The Chicago Bulls infamously only had one draft pick in the 2023 NBA Draft despite missing the postseason altogether. They were drawn to select 11th in the draft but owed the selection to the Orlando Magic as pending payment for the Nikola Vucevic trade a few seasons ago. Without any other first or second-round draft capital, Chicago opted to trade for the Boston Celtics’ 35th overall pick and snag 20-year-old Julian Phillips from the University of Tennessee. The 6’7″ forward was brought to the Bulls for his length, defensive prowess, and rebounding abilities. Not many expected the pick by Chicago or imagined he’d see any NBA minutes in his rookie campaign.
Next Man Up Mentality
On a night when the Bulls were missing DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, head coach Billy Donovan extended his rotation to ten players, including Phillips’s first non-blowout minutes of his young career. In 14 minutes, he was 0-for-3 from the field but tallied three assists and three rebounds. He also added three personal fouls and a team runner-up plus/minus of +14. The energy and athleticism were evident in his game, but he’s got a long way to go on the offensive side, especially.
If Julian Phillips can develop a corner three-point shot and remain aggressive in attacking the rim, he may earn consistent minutes off the bench. Effort and tenacity have been common themes for Chicago’s early season woes, and at 7-14, Donovan seems to be imploring for scrappiness and heart anywhere he can find it.
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Tearing Up The G-League
As was expected on draft night, Phillips has spent most of his time with Chicago’s G-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls. He’s played in three games for the team, averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game, the second-best mark in the G-League. His shot percentages have sky-rocketed in the small sample size since his college days, where he shot under 42% from the field and under 24% from three-point territory. Thus far, for the Windy City Bulls, he’s hit 46% from the field and 47% from three-point land.
The G-League is mainly a developmental league, but plenty of future and former NBA players are circulating throughout rosters, and it’s considered the next-highest level of basketball in the country to the Association. Putting up a consistent 20-point double-double is no easy task, and for an explosive wing with his height, Phillips could be an asset for Donovan as the season progresses.
Look for the former Volunteer to return to his reserve role when the Bulls are fully healthy. Still, with pending trade rumors and an inevitable firesale before this season’s trade deadline, it won’t be a shock if he’s back in the rotation consistently after the significant pieces have been moved. As seen with fellow youngster Coby White, progression comes with opportunity, and growth spurts from experience.