How Dalen Terry proved he can become a future Bulls cornerstone in 2023

Dalen Terry, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Dalen Terry, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Right now, every Bulls fan is in an immense state of despair. Our core players are not good enough to even lead us to the playoffs, Lonzo Ball may never play basketball again and our best players are exiting their prime, not entering it. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that we don’t have our draft pick this year unless we are graced with amazing luck by the lottery gods vaulting us into a top-4 pick (there is an 8.5% chance of this). Despite the clear negativity surrounding the team, is there any way that we can get out of our utter mediocrity?

One of the most forgotten players on this Bulls roster is 20-year-old rookie Dalen Terry. To be clear, Terry has been forgotten for good reason, he was barely able to find the court this season. Terry played 214 minutes over 38 games for the Bulls this season, which averages out to just above 5 minutes a game. Dalen Terry has a real chance to be a bright spot on the Bulls next year.

Many fans have already soured on the idea of Terry because he couldn’t find the court this year. People often espoused the idea that Terry failed to see the court because the coaching staff thinks he is straight up not a good player. Others were critical of Billy Donovan and the staff stating that the coaches were stunting Terry’s growth by not playing him. The reality is that both of these narratives fail to accurately describe how the Bulls view Terry and how good he actually is.

In limited minutes for the Chicago Bulls this season, Dalen Terry showed flashes of becoming a two-way athletic wing worth building around.

When the Bulls drafted Terry, they knew that he was going to be a project. In general, when teams are drafting in the second half of the first round like the Bulls were with the 18th pick last year, there are two types of players: those with a high floor and low ceiling or those with a low floor and high ceiling.

Terry by all means was an upside pick, 6’7 players with 7’1 wingspans and quick feet are only around by pick 18 if there are concerns in other parts of their game. For Terry, the biggest concern coming out of college was his shooting. During Terry’s freshmen season, Arizona’s coach at the time, Sean Miller, took Terry’s starting role away from him after he failed to hit shots. The upside with Terry was that he shot above 40% from 3 during the second half of his Sophomore season at Arizona. Prompting scouts to believe he may have made a breakthrough, while others thought it could have been a lucky streak.

Including all G League-related events, Terry played 13 games for the Windy City Bulls this season, averaging 31 minutes a game (for those calculating at home, that’s twice as many minutes as he played for the Chicago Bulls in about half as many games). Terry shot 16/40 from 3 in the G League and 7/27 in the NBA combining for 23/67 (34%) from downtown. Considering that the NBA three-point line is a full 3 feet further back from the college three-point line and that Terry shot 28/77 (36%) in college there is reason to believe that Terry is making strides with his shooting.

I included all of these numbers in terms of attempts in part to demonstrate just how small the sample size is for Terry’s shooting. If Terry had hit 5 more threes this season, his combined percent would jump to 42% from downtown, taking him from average to elite. Given the relatively small sample size, I think it’s important to look at the film to analyze how Terry is shooting the ball.

In this clip, I see Terry doing the exact thing that the Bulls were missing this season, playing the role of a wing who can knock down corner threes in transition. In terms of his mechanics, he does a nice job getting his feet set, aligning his shoulders with the hoop, and having a super high release point.

There are still areas for improvement with Terry’s shot mechanics. Terry has a slow release on his shot which will hurt his ability to hit any non-wide open three-pointers. The largest reason for Terry’s slow release is due to the fact that dips the ball down before going up on his shot. Look here how he catches the ball near his chest and then brings it down to his waist before going up.

Against the Pacers in February this season, Terry actually got meaningful minutes. Here, Terry does an excellent job getting out in transition, knowing where his spot is in the corner, and is ready for Coby White’s kick-out pass. The only problem is that Terry dips the ball down so low and takes so long to get the shot up that the defender, Aaron Nesmith, is able to successfully close out and disrupt Terry’s shot ultimately leading to a brick.

It is clear that Terry has a lot more confidence shooting his 3s in catch-and-shoot situations, especially from the corner. In both of those previous clips, he did not hesitate to immediately put the shot up. In this clip, Terry is looking to attack off the pick which ultimately becomes a moving pick that leaves the defender trapped at the nail, surprising Terry and you can tell it takes him a second to process all of this and realize that he needs to pull up from three. In other words, he didn’t come into the play with a pull-up jumper in mind because he doesn’t think that’s his game.

The good part about all of this is that a dip in the shot is something that’s relatively easy to work on and fix in the grand scheme of improving as a basketball player. It is clear to me that the Bulls coaching staff wants Terry to find his touch from the corners and slowly work his way into being a more complete three-point shooter but the shot has already shown bits of improvement.

It’s important to remember that for lots of players, it takes a long time to develop and become a good NBA player. Here are some players who have become valuable NBA players that played less than 500 minutes their rookie season: Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Gary Trent Jr., Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Khris Middleton, CJ McCollum, and Keldon Johnson to name a few. The point is not that Dalen is the next Jimmy Butler, but rather that different players have different development paths and lots of rookies need to adjust to the pace of the NBA game and the new lifestyle.

In terms of adjusting to the NBA lifestyle, there were really positive signs from Terry this season. First of all, it appears that DeMar and Dalen have a genuine connection and that DeMar really took Dalen under his wing as his rookie or as DeMar liked to say ‘his son’. I genuinely don’t think it’s nothing that Dalen sat next to DeMar on the flight to Paris, it shows that DeMar finds Dalen to actually be worth his time and energy. It also appears that DeMar’s tutelage on the court has shown up in Dalen’s game. This dribble pullup at the nail has DeMar’s game written all over it. I would be shocked if these two haven’t talked about this shot before.

The way that Terry was a constant source of positive energy and encouragement on the bench was a great sign. There are tons of players, like Terry, who have excelled at every level of basketball and expect that when they get to the league that if they are not immediately dominating that they will at least be getting consistent minutes.

Going from the top guy to someone that hopes to hop in during garbage time can take a huge mental toll on young players. One of the biggest differences between young players that develop and those who never turn into anything is self-awareness. The ability to play in a more refined role and then slowly work on expanding into new parts of the game is how a player like Terry can become someone like Jimmy Butler. I expect that Terry will be in the Bulls rotation next year with his offensive role mainly being limited to corner threes, transition sprint-offs, and drives off pump fakes from the corner.

Other than correcting some of the mechanics in his shot, which I touched on earlier, Terry will be served by spending a significant amount of time in the weight room this offseason. Check out these two plays, one in the G-League and the other against the Nuggets. In the first clip, Terry is not at all bothered by the strength of his opponent and is able to get to his spot and knock down the shot. In the second clip, you can see Bruce Brown move Terry’s body, getting him off his spot causing the shot to come off balance, and allowing Brown to get a block.

Simply hitting the weight room will help Terry to make defenders bounce off of him instead of the other way around. This improvement will be vital to Terry as he continues to develop into an NBA player but it won’t happen overnight and will require a lot of hard work and dieting.

In summary, Bulls fans should not overreact to the fact that the coaching staff and front office found it best for Terry to use his rookie season as a development and adjustment period. From what limited amounts of Terry that we got to see, he showed us exactly what we wanted. Terry built a rapport with veterans on the team, improved his jump shot, and showed a level of maturity in his ability to accept a minimal role with the Bulls. Any fan who has given up hope on Dalen Terry simply is not paying close enough attention, look for him to a bright spot in what otherwise projects to be a rough year next year.

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