By DRAKE LOHSES
By this time next week, the Bulls 2018-2019 will have come to a close. They’ve opened April 1-2. On April Fool’s day, Chicago dropped one to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Their week ended on Saturday, with a 20-point loss to Jimmy Butler’s 76er’s in the United Center.
The ability to flare and sparkle at the oddest times is a tendency the Chicago Bulls share only with the sun. Back in February, the Bulls were hard to watch. The Otto Porter deadline acquisition may not have made a difference in terms of their playoff chances, but he made the United Center a fun place to be for a few weeks.
Porter’s since been consistently sidelined with a buffet of minor injuries. A strained shoulder has kept him off the court since March 18, and the Bull’s offense has looked lackadaisical at best.
But out of nowhere, Bull’s fans were given one more late-season reason to keep their eyes on the screen. Just who is this Walter Lemon Jr? What does he bring Chicago’s backcourt, and does he deserve a spot there next season?
The Secret Life of Walter Lemon
Lemon Jr. was brought up from Chicago’s G-League affiliate The Windy City Bulls on March 29. The 26 year-old has been putting sour tastes in the mouths of opponents ever since. In his March 30 Bulls debut, Lemon dropped 19 points, to go along with six assists and four steals.
“This is definitely a dream come true,” said the Chicago native. “I actually cried. I cried. For me, I don’t really care if it’s five games or two games. Just the chance to put an NBA jersey on again, it’s special, but for it to be my hometown, that’s special enough.”
The Bradley-Alum plays with the humble attitude of a man who’s waited a long time for the opportunity he’s living out. Lemon went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft, before joining the Warriors for their 2015 Summer League. He would spend the following season with EGIS Körmend of Hungary.
Lemon’s basketball career has kept him on the move. The point guard’s resume includes stints in Turkey, Germany and Greece. He settled into the G-League in 2017, signing on with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, where he was eventually named G-League Player of the Month for November 2017. Lemon made a 10-game appearance for the Pelicans in February.
Lemon Jr’s playing style is strikingly similar to another favorite Chicago point-guard. His game is as fearless as it is unapologetic. Lemon cruises to the rim and his finishes are often acrobatic. At 6’3”, Lemon Jr. is as quick to deliver a crisp pass to the outside as he is to post up. Much like Derrick Rose, Walter Lemon Jr. gets from Point A to the basket as quickly as possible.
Lemon’s been a crowd pleaser during his short time in Chicago, but of course his late-season surge won’t end up mattering much. At the very most, Lemon’s helped a very dreadful season end on a high note.
It remains to be seen if Lemon’s in the Bull’s plans going forward, but his services could be utilized next year. His contract, along with forward JaKarr Sampson’s, expires at the end of the season. But if Lemon can keep performing at the high rate he has been, his tough-nosed, veteran presence might eliminate the need to fill the point-guard position in the draft.
A Way-Too-Early Look At The 2020 Draft Class.
Speaking of drafts, let’s have some fun. All season long, I’ve speculated that the Bulls will make some sort of big move in the offseason. Don’t be surprised if the Otto Porter trade was actually a gathering of capital to make a trade of Chicago-raised Anthony Davis.
Or maybe it’s sending away Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkannen for the number one pick and a shot at Zion. Or maybe I’m just a Bulls’ fan who has grown tired of rebuild after rebuild, and I’m just looking for any explanation that leads to this rebuild being over.
Because maybe it isn’t over yet. Say what you will about John Paxson, Gar Forman and the Bull’s top brass, but anyone who’s been in the basketball business as long as they have certainly don’t make a living off wingin’ it. The surprise Otto Porter acquisition added to the mystery. But what if the Bull’s plan goes beyond this year’s draft, and it’s a prospect for next year’s draft they have their eye on? I sat and thought hard all weekend about the Bull’s needs, then took a peek ahead at the top players in the 2020 draft.
James Wiseman— Defense. If the Bulls do nothing else all offseason but pick up pieces to fill the holes in their defense, there’s no way next year will be as dismal as this year. Wiseman is unanimously ranked as the No. 2 high school prospect. The seven-foot center recently committed to the University of Memphis. It would take a tank not seen since the Panzer for the Bulls to get up inside the top five next year, but if they were to let another season slip, it would be for a prospect like Wiseman.
Wiseman has a game modeled after Andre Drummond. Chicago needs a big presence down low to keep their teeth sharp. But what sets Wiseman apart is his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor. At 230 pounds, he’s mobile, and has a reliable jump shot from mid-range.
Deni Avdija— The curious thing about this Bulls squad? For a team with a .275 win percentage, their needs really aren’t that much. Defensive additions should take top priority, but if the Bulls can recreate the consistent high-percentage three-point shooting they had with Nikola Mirotic, the speed they have in the middle would keep defenses bouncing inside and out. Avdija would provide an excellent catch-and-shoot three point shooter, and Chicago could nab him without dropping an entire season. The 6’8 wing led Israel to its first-ever gold medal in the FIBA Tournament. Just like Mirotic, the small forward has a knack for ball movement on the outside. If he can recreate the 42% three-percentage he shot in the FIBA Tournament, Avdija would be a steal for any team in the mid-first round.
Kenny Wooten—There’s some debate regarding Wooten’s status as a third rounder. 2020 is shaping up to be a competitive class for big men, and it’s unlikely Wooten would be anybody’s first choice. The Oregon ‘center’ plays much more like an athletic power forward. He’s 6’9, but he’s bouncy and loves to move his feet. Don’t let his third-in-the-nation ranking in shot blocking fool you, Wooten isn’t near the formidable defensive presence that Wiseman is. Wooten’s real talent comes on the offensive end. He holds the Oregon school record for highest field goal percentage. It’s unlikely Wooten would ever reach superstar status, but a Lemon-to-Wooten alley-oop sounds pretty cool. Wooten would certainly add a speed underneath that the Bulls don’t get from the aging veteran Robin Lopez.
Grandma Marlene’s Gamebreak
We’re almost to the end. If it weren’t for the Cubs whacking the Pirates the other day, I would be sad. It’s been hard to be sad to be a Bulls fan recently, what with this Walter Lemon fella scoring all the points. I watched his interview. He just seems like a nice young man. And he’s got this little twist that he does when he lays it in that looks just like Derrick Rose. I miss Derrick Rose.
From what I understand, Walter hasn’t had the chance to play in too many NBA games. That means that Wednesday’s game against the Wizards was the best performance of his life. He led all players in scoring, both teams! 24 points,11-for-16 shooting from the field. He is really making the most of it out there.
We certainly didn’t deserve to win in my opinion. We made a couple of good-looking shots early, and got out to a quick lead. But we made absolutely lazy passes at the top of they key. We were careless with the ball all night. Twenty turnovers! Washington really took advantage of our errors. Seems like every time we gave them the ball they found a way to score, we cut them a lot of breaks.
But here comes my little guy, Walter Lemon Jr. It started with 30 seconds left. We were down 112-111, and Walter just plows right down the middle of the court and spins around Troy Brown, who’s one tall drink of water! That put us up by one.
Washington came back and hit two free throws. But Walter Lemon, with one second left, got fouled on a lay up. He hit his two free throws, and we won the game 115 to 114.
Two games left! We play the Knicks and the 76ers this week. See you next week!