What the Bulls missed out on in Jordan Bell

If we go back to June 22, by no means does the Jimmy Butler trade seem like the worst move the Bulls made last summer. Instead, their decision to sell their second round pick, Jordan Bell, to the Warriors may have taken the cake.

For the small investment of $3.5 million, the Dubs may have found their big man of the future, and the Bulls may have lost a valuable prospect to help rebuild their team.

It was clear Jordan Bell was a perfect fit for the Warriors when he found out he had been traded, saying “Fuck Bron Bron!” at his draft party in jest. The kid is just beaming with confidence and competitiveness. Even when he’s on the bench he never misses an opportunity to celebrate a play, clown opponents, or complain to the refs in sync with the guys on the floor.

For some, the enthusiasm could come off as Bell subconsciously telling Kerr that he wants to be playing, but I just think it’s genuine. He could’ve gone to 29 other teams, but he landed with one of the greatest assemblies of talent in the history of basketball, and at age 23 that has to feel like winning the lottery.  

Some of his antics have drawn comparisons to one of his teammates, Draymond Green. In a blowout game in Dallas, he poked a ball loose, got the outlet, threw himself a dime off the glass and jammed it home while getting fouled. The players on bench were both stunned and jubilated, while Steve Kerr and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle weren’t as excited.

When the Bulls visited Oracle and got blown out, Bell celebrated an and-1 layup saying “3-point-5” and making a money gesture with his hands.  He doesn't have a short memory, and neither does the Warriors coaching staff.

Kerr has seen the kind of talent Bell’s flashed, but he wants to make sure he can reign him in emotionally, which he never has seemed to do with Draymond, having not been the head coach when Green was drafted. And while Green has used his intensity to hone in his talents, it’s gotten him in trouble, like in Game 4 of the 2016 Finals. Similarly, Kerr wants to be able to have Bell focus his fire on the task at hand, without the extracurriculars.

Positionally, Bell’s a small ball center, but he has the athleticism and smarts to become a real factor on both ends of the floor and play above his height. He’s quick to jump for a lob or to block a shot, and he runs the break really well (though it never looks like he’s making full strides, strangely). He’s even shown the ability to handle the ball a bit, which helps when his defender jumps the pick and roll to stop Curry. When that does happen, he’s made good decisions in 4-on-3 situations, either hitting the open man once he sees a help defender commit to him, or just attacking the rim if no one rotates. He still needs to make sure he doesn’t jump on every single pump fake, but that comes with calming himself down, and knowing that his minutes will be there consistently, which is still unclear at this point, and typically harder to handle as a rookie. As long as Bell buys into the process, he should see more minutes come playoff time.

Though Bell’s surely happier playing with Golden State, something he’ll miss from staying with the Bulls is experience. Kerr is a proponent of using as many players as he can, but Bell has racked up a number of DNP’s to the fan’s (and maybe some players) chagrin. Raw talent can only get a player so far, and at the highest level of competition, you have to outthink your opponents as well.

This may have finally gotten through Kerr’s head, as he made the decision to start Bell in their MLK day game against the Cavs, giving their regular starting center, Zaza Pachulia, the day off. The move also showed a subconscious effort by Kerr, giving Bell a chance to see first hand how their potential Finals opponent plays, and will try to attack Bell, specifically. And while at this point, David West is still the Warriors best center, Pachulia is a good minutes-eater, and Looney won’t mess anything up, Jordan Bell has the highest risk and the highest reward of all of their bigs. Kerr’s move to put Bell in the starting lineup may become a trend towards the end of the season. As Iguodala continues to struggle offensively, and even more recently, defensively, the Dubs may start to move Andre’s ‘Death Lineup’ minutes to Bell, giving him opportunities to find a rhythm and confidence playing with the all-stars.

But I feel bad for the Bulls. They’ve played competent ball, and have a really intriguing young core that has refused to tank, currently 12th in the East at 17-27. Kris Dunn has shown impressive leadership and poise at the point, and they just got Lavine back from his ACL tear. Justin Holiday is a solid, but skinny, wing who can space the floor and play good D, while Valentine and Portis shot above average from three on more than 2.5 attempts per game. Lauri Markkanen has been a stud, and currently 4th among rookies in PPG at 15.5, 2nd in RPG at 7.6, and 2nd in FT% at 85.1%. Jordan Bell would fit perfectly in their system. With smart, athletic, and rangy young players around him, he could push the pace offensively and defensively much better than their current ground bound center Robin Lopez.

It’ll be interesting to see the development of Bell. If he reaches his potential with Golden State, will it be a credit to him or the system? Would he have had the right mentorship and structure around him in Chicago to succeed?

For now, the Bulls front office, and I know Bulls fans will agree, should be kicking themselves. As the season progresses and the Bulls are on gone fishing come playoff time, it could become painful seeing the player they missed out playing big minutes. You’d think they would have more sense than to trade away a guy named Jordan.