Bulls' Hutchison believes he can become one of NBA's best defenders

The storyline on Chandler Hutchison when he first arrived in Chicago was a late-bloomer who's taken some time to figure things out on each level.

He didn't play varsity until his junior year at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School. At Boise State, he came off the bench for two seasons before averaging 20 points as a senior.

The rebuilding Bulls shortened the runway a bit. Thanks to a season-long injury to Denzel Valentine, the trade of Justin Holiday and the aborted experiment to use Jabari Parker at small forward, Hutchison has joined the Bulls' starting lineup less than halfway through his rookie season.

For his part, Hutchison hasn't considered asking the Bulls for more time to get acclimated.

"I wouldn't say it's weird. I just think for me, I tried to come in and just absorb everything I could," he said. "From college and high school, that (gradual climb) has kind of been my path, but I'm more mature now and I've been through it and I know what to expect. I'm just here ready to accept that challenge and help this team."

It's tough to judge Hutchison based on such a small sample size, but he doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by his role. He clearly has a chance to be an effective, versatile defender. He's not afraid to attack the basket. He thinks his 3-point shooting will shine once he gets more attempts. He's shown up in many of the Bulls' most effective lineups.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen dug up a comparison from his days as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets in the 1990s.

"His game is not predicated on getting shots," Boylen said. "It's predicated on effort and hustle and ballhandling and rebounding and kind of the things he does well. It doesn't mean he's not going to take shots or get shots.

"Could he become the glue guy in that group, the Mario Elie - who I coached, who kind of did everything? Yeah, I think he could, in time."

When asked about his attention to defense growing up, Hutchison used an analytical slant. That fits his personality, since he sounds a little like a college professor when he speaks.

"The coaches I always had never allowed me to just be a one-way player," Hutchison said. "Last year (as a senior at Boise State) was a lot different because my usage rate was so high that, some of the times, I couldn't go as hard as possible on that end because of the need for me on the offensive end.

"Now it doesn't mean I was a poor defender. I always take pride in that and it's always been who I am inside to want to compete defensively. Now not having to be relied upon so much on offense, I can use my energy and that usage on defense to be that defender. I'm ready to take that challenge. I do think in the future and even now, I can be one of the top defenders in the league."

Hutchison said he hasn't gotten much rookie treatment from teammates and tries to stay ahead of the curve by offering to help out the veterans as much as possible. Maybe it helps that he's third-oldest of the Bulls' starting lineup, ahead of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

Before the Bulls left for this five-game West Coast road trip, Hutchison was looking forward to his first NBA game back in his hometown. The Bulls play the Lakers on Tuesday, but he won't get his first chance to guard LeBron James since the Lakers star is out with a groin strain.

"Obviously it will be a nice homecoming," Hutchison said. "I'm going to have a lot of people at the games when we play in L.A. It will be good for me to see them, for them to see me out there playing. So I'm excited."

After about six months in Chicago, does he miss the Pacific Ocean? Or maybe the mountains of Idaho?

"I'm not picky," he said. "Wherever I'm at, I'm going to enjoy it."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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Bulls game day

Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. at the Staples Center


Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Outlook: The Lakers (23-21) just lost to the team with the NBA's worst record, Cleveland, 101-95 on Sunday night. LeBron James is expected to miss his 11th game Tuesday with a groin strain. The Lakers have gone 3-7 in the games he's missed. ... Without James, PF Kyle Kuzma has been the leading scorer at 21.6 ppg, followed by SF Brandon Ingram at 18.7 and SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 13.1. ... With James, the Lakers ranked eighth in the league with 113.2 ppg. Without him, they're averaging 105.2. ... The Bulls head into this game on a seven-game losing streak and have dropped three in a row against the Lakers.

Next: Denver Nuggets, 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pepsi Center

- Mike McGraw

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