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After a divisive three-year, $60 million extension for Nikola Vucevic, Arturas Karnisovas has been cooking. First, a team-friendly three-year, $40 million (with incentives) deal to retain Coby White. Then a three-year, $20 million deal to bring in a viable starting point guard option in Jevon Carter. And now, to sure up the front court depth with size, switchable defense and shooting, a two-year, $5.4 million contract for Torrey Craig.
After neglecting to meaningfully tinker around the margins over the last two trade deadlines and in free agency 2022, Karnisovas has addressed key weaknesses and put together perhaps the best possible offseason given the organizations self-imposed parameters.
Craig, 32, is a 6’7″ big wing, coming to the Bulls from Phoenix, where he averaged 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He shot 45.6 percent from the floor and a career-high 39.5 percent from deep on a career-high 253 three-pointers attempted.
The Suns had a bizarre season, overhauling their roster at the trade deadline in a move that secured them Kevin Durant. As a result, Craig saw his role diminish from roughly 26 minutes per game to 21.5, and his counting stats and percentages tailed off as a result.
Still, Craig is just what the doctor ordered. He’s a high IQ player who shoots the ball at a high clip and defends multiple positions within a scheme.
Craig shot 40 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts and 44 percent out of the corners last season. He’s always shot ready. He floats between the slot and the corner to maximize space and ensure he has enough time to get a shot off.
But it’s not just catch-and-shoot. Craig is a smart player who moves the ball, makes the extra pass and does so quickly. The Bulls struggled to get themselves out of the mud last year because most of the spot up shooters would second guess themselves or dribble into help forcing the entire offense to reset. Craig, along with Carter, is not going to fall into that trap. He’ll either shoot it, drive or find the next guy to keep the advantage alive.
He should also help the Bulls get out in transition and capitalize on their strong defense. Craig’s quick decision making puts him in a good position to kick the ball ahead and help the Bulls rack up easy points in transition.
Finally, Craig is a sneaky good offensive rebounder. He’s always on the prowl to swoop in from the arc on shots. He averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes last season and had a 7.2 percent offensive rebounding rate — the 97th percentile among players at his position.
Given that the Bulls were last in three-pointers attempted by a wide margin, 28th in offensive rebounding and 24th in transition efficiency, Craig should really help grease the wheels of the Bulls offense and optimize around Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.
The Bulls now have the caliber of role player they need to avoid a complete bottoming out. There is more shooting, more depth, more veteranship and more IQ. But to be clear, these signings were the bare minimum, because the plan is to continue on the course to the upper end of mediocre.
This is the offseason the Bulls should have had last summer. That was the make or break moment.
A year older. At risk to lose more games to injury. Facing a potential decline in their top-five defense. They’ve re-invested in Vucevic and are facing the same situation with DeRozan next summer.
The ceiling of this group remains unchanged in the present and the medium-term plan is still a giant question mark.
To their credit, the Bulls have reportedly shopped LaVine around the league. They have applied for the disabled player exception. Ayo Dosunmu is still unsigned and could be flipped into something different. There as about $5.6 million (pending Dosunmu) left to fill in the two remaining roster spots. Karnisovas may yet have a magic rabbit to pull out of his sleeve.
But for now, the Bulls plan is what it is. Carter, and now Craig, are great signings. Marybe the best Karnisovas could have done considering the financial limitations. His signings raise the floor and extend the timeline of this group as the Bulls closer to accomplishing that ever ambitious goal of making it past the Play-In Tournament.
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