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The Bulls' Newest Weapon? Chandler Hutchison

From a player who was fighting for minutes over a non-guaranteed player just a month ago to a reliable wing who is now setting career highs almost every night, the strides in Chandler Hutchison's development as an NBA player have been impressive.
Photo: USA Today

Photo: USA Today

The Bulls have been a disaster this season, but somehow a silver lining has come out of this dilemma of a basketball season. And that silver lining is the impressive breakout of forward Chandler Hutchison over the recent weeks.

The second-year forward’s NBA career has certainly not been a walk in the park. The 23-year-old out of Boise State has had his fair share of injuries in his first two seasons, with the most severe being a broken toe he suffered after playing his best game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers. He recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds in a career-high 41 minutes back in mid-January of 2019.

That toe injury kept him out for a possible 38 games of his debut season, ending his rookie campaign with averages of 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds. His absence hurt the Bulls immensely at the time, as they had a depleted wing rotation with Denzel Valentine sidelined for the entire season due to foot surgery, Jabari Parker locked on the bench, and Otto Porter Jr. still a month away from being traded to Chicago.

Hutchison showed flashes of effectiveness but could never put together all the pieces of his game over the course of his first professional season. In that last game against the Clippers, he showed Bulls fans exactly what his game really can be — a defensive-minded wing who rebounds the ball at a high rate and excels in transition, a player any team needs.

Since that toe injury back in January of last year, it seems as though Hutchison just couldn’t stay on the court. After an impressive voluntary September workout, he suffered a hamstring strain that sidelined him for the entire training camp. He also suffered another hamstring strain the following month, then shin splints back in December, a shoulder contusion, a shoulder sprain, a right knee contusion, and most recently left hip soreness and a sore shoulder. Hutch could not catch a break.

Heading into his sophomore season, Hutchison also hasn’t found it easy. He looked out of place during summer league, missed the entire preseason, came back from injury multiple times before being sidelined again, and then was pushed out of the rotation for Shaquille Harrison. Simply put, Chandler Hutchison just did not look like he fit in the NBA.

Similar to last season, the Bulls again have been killed with injuries to wings, and when available, Hutchison was almost guaranteed a larger role because he was the closest thing to a true small forward on the roster. Whether all of those previously listed factors sparked something in Hutch or not, it is fairly obvious he has impressed many over the last month that he’s actually been able to stay on the floor.

While the Bulls may not have many bright spots aside from Zach LaVine’s official emergence as a star, Chandler Hutchison showing signs of being a really good two-way wing is something that deserves recognition. With limited cap space in 2020, wings won’t come easy for the Bulls. They more than likely will be without the services of Denzel Valentine come next season, and Otto Porter Jr. can’t even stay on the court. Unless reinforcements are brought in via trade or draft heading into next season, Hutchison is the only small forward on the roster. The Bulls need him to develop even further and unlock all hidden potential he may have.

We all knew Chandler Hutchison had some game in him, he just had to play with confidence. He had to believe in himself. Lately, he is seriously starting to look like the Boise State version Chandler Hutchison who averaged 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists and was promised by the Bulls that they would take him with the 22nd pick back in 2018.

Chandler Hutchison

Photo: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

So far in the month of February, Hutchison has been given a starting spot due to the MCL injury of Kris Dunn. He has posted 16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 steals. Sure, these aren’t your James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo eye-popping numbers, nor are they numbers which actually indicate Hutchison is a lock to be a legitimate NBA wing going forward due to it being a small sample size, but what these numbers do show is the impact he can have on this team when playing healthy, confident, and under control.

The numbers do look good, but what may be most impressive about Hutchison over this most recent stretch of games is his improved decision-making. A season ago, he would settle for corner threes and long twos despite being a mediocre shooter at best. Now, he is attacking the basket with force and aggression, which often leads to officials having no option but to call a foul.

He has made use of his 6-foot-7 height and 7-foot-1 wingspan, the latter of which, by the way, is elite for an NBA small forward and right around league average for an NBA power forward. His ability to make basket cuts and slash to the hoop has brought tremendous value to a Bulls team that struggles to get any off-ball movement from almost every player. His size is much needed and makes him hard to stop when he gets going.

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Hutchison put up a career-high 21 points in last week's overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers, followed that up with 17 points against the defending champion Toronto Raptors, and just last night he contributed against the Zion Williamson-led Pelicans with 16 points and a team-best eight rebounds while playing a season-high 32 minutes.

He’s led the Bulls in free throws attempted as well as rebounds per game over the last three outings, and he also ranks second in points per game behind Zach LaVine in his last four.

One thing to note about Hutchison is his ability to get to the rim. Just from the eye test, it's worth looking deeper into this statement to see just what numbers can actually back this up. I was impressed to find out he actually leads the league in percentage of shot attempts coming at the rim (66%).

He is converting those shots at the rim at a 61% clip, which sits pretty close with the best of them. Brandon Ingram converts at a 63% ratio, LeBron James 66%, Jimmy Butler 64% -— the list goes on.

Chandler’s transition offense has also stood out. You can almost count on the Bulls to score when he is on the break, as they score an extra 11.2 points per 100 possessions in transition when Hutchison gets a steal. Impressive.

While the offensive numbers have looked a lot better recently, his defensive numbers from this season really stand out. He rebounds 17.4% of opponents' misses, ranking in the 92nd percentile league-wide. His opponents shoot -3.8% worse from three-point land when being guarded by Hutchison.

To put that into context, LeBron James is a 34.6% three-point shooter. Based on these season stats, if Chandler Hutchison was guarding James, he would shoot 30.8% from three, which is well below league average.

But it’s more than just the raw numbers. Chandler Hutchison is showing the kind of two-way ability that made him a first-round draft pick in the first place. His on-court play has even impressed John Paxson, who, in abbreviated terms, said earlier that he has liked what he has seen out of Hutch this month with regard to his elite individual defense and strong offensive play.

Another thing to note: Hutchison has also proven to be reliable when used as a power forward, which helps a lot when evaluating his on-court value. His defense on Kevin Love in the fourth quarter of the 118-116 comeback win over the Cavaliers was impressive. He racked up four steals in the fourth quarter alone and sparked many transition opportunities for the Bulls, where they can be so effective — especially when you have the service of two-time slam dunk champion Zach LaVine running out on the break.

Over his first 66 NBA games, the Boise State standout never scored over 15 points in a game. He's scored 15-plus in three out of his last four games. Chandler Hutchison just needs to develop more consistency at the charity stripe and with his outside shot in order to become a legitimate small forward in this league.

He has the athleticism, he has the finishing game, he has the defense, and he has the positional size to cause havoc. After 15 months of trying to put his game together at an NBA level, he is starting to look pretty damn good.

While the Bulls suck overall, it may be worth tuning in to a game or two just to check out Hutch. From a player who was fighting for minutes over a non-guaranteed player just a month ago to a reliable wing who is now setting career highs almost every night, the strides in Chandler Hutchison's development as an NBA player have been impressive. The positive trends are something management and the fanbase should look at as a bright spot despite the Bulls’ inability to win games this season.

With the Philadelphia 76ers up next, Chandler Hutchison will have another opportunity to go up against one of the best point forwards in the game in Ben Simmons. It's a matchup that will get absolutely no attention whatsoever, but it is one that could give a lot of people around the Bulls another opportunity to evaluate Hutchison’s improved play against an elite defender.

Let me know your thoughts on the delightful recent play of Chandler Hutchison, on Twitter @JoshJBullsHoops, or by email at joshjbullshoops@gmail.com. Until then.