in Vegas came out of one of these high-angle pick-and-rolls and showcased his impressive passing and vision when he’s able to attack a pre-made advantage.

By getting Terry some space and putting him in a position where the defense is already compromised, he is able to leverage his ability to manipulate the rotation with his passing. Really special stuff here.

Similar to the way he is able to unlock his passing, Terry has thrived as a scorer in situations where he can use his athleticism and court awareness to beat defenders, rather than depending on his shaky handle and shot making. Nearly all of his makes came in transition, with one attacking a closeout on a reversal pass and a handful getting dimed up on back cuts.

“He’s able to get out in transition and finish in the open floor, draw fouls,” Bryant said. “His cutting is great, he can get downhill and spray out. He’s going to get more comfortable with his passing and making the simple plays.”

Terry has a high understanding of floor geometry, and can succeed in advantage situations.

He’s also super fast, explosive and attacks transition lanes with an eye on pressuring the rim.

When the Bulls drafted Terry 18th overall last month, some fans were disappointed that he didn’t provide a skill set that filled the Bulls needs. He isn’t yet a shooter or an advantage creator. But let’s be real, it would have been hard to find that guy nearly two-thirds of the way through the first round.

Instead, the Bulls doubled down on the things they believe in — perimeter defense, transition play, basketball IQ and passing. Four things no team can have enough of at the highest level.

Terry will have plenty of time and opportunity to finetune and add to his skills. In order to figure out where he needs to improve, he needs to get thrown into the fire here in Las Vegas. While that’s happening, the coaching staff will learn what works best for him and put him in positions to succeed.

For now, it’s been nice to see.

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