Yes, it sounded like 1971 again Friday in Las Vegas as the Bulls closed out their 2017 Summer League schedule with a 99-82 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls concluded with a 2-3 record.
They were led Friday by Baylor’s—and Canada’s–6-2 guard Brady Heslip with 28 points, including eight of 15 threes. He was the Bulls most prolific three-point shooter in Summer League with 14 of 33 threes. He’s played the last three seasons in Europe and the G-league after not being drafted. Denzel Valentine had 21 points as the only Bulls regular to play in all five games. He led the team in rebounds and assists in the Summer League and averaged 13 points, third to leader Antonio Blakeley and rookie Lauri Markkanen.
It’s not unusual for roster players to sit out late in Summer League with nothing to play for as the Bulls were eliminated from the tournament with their Wednesday loss. Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne were not with the team for personal reasons and Markkanen, Blakeney and Paul Zipser didn’t play Friday.
It proved a profitable week for Blakeney, who Friday signed a two-way contract with the Bulls. That will enable him to play this season in the G-league and with the Bulls. It means while in the NBA he will get an NBA salary in a new rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Blakeney averaged a team best 16.8 points and shot nine of 14 on threes. He averaged 25 the two games he started. Markkanen averaged 14 points.
And then Chet Walker called me to say he was watching the Bulls in Las Vegas and who was that Walker wearing his number, 25. Chet said Chris looked pretty good, if not much offensively.
“I’m hoping to get a two-way (G-league/NBA deal) with the (Bulls) or get a training camp invite,” said Walker, who was playing in his third Summer League out of the U. of Florida. “I feel I got better each game; wish we’d won more games. I feel like I rebounded the ball well, blocking shots or trying to contest.”
Walker led both teams Friday with 11 rebounds and three blocks and has shown excellent athletic ability on defense in the last week. He’s a limited offensive player who had nine points Friday and averaged about five points in the Summer League.
But he provided a bit of nostalgia for long time Bulls fans, Walker on the floor wearing the No. 25.
“I hadn’t heard of him,” admitted Chris Walker, “but tell him I said hey and ask him to put in a good word for me.”
The good word for probably the third best Bulls player of all time is he’s doing relatively well fighting off the usual health issues for a man closing in on 80. Walker lives in Los Angeles and keeps up with the Bulls games. Seeing, “Walker, 25” was quite the surprise, he admitted, but just a coincidence.
Equipment Manager John Ligmanowski keeps a list of numbers for current players and brings iron-on numbers for Summer League. Since Walker retired in 1975, seven Bulls players have worn No. 25: Earl Cureton, Chuck Nevitt, Steve Kerr, Corey Benjamin, Darius Songaila, Marquis Teague and Spencer Dinwiddie. It wasn’t being used on the current roster, and Ligmanowski said he just happened to provide it for this week’s Walker.
Chet could only smile.
He is likely the third most decorated and successful player in Bulls franchise history after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
After seven years with the 76ers (one season in Syracuse) that included starting for the championship 1967 team, Walker came to the Bulls in the 1969 trade that turned the team from an expansion pretender to a championship contender.
Walker made four All-Star teams with the Bulls (seven overall), the most tied with Artis Gilmore of any Bull other than Jordan and Pippen. Chet is the only player other than Jordan to score more than 55 points in a game for the Bulls, was regarded as perhaps the premier clutch shooter of his era, and is one of five players in Bulls history to be in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with Jordan, Pippen, Gilmore and Dennis Rodman.
Chris Walker’s not joining them, but he wore the name and number proudly Friday.
So as the Bulls closed Summer League 2017, here are some observations:
—Blakeney: He was the team star with back to back big time scoring games after going into the starting lineup when Payne left. He was the most aggressive scorer and athletic player, and it earned the undrafted free agent from LSU a two-way G-league and Bulls contract for the coming season. He’ll have training camp to earn a roster spot to start the season.
— Markkanen: After a poor shooting Game 2 and some national derision, he bounced back with a 20/10 game and four three pointers. He showed aggression in dunking the ball on passes in close and a sweet shooting stroke. He was shut down after his strong Game 3 as he and Blakeney led the Bulls to their first win. He needs to get stronger, and probably will start the season coming off the bench depending on the contract progress of Nikola Mirotic. He showed, however, he already could stand up to the physical play with a competitive streak.
—- Dunn: He had a family emergency and left after playing one game, scoring 11 points on three of 12 shooting. He didn’t get much chance to lead the team, leaving after one game as he did in 2016 when he suffered an ankle injury while with Minnesota. The Bulls are counting on him to be a significant factor from the Jimmy Butler trade.
—- Payne: He had a pair of erratic games, averaging 11.5 points, shooting nine for 26 and two of 12 on threes in a disappointing pair of games before he also left with a family emergency. He should get another chance in training camp to be, presumably, a backup to Dunn in a competition with Jerian Grant.
— Valentine: He had a big finish with 21 points, six assists and five rebounds Friday. He handled the ball out of the backcourt often and players said he acted as the team leader with pregame pep talks and on court directions. He was just 10 of 38 on threes, but did show more versatility than during last season. He has a chance to be the starting shooting guard for the regular season depending on the status of Dwyane Wade.
— Zipser: Suffered an ankle injury in an inconsistent Game 1 with 10 points on three of 11 shooting and then didn’t play the rest of the games. He still tends to play a lot of isolation, but has strong moves to the basket.
— Among the others hoping for camp invites, rugged big man Nikola Jovanovic showed some aggression inside, though limited movement. NCAA star Ryan Arcidiacono came on starting at point guard after Dunn and Payne left. He had his best game Friday with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals and ran the team confidently while involving other players. He has nice point guard instincts. He made three of four threes Friday. Heslip has NBA three-point shooting range, averaging three made per game, though, like Arcidiacono, will have issues with defense. And then there was C. Walker, No. 25. The Bulls sure could use that guy.