Three questions for the Bulls as the second half begins

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Mike McGraw takes a look at three issues concerning the Chicago Bulls, starting with whether free-agent Tomas Satoransky is the long-term answer as the starting point guard.

    Mike McGraw takes a look at three issues concerning the Chicago Bulls, starting with whether free-agent Tomas Satoransky is the long-term answer as the starting point guard. Associated press

 
 
Updated 1/16/2020 7:17 PM

Three topics for the second half of the Bulls season:

How valuable is Satoransky?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I mentioned on Twitter the other day how Tomas Satoransky has moved ahead of Wendell Carter Jr. for the team lead in net rating.

Quick review -- there is no perfect statistic to measure a player's value, but this number can be interesting. The offensive and defensive ratings are determined by how many points are scored by a player's team and the opposing team per 100 possessions. Obviously, the net rating is the difference between the two.

Satoransky is a tough player to judge, I'd say. He does a lot of things well -- distributes the ball, has a point-guard mentality, is an OK shooter (36 percent from 3-point range).

What's difficult to answer is whether he's good enough to be a starting point guard on a winning NBA team. One flaw in his game is he really struggles to stay in front of the guys he's trying to guard. When Kris Dunn joined the starting lineup Nov. 29, the dynamic changed because Dunn could take on the most difficult defensive assignment, giving the 6-foot-7 Satoransky a more appropriate matchup.

Here are the defensive ratings for the Bulls' five starters in the 19 games before Dunn joined the lineup, according to nba.com: Dunn 103.6, Lauri Markkanen 106.3, Carter 107.0, Satoransky 108.4, Zach LaVine 110.6.

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And the defensive ratings in the next 22 games with Dunn a starter: Carter 101.5, Dunn 102.0, Satoransky 103.9, LaVine 106.4, Markkanen 107.7.

Good luck trying to figure out why Markkanen's defensive rating got worse with Dunn in the starting lineup. What's glaring, though, is how much better Carter, Satoransky and LaVine have been defensively with Dunn on the floor.

Satoransky and LaVine often get less difficult assignments, and Carter doesn't have to clean up as many of his teammates' blow-bys.

As a team, the Bulls rank seventh in the league in defensive rating with Dunn a starter, compared to 13th without him.

So while Satoransky is doing well, there's a concern that it will fall apart if the Bulls decide to trade Dunn before the deadline or let him walk as a restricted free agent this summer. Since the Bulls won't have many options to reshape the roster this summer, the best course of action seems to be re-signing Dunn with the hope he'll someday learn how to shoot 35 percent from 3-point range.

Can the Bulls survive with Kornet at center?

Both Carter (sprained ankle) and rookie Daniel Gafford (dislocated thumb) will be out at least for the next couple of weeks, leaving Luke Kornet the likely starting center.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In one sense, this lineup could be intriguing. Remember the brief success the Bulls had two years ago with multiple stretch-fours on the floor in Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis? Maybe Kornet and Markkanen could open the floor for the guards to attack the basket.

"We'll incorporate his game into what we do," coach Jim Boylen said Thursday. "We're not going to reinvent the wheel or change it for him. But we'll find spots where obviously he'll be spread."

On the other hand, a big reason why Kornet dropped out of the rotation is teams were attacking him on defense. He obviously doesn't move as well as Carter or Gafford, so expect opponents to put him in pick-and-rolls often.

If Kornet can't keep up, Boylen may have no choice but to use Markkanen at center with Thaddeus Young at power forward.

Is LaVine improving his all-star chances?

It seems that way.

Since Jan. 1, LaVine has averaged 30.1 points while shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range.

But he's still a longshot and probably will need an injury substitution. There's a long tradition when it comes to choosing all-stars of rewarding guys who play for winning teams.

The best teams in the East will get two players at least, so count on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons getting in, along with probably Jimmy Butler, Domantas Sabonis and either Kyrie Irving or Spencer Dinwiddie.

That's 11 guys right there, leaving just one vacant spot. And if a player from a losing team is picked, it might be Atlanta's Trae Young, who is leading the fan vote to be a starter.

All-star starters are now determined by 50 percent fan vote, 25 percent players and 25 percent media. Detroit's Andre Drummond and Washington's Bradley Beal also are viable candidates.

To improve his chances, LaVine might need to drop 50 on Friday in the Bulls' lone nationally televised game of the season.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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